Meet Judy Burnham, principal and teacher from New Brunswick, Canada, who is our cover teacher from the Spring 2017 issue. She teaches at Divine Mercy Catholic School in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.
Tell us a bit about your school.
In this part of the world (the eastern coast of Canada), Catholic schools are rare and not financially funded by parishes or dioceses. The onus to “stay alive” is on the board of directors and many wonderful benefactors who believe in our vision of providing Catholic education for as many children as possible.
Seventeen years ago a group of Catholic parents got together to discuss the possibility of establishing a private Catholic school in our city. At that time I had homeschooled my own seven children for almost 10 years, which gave me a broad perspective on Catholic curriculum and the educational needs of students. After three years of meeting, praying, and pursuing our dream, Divine Mercy Catholic School was born — with 25 students and two teachers. The current academic year is our 14th, and we now have a student body of 85 and a staff of five full-time and two part-time teachers.
What grade and subjects do you teach?
I teach a sixth- and seventh-grade split class and a smattering of subjects in the other classes from kindergarten to eighth grade.
Who else is in your family?
My husband, Jim, and I have raised our seven children over the past three decades. The eldest, Christopher, and his wife Heidi have four beautiful girls; Andrew and his wife Allie are currently expecting child number five. All our grandchildren are under the age of seven!
We are blessed to have two sons currently studying for the priesthood. Brother Timothy (Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity) is studying at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. God willing, he will become a deacon in April 2017 and a priest in 2018. Brother John (Franciscans of Halifax) is studying at Pontifical University Antonianum in Rome and is in his third year of studies.
Our daughter, Catherine, works at our little Catholic school by marketing and promoting our endeavors. Besides that, she works part-time as a speaker and facilitator for the Steubenville Lead weeks in both Canada and the United States.
The youngest of our seven are twins. Michael lives on his own, works in Saint John, and enjoys the privilege of being “the fun uncle” for his many nieces and nephews. His twin sister, Sr. Angela, is pursuing religious life with the Franciscans of Halifax and lives and works with her community in Halifax.
Needless to say, Jim and I are very blessed to have experienced the joys and pains of raising a large family and are grateful to God for each child, each blessing, each memory.
When you were the age of your students, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I have vivid memories of my own early childhood, sitting on a backyard swing on a summer evening and dreaming of being a mom and teacher. I believe I was five years old at the time. The dream never wavered, and now I can look back on some 40 years of being blessed as a grateful mother and grandmother of many and a thankful teacher of hundreds!
What was your favorite subject in school?
When I attended school, I was enamored with sports. I couldn’t get enough and joined every team that my schools offered. Gym class, noontime activities, and after-school practices were highlights for me, and I waded through the academics in order to gain the athletic benefits. Not surprisingly, I became a physical education teacher, but I soon found that I loved teaching in the classroom and was even more at home there than in the gym. I taught high school sciences (and a bit of physical education) for seven years before staying home to raise and homeschool my own children.
What are you reading right now?
I can’t seem to get enough of the writings of two of our newest saints: St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. Mother Teresa exemplified the most beautiful way of serving others (a living example of what it means to be a teacher), and St. Elizabeth was known for her deep, personal love for prayer and drawing close to our Lord and the Blessed Mother (a very essential example of how to be a Catholic teacher).
Is your desk at school messy or neat?
Ha-ha … I’d have to say that it’s messy enough to make me look busy but organized enough that I can find what I want!
What is your next classroom project?
We always have an on-the-go project. We collect food for the local food bank, visit the local veteran’s hospital with our choir, raise money for local Christmas funds, participate in fundraising concerts for local church renovations, and remain open to helping others wherever we can. Daily we work at memorizing Scripture, growing in faith, speaking and acting respectfully, working diligently, and loving tenderly.
Outside of school, what do you enjoy? I enjoy meeting up with my family every Sunday for a meal. It’s a day of catching up on news, Skyping with family members who are away, playing games and doing puzzles with the grandkids, and enjoying a home-cooked meal, a lot of laughter, and a ton of love!
What is your favorite classroom prayer?
Because our school is housed in a former Redemptorist rectory, we inherited a beautiful chapel where the student body meets every day for prayer, music, and Scripture chat before academics begin. Mass is celebrated, Scriptures are acted out, and intercessions are prayed. A highlight for me is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The children have learned to love this form of prayer-in-silence. They are taught to be still, to pray along with the song-prayers, and to just “be” in the presence of the Lord. How could our Lord resist the earnest prayers of his little ones turned toward him in adoration?
Tell us a little bit about a special project of yours.
I’d have to say that our ongoing school project is creating an atmosphere of love in the school. Our school has been given the nickname “The little school with the big heart!” because our students are taught to be generous and loving to each other, to their teachers, and to our neighbors. Our top priority is to create an atmosphere of love so that each student grows in confidence of his or her own worth. In a caring environment, each child is free to flourish and reach their potential academically. Over the years we have seen miracles of hard hearts softened, crushed spirits revived, fearful souls emboldened, and doubt turned to faith.
Where and how can we find you online?
You can find out more about Divine Mercy Catholic School by checking out our website DivineMercyCatholicSchool.ca or looking us up on Facebook (Divine Mercy Catholic School at 30 Douglas St., Saint John, NB). My own email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and I can be reached at (506) 333-7964.