Kathleen Mueller admits she doesn’t like to be in the limelight. But for the area’s Catholic community, she’s a shining star.
As an educator with the Northwest Catholic District School Board, over her 31 years of education Mueller has taught everything from JK to Grade 8 and co-ordinated musicals, dramas, Christmas and spring concerts, and choirs—and has served as the board’s Catholicity co-ordinator for more than a decade.
And for all of this, she recently was honoured by the board with a Distinguished Catholic Leadership award during its inaugural “Celebration of Excellence.”
“We are so pleased that she was honoured with the award for outstanding and distinguished Catholic leadership,” said Director of Education Mary-Catherine Kelly.
“She’s just a lovely person, who is just genuinely loving and giving and elegant and positive about everything—she’s an asset to our system.”
And she’s “never allowed to retire,” Kelly added with a laugh.
“What I love about Catholic schools is there really is a focus on developing the spiritual side of the child, and giving them wholeness and a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives,” said Mueller, reflecting on the work she has been a part of within the separate school system.
“I think it’s so important for them to know that in this society and in this world that we’re living in, that God still cares about every one of them, and that the good is prevalent,” she stressed.
“That goodness is still prevalent in this world, and that they need to try their best to make the world as great as God wanted it to be.”
With her husband of 28 years, Terry, Mueller has two children: Andrew, 23, who is a musician in Vancouver, and Nicole, who is in Grade 12 and student president at Fort High (another son passed away as a baby).
“I’m very proud of my kids,” she said, speaking of Andrew and Nicole’s love of athletics and the arts.
Born on a farm in Miscampbell, it was her parents’ emphasis on the value of education that set Mueller down the path to becoming an educator.
“Before I went to university, I had a couple of other opportunities to go into other areas,” she explained. “And my dad said, ‘You go to school, go to university.’
“So I went and education was the thing that I was comfortable with,” Mueller added, noting she’s from a large family, always liked kids, and always was involved with activities like student council growing up.
“I think I had an understanding that education enables us to develop our talents, gifts, and understandings to help us become the people we were meant to be and to help those around us to be their best to make a better world,” she reasoned. “I wanted those things for my students.
“In Catholic schools, we are able to do all things with our students through a lens of faith. God made each of us to be our best for the good of all.”
It was this faith component that—after teaching in the public school for her first few years—led her to teaching with the Catholic board.
“I think the best thing about being in Catholic education is that I get to live my faith every day with my students and colleagues,” Mueller enthused. “That there is a connect between what I live at church, what I live at home and at school, in my work.
“And that’s really important to me.
“It’s actually really exciting to have that connect, and to live it authentically in everything I do.”
“Kathy is a person who lives her faith, she puts her faith into practice every day,” noted Kelly, adding Mueller is “instrumental” when it comes to running all of the faith formation programs across the system, and that teachers have the resources and training they need.
For new teachers, it means working with them when it comes to evaluating their own faith to “see where they are on their road to faith formation,” Kelly explained.
“She supports them and encourages them and gives resources to them so that they have that comfort level of being very articulate about their faith when they’re teaching with the children.”
Mueller also has been on the “cutting edge” when it comes to teaching “Religious education, Part I” for teachers across the system through developing e-learning and videoconferencing capabilities, Kelly continued.
For the monthly celebration of values of Catholic education, Mueller is the one who organizes the calender, resources, prayers, and activities so that teachers can “embellish and infuse” the Catholic faith throughout the curriculum, Kelly said.
“She is a person who ensures that the prayer life of the school and the board is also in place, through creating prayer services and liturgical services that create our sharing of our faith right across the system.
“She’s expert at that.”
And Mueller’s contributions extend beyond just the school, Kelly stressed.
“As a person in our community, everyone knows that Kathy lives her faith through her activities that she does in the church,” Kelly lauded.
“Her musical talents are a gift to our community,” Kelly added, pointing to the difference Mueller makes in the Catholic community by being called upon regularly to sing at masses, funerals, and celebrations.
As well, Mueller runs the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) for those wishing to convert to Catholicism, putting a “great deal of energy” into their training, learning, and transition into the faith.
“From a personal level and working in the office with her, she has a personality that is bright and cheery and positive,” Kelly said. Whether it’s a little gift, good wishes, or prayer, Mueller is there to support people in good times and bad.
It’s a positivity Mueller brings with her despite being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 11 years ago at the age of 42.
“It was quite devastating at the time and I was having lots of problems with fatigue,” she recalled.
“But we don’t need to get into that!” she stressed, saying that despite the diagnosis, she didn’t want to give up on her vocation—choosing, instead, to do less but still do what she can.
“MS, it’s actually a disease that attacks the neurons—sometimes in your brain—and it prevents messages from going through like they are supposed to to the rest of your body,” Mueller explained, adding it can mean fatigue, memory loss, and muscle reactions, and possibly affect anything that a person’s nerves control.
“There are people who really struggle with the very severe symptoms and then there are those of us who only struggle with the lesser symptoms, and we’re very lucky for that,” she remarked.
The faith that has infused her teaching and life also guides how she is living with MS.
“It’s living through the difficulties that we’re given in our life, and still trying to do what God created us to do, what He needs us to do,” she reasoned.
“I know that I’m really blessed in that I still can do a lot of things,” Mueller said. “There are things that I can’t do, and there are limitations on what I do, but I still have things that God needs me to be doing, otherwise I wouldn’t have the capability of doing those type of things.
“So I just try and do what I can to make the world a better place in my own small space.”
Part of this is being able to live her faith with the Catholic system—and giving students “that extra” by hopefully putting them in touch with God.
“I think what we do in the Catholic schools is really important in society—to our society within Ontario, our society within Canada, and within the world—because with each of our students developing their best selves, we’re hoping to make a better world.
“So our hope, really, is within our students and within our Catholic school system.
“This has been a very rewarding vocation,” Mueller reflected. “I hope that I have touched the lives of my students as they have certainly enriched mine.
“Nothing brings me as much joy as seeing my former students grow to use their talents and become contributing members of their communities.”
As well, Mueller said she’s been fortunate to have worked with “some wonderful colleagues who have always been very supportive.”
“I have been blessed within my profession to have received a great deal of professional development that has enriched my personal faith,” she noted.
“This truly is a community that supports its members, and gives us hope and faith for the future.”