by Moira Cullings
ROELAND PARK — Sister Martina Rockers remembers carrying supplies across the parking lot from St. Agnes High School to the brand-new Bishop Miege High School here the day the school opened.
She also remembers three generations of names, faces and stories from students that have gone through Miege.
That’s because Sister Martina has dedicated 58 of her nearly 75 years of religious life serving the Miege community — and although her duties have changed over the years, she still remains a presence at the school to this day.
“I think when anybody thinks of Miege, you think of Sister Martina because she’s been there since Day One,” said Joe Passantino, president of the Bishop Miege Foundation board.
Passantino, who served as the school’s president for 29 years, has witnessed the deep impact Sister Martina, who is a member of the Ursuline order, has had on the culture at Miege.
“Sister has been a model to so many students,” he said, “in terms of not only her Christian witness and her faith life, but also how much she sacrifices for the school.
“I think the main thing she’s transferred to all of us — both staff and students alike who have gone through here — is her very strong faith life.”
“And, as a Sister, the model she sets in terms of how she treats people,” he continued.
Sister Martina lived out her passion for years as a teacher in the school’s science department. She also taught math and, up until two years ago, was a student council moderator, shaping the leaders of the school for over 50 years.
What’s kept her at Miege for so long?
“I think the spirit of the school and the fact that I enjoy teaching very, very much,” she said. “Knowing the students and seeing them progress through has always been a very satisfying thing.
“Just to see that growth that happens even in those four years and then the contacts they always make with you as they go ahead and find their place in life and come back and tell you all the things that are happening.”
“And maybe how you helped them along the way,” she added.
Susan Tremonti, vice president of development and alumni at Miege, marvels at the number of lives Sister Martina has touched at the school.
“She’s been a true inspiration to thousands,” said Tremonti.
“To know that there’s been somebody here that came over from St. Agnes High School and brings the history from the beginning and has lived it, experienced it and continues to grow and change with it — it’s amazing,” she said.
Tremonti is astonished by Sister Martina’s ability to remember her students and connect them with a funny story or a sweet memory.
“She has the wisdom and knowledge of this school that is second to none,” she said. “You’re looking at over 10,000 alumni, their parents, their grandchildren [that she impacted].”
One of those alums is Elaine Schmidtberger. As the youngest of 10 kids who all had Sister Martina in class, Schmidtberger has nothing but fond memories of how Sister shaped her family.
“Science was not my thing, but it was my thing because Sister Martina was such a fabulous teacher,” said Schmidtberger.
“I can still picture her in the classroom upstairs in the lab,” she added.
Now, as a guidance counselor at the school, Schmidtberger continues to be amazed by Sister Martina’s work ethic and commitment to the Miege community.
“She is Bishop Miege,” said Schmidtberger.
Even though Sister Martina is no longer teaching full time, she is still a major presence inside the school.
“[The students] see her in many other capacities and they have heard and know that she is our matriarch,” said Tremonti.
The love students have for Sister Martina is often what inspires them to stay connected with the school and give financially after they graduate, Schmidtberger said.
The Sister Martina Rockers Scholarship Fund, which was created in 1998, was selected as the Fund-A-Need project for the school’s auction this past spring.
The school reached out to alumni through a letter from Sister Martina herself, and in total raised $59,000.
“I just hope that all of the inspirations I’ve helped to give are those that lead everybody to heaven,” said Sister Martina.
“Of my nearly 75 years of religious life, I think these years at Miege have been some of my happiest years,” she said.