Sister Martina Rockers: Still bringing teaching to life after 65 years

Elaine Schmidtberger was a student of Sister Martina’s at Bishop Miege, and has worked at the school for 28 years, first as a teacher, now as a guidance counselor. Sister Martina taught her biology I and II her freshman and sophomore years, and worked with her on the student council.

“She was excellent, she loved teaching, especially biology,” Schmidtberger said. “She was a great mentor in my early teaching years, always there to listen.” Schmidtberger taught English and speech and was the debate coach.

Sister Martina visits with Elaine Schmidtberger, her former student and now a co-worker at Bishop Miege High School.

“I had eight brothers and sisters, everybody wanted to have Sister Martina in class,” she said. She was assistant student council moderator for 19 years, serving as Sister Martina’s assistant.

Sister Martina’s witness is her greatest asset, Schmidtberger said. “There is no on closer to God. She’s so positive, always looking optimistically,” she said. “She truly, truly loves students.”

Sister Martina is the only sister teaching in the school, which has a statue of Saint Angela Merici in the hallways and the chapel named for the Ursuline founder. “Sister Martina keeps us in touch with Saint Angela and the Ursuline charism, that’s important,” Herbic said.

Sister Martina hears from many former students, and is touched by their heartwarming remarks. She’s received compliments like, “You’re the best science teacher I ever had,” and “You prepared me well for college.” She’s had several students become doctors and nurses. One is a cardiologist who was involved with the instruments used for the first heart transplant.

Even as she approaches her 85th birthday this month, Sister Martina says she doesn’t have trouble staying excited about teaching. “I just enjoy being around adolescents,” she said. “I enjoy the rapport you can have with the students. All of us were kids once.”

She gives God the credit for her longevity in the classroom and the sense of balance in her life. “God has blessed me with very good health,” she said. “One of the things I do (to relieve) stress, I enjoy being alone in nature. I realize things are going to work out all right, it all depends on God.”

Child of the sunflower state

Sister Martina grew up in Scipio, Kan., a small town not too far from Paola in eastern Kansas. Her father, Ed, was a farmer, and in the winter he worked on a section of the railroad, making sure the rail was in good order. Her mother Lena was a homemaker for 11 children.

Sister Martina and her housemate, Sister Angela Fitzpatrick, left, were among the walkers in the “Blisters for Sisters” vocation awareness event May 1, 2010, in Kansas City, Kan.

“I’m in the middle, five were older, five were younger,” Sister Martina said. “All the younger ones were taught by me, we played school a lot.” She is the oldest living member of her family, with four younger sisters and brothers.

“We all had chores, depending on our age. I brought wood in for the cook stove when I was in the first and second grade,” she said. “When I got older I was trusted to gather the eggs. I can remember taking eggs to the cellar, we sold the excess. My older siblings had to milk the cows by hand.”

She attended the East Scipio public school the first four grades, taught by the Ursulines. In the fifth and sixth grades, she attended the one-room West Scipio School, where there were no Ursulines, then returned to East Scipio for the seventh and eighth grades. Despite the influence of the sisters, it was Miss Highberger at West Scipio who prompted Sister Martina’s desire to be a teacher.

“She was a very good teacher. I found out later those were the only years she taught, she came to Kansas City to work,” Sister Martina said. “When I was a teacher at St. Agnes Grade School, she came to see me, and she visited me at Miege too. I told her she was my influence.” She died about 20 years ago.