‘Irish’ students, fans worldwide unite to honor Ss. Simon Jude principal

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Teresita Mercado Feix, a 1989 graduate and current school parent, congratulates Sr. Raphael Quinn, IBVM, for 40 years of leadership as principal of Ss. Simon and Jude School. (Ambria Hammel/THE CATHOLIC SUN)

Her congratulatory page on Facebook stands at 218, but Sr. Raphael Quinn’s fan base is clearly far higher.

So many students, alumni, parents and staff turned out for a morning assembly Nov. 13 honoring the Loreto sister’s 40th year as principal, that there wasn’t a parking spot around Ss. Simon and Jude School. Some 480 students squished together on the gym floor allowing another 470 parents and alumni to fill the chairs and bleachers.

Dozens were left standing. Others, especially Sr. Raphael’s extended family who live in her native Ireland, made their presence felt through video and Skype messages in an alumni-produced montage.

“The alumni — they really came back in great numbers,” Sr. Raphael told The Catholic Sun during a reception. “You don’t realize you touch people’s lives the way you do.”

She got teary eyed at the end of a student/alumni performance of “You Lift Me Up.” That’s when waves of alumni from every decade stood up holding their graduation year written on a large, white scrap of paper.

Alumni now at four area high schools were excused from class to attend the celebration. An alumnus now working at nearby Bourgade Catholic drove a busload of students.

Sr. Raphael said she’d be sure to sit back and reflect on all God has done in her life, especially the last four decades as head of “The Fighting Irish” at Ss. Simon and Jude. The Loreto sister — one of eight children in her family — makes ample time to ensure she’s rooted in Christ, but sitting back is not the typical portrait students or alumni envision of their principal.

“Sister is usually scurrying somewhere because she has some place to be,” said Teresita Mercado Feix, a 1989 graduate and president of the school board.

Other than the addition of air conditioning, Feix said not much has changed. It’s still a warm, welcoming place.

“Next to God, your primary dedication in life has been this school and for that we’re not just lucky. We are so very blessed,” Feix told Sr. Raphael.

In honor of Ss. Simon and Jude’s rich Irish heritage, especially in its highly-recognized principal, the 40th jubilee carried a “We’re so lucky” theme. Sr. Raphael’s custom-made shirt read “I’m so lucky to have been principal at SSJ for 40 years.”

Members of the school board, Mother’s Guild and Dad’s Club bestowed a parade of gifts as tokens of their appreciation. Gifts included sporting equipment for the school and for its principal, a papal blessing, a handmade cross, an autographed Phoenix Suns basketball, 40 local gift cards, luggage and a trip to Ireland.

Mayors in both Ennis, Ireland, an official sister city of the City of Phoenix, and in Arizona’s capital, proclaimed Nov. 13, 2012 as Sr. Raphael Quinn Day. MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of Catholic schools in the diocese, read the proclamation.

She also called Sr. Raphael a servant leader who puts everyone first. Mueller said Sr. Raphael has challenged more than 3,000 students over the years to live according to the Gospel in an ever-changing world.

“You taught me how to see the world differently through the eyes of compassion and benevolence,” said Francesca Caruso, during a short student council tribute that also featured period skits.

She joined 19 non-elected students across every grade that read notes of praise and thanks during the celebration. They described her as being selfless, thoughtful, joyful and a solid role model and friend.

Kelly McKone, a 1974 alumnus who later worked with Sr. Raphael on a number of project, described the guest of honor as “a woman who has touched all of us beyond our wildest dreams.”

“When I see Sr. Raphael, I see the eyes of Christ, someone who loves us unconditionally,” McKone said.

He, like others who posted comments on an online congratulatory page, was quick to point out that he didn’t necessarily understand that unconditional love when he was in trouble in Sr. Raphael’s office as a student. Clarity came as an adult.

“I just knew her as the one with the bangs,” Msgr. Michael O’Grady quipped in a video message.

Sr. Raphael still sports the bangs, but her habit and titles have changed since she arrived at Ss. Simon and Jude in 1962. She taught second-grade, fifth-grade and seventh-grade before stepping in as principal in 1972 when several Loreto sisters left for Sacred Heart School in Prescott.

“I always prayed in my heart that I would be sent to Arizona,” Sr. Raphael said.

As a student taught by Loreto sisters, she was accustomed to praying for the sisters already there. Now, Sr. Raphael has served under five bishops and six pastors during her time at Ss. Simon and Jude. Roughly 10 alumni, including both kindergarten teachers, now join her on staff.

Sr. Raphael said her feats at the school were always a partnered effort among diocesan leadership, teachers and parents. Citing Scripture, Sr. Raphael said she merely strives to live in a manner worthy of the call she has received in humility, patience and gentleness.

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Ss. Simon and Jude School on Facebook

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