Notre Dame Regional High School wouldn’t be where it is today without the dedication of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
74 of them, to be exact. Sister Jean Ann Weyer did the math.
“I checked! I found out that there were 74 nuns that taught either at St. Mary’s, Cape Catholic, or under the current name: Notre Dame Regional. And I counted how many years combined,” said Weyer. “It was 317 years of teaching.”
So, when the former Notre Dame teacher was told she was the recipient of an Annunciation Award, she wanted to make it clear that her acceptance was on behalf of all those who taught at the school since its inception.
“I only taught for four years, and there are so many other teachers who are more deserving,” said Weyer. “But I’m still teaching; after hours, but still going. So the only reason I’m accepting the award is because it’s in the name of those 74 sisters.”
During her assignment at Notre Dame in Cape Girardeau from 1957 to 1961, Weyer taught biology, typing, and home economics. She was also in charge of the Living Rosary.
“Practically the whole school volunteered. It was truly a very spiritual experience,” said Weyer. “It was an opportunity for the entire student body and their parents to give glory and honor to our Blessed Mother.”
The school, called Cape Catholic at the time, was just one of many stops across her 52 years of teaching high school. She’s served at institutions across the St. Louis region, including St. Laborius, St. Gabriel’s, St. Barbara’s, St. Francis Borgia, and the all-girls Notre Dame High School.
“I love working with teenagers. They’re just so interesting!” said Weyer. “I personally had such wonderful teenage years, and it’s such an exciting time for them.”
Teens have also taught her quite a lot. This statement rang especially true in 1982, when she began teaching at an alternative high school in East St. Louis. It was for troubled students ages 17 through 24 who had dropped out due to drugs, pregnancy, or incarceration.
“There was a lot of pain to cope with,” said Weyer, which she combated through a fierce prayer life.
“Most teachers learn to bring all of their experiences through prayer to God, because you can get kind of burned out,” said Weyer. “You need to pray, pray, and pray. I couldn’t live without prayer. It’s what gives me life.”
Her days never ended at 3:00 p.m., either. For over 20 years, she would then volunteer at the New Lifestyle Program – a high school equivalency program for women working their way out of prostitution – or to teach inmates at the Medium Security Institute.
In 2003, she began working at the Notre Dame Tutorial Center in St. Louis, and in 2009 began her current volunteer post at the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program. Here, she assists students in learning English to achieve citizenship in the United States.
“The longer I teach them, I realize how blessed we are here in the U.S.,” said Weyer. “We take so many things for granted that people throughout different parts of the world cannot take for granted. One of my students from Croatia came here with just a pillowcase and a few pieces of clothing. That was it. And if they don’t have citizenship, there’s a lot of things they’re missing. They can’t vote, and they can’t get Social Security.”
Many religious leaders come through the program, too. She’s in the process of teaching a priest from Madagascar, and recently she not only helped a priest from Indonesia with his English, but with inclusivity.
“He was writing his homilies for church every day, and I made sure he used inclusive language,” said Weyer. “Over half of our Catholic congregation are women, and many churches still say ‘brothers.’ I don’t like that. If there are women in church, then they use ‘brothers and sisters.’”
Weyer is celebrating her 89th birthday this month. Despite her age, she still drives herself, is very independent, and still accepts God’s call to serve each day. She’s capable of retiring, but just “can’t sit around doing nothing.”
“I love teaching, and I plan to continue doing so as long as my health and the good Lord wants me to,” said Weyer.