by Lajean Rau-Keene
Special to The Leaven
It’s easy to see why one of Sarah Wise’s favorite Bible verses is: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jer 29:11).
Wise points to several watershed events in her life that she believes God used to lead her toward who she is today: a recent convert to Catholicism who is proud to sing the praises of Immaculata High School in Leavenworth.
“It’s like God knew when I was born, the path that I would take,” said Wise. “And looking back, it’s unbelievable.
“You have those down moments, and great moments. But I can just look back and say, ‘This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.’”
Originally from Lansing, the 30-year-old was raised Protestant. She went to Mid-America Nazarene College in Olathe on academic and softball scholarships.
Faith and sports were both very important to her.
“I played volleyball, basketball and softball in high school. I was always that athlete, that girl who was a tomboy,” said Wise.
But her athletic career was threatened when she was a junior in high school. Looking back, this might have been the most important formative moment in her life, she said. She tore the ACL in her left knee.
“I was out of sports for nine months. It was during that time that I really had to rely on God,” she said. “Here I am, 16 years old. I can’t play anything. I was mad at him.”
She wanted to play again — so much so, in fact, that she made a deal with God.
“I told him after that, ‘Anything and everything I do, I will do it in your name and in your honor. Whatever my career choice is supposed to be, it will be about you.’”
“I look back now,” continued Wise, “and it’s been totally him. You ask those things and you’d better be ready.”
Is this all there is?
Wise’s first job was teaching high school math at her alma mater in Lansing. After three years, she decided she needed to “spread her wings” — to go somewhere new to her. She took a job in St. Marys, a small town with a big Catholic population.
Wise learned a lot about Catholicism in St. Marys. Many of her co-workers and students were Catholic, and she lived next door to Immaculate Conception Church. She attended a Protestant church, but sometimes she went to Mass, too.
She taught high school and junior high math and coached three sports, including varsity softball.
During Wise’s first year there, the father of one of her softball players died suddenly. Wise was moved by the rosary and the Catholic funeral that followed. She relied on her faith, and her girls’ faith, to get the team through the difficult time.
The following year, she led her softball team to a state championship.
“It’s every coach’s dream come true,” she said.
The next year, she did it again. She was only 27.
Wise succeeded in the classroom, too. One of her goals was to teach high school calculus — another objective reached in St. Marys.
But the two parts of Wise’s personal journey — career and faith — were starting to converge.
“I had achieved all my goals,” admitted Wise. “I said, ‘There’s not a lot more for me to do.’
“I needed more challenges.”
Wise had started out as a biology education major, and she missed science. Despite her success in St. Marys, she found herself looking at jobs, wanting to dig more deeply into her science background.
She also found herself thinking a lot about the Catholic Church.
Then a job posting caught her attention: a biological sciences teacher was needed at Immaculata High School. And the incoming principal? It was Helen Schwinn, someone very special to Wise. (Schwinn was taking her first administrative job after 23 years in the classroom.)
Schwinn had been Wise’s coach and teacher in high school. She was the one who had helped Wise through her high school injury. Wise had worked on Schwinn’s husband’s farm. The two women had taught together at Lansing High School.
And when the Schwinns’ young daughter was ill with cancer, Wise had been there for her mentor.
“She visited the hospital,” Schwinn said. “Here’s a college kid — plenty of things to do. But she would come and keep that connection.”
Over the years, the two had talked often about their respective faiths, and when Schwinn’s daughter was so sick, it was no different.
“I’m looking back on that and thinking those conversations about our journeys really helped me,” said Schwinn. “It really became an important part of helping me get through our daughter’s illness.”
Neither woman thinks it an accident that they were in each other’s lives at these important times.
‘For I know the plans I have for you . . .’
Wise, who took RCIA classes at St. Joseph Parish in Leavenworth after accepting the job at Immaculata, entered the Catholic Church last Easter. She’s excited about her faith again, and her career is reinvigorated.
“I absolutely love teaching science,” she said. “It has been the best move of my life that way.
“Not only that, but I get to share my faith every single day.”
Wise said Immaculata is special because it’s truly a family, and families “help each other.” But even more importantly, it’s a school in which the students get to learn about their faith.
“Every day you have a safe environment that is God-centered instead of society-centered, which is very important,” she said.
Now, she has a passion for sharing her journey.
“It hurts me when I see kids hurting, and they don’t understand. So I share my Catholic faith. I can share what the Lord has done for me, or what his heart is saying for them. To say, ‘It’s gonna be OK. It’s OK that this happened to you. You’re going to grow from it.’”
Schwinn said Wise sets a good example.
“I think what Sarah does for us is we can see her just putting it out there,” she said. “Don’t be reserved — just go with your instincts. And be willing to share because kids need to hear it. They want to hear it.
“And the more they hear it, the more they want to become a part of it. And they want an avenue to share where they are, and what they think.”
“The openness,” Schwinn added, “even if they question it, is what’s important.”
Schwinn said Catholic Schools Week was a welcome celebration
“It’s a week to recognize and celebrate that our students — our children — every day have the opportunity to consider Christ first in everything they do,” she said. “To see their homework as a challenge he’s given us. To see their victories as a gift he’s given us. And to recognize that he’s the leading part of what we do and why we do it.”
A bright future
So what’s next in Wise’s journey?
Well, since entering the church last Easter, she’s become a very active member of St. Joseph Parish in Leavenworth. She not only helps there with the children’s liturgy, but she recently joined the choir.
In addition to teaching full time, she’s pursuing a master’s degree in education leadership at Benedictine College in Atchison.
Finally, for the first time in several years, Immaculata High School will field a softball team this spring.
And guess who will be coaching?
Scripture to inspire students/athletes
For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.
Call to me, and I will answer you; I will tell to you things great beyond reach of your knowledge.
I have the strength for everything through him (the Lord) who empowers me.
1 Cor 9:24-27
Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.
Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.
Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing.
No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
2 Tm 4:7-8
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.
From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.