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Whinnery is new St. John’s principal

by Jane Lightbourn • Staff writer

It all came together with divine help, according to the new principal at St. John the Baptist Catholic School, Molly Whinnery.

A former elementary teacher and principal at Catholic schools, most recently in the Twin Cities area, Whinnery began her new position July 1 and to say that she is happy, content, enthusiastic and excited about the coming year would be an understatement.

“I truly believe it was the hand of God that got me here,” she said last week.

She already knew Sister Tresa Margret, the school’s former principal. They had been friends and colleagues for many years. This past spring she had connected with the church pastor, the Rev. Stan Mader, who had indicated to her that they were seeking a new principal. She sent off her resume and application, but it went to the wrong email address. Whinnery did not receive a response.

Then she saw Sister Tresa, who mentioned the open position. Again, Whinnery sent off her resume, but this time both through email and also by hand delivery. This time around, it got through.

On the day of her interview with the committee, Whinnery arrived early. She liked the feel of the community immediately and was drawn to the church across the street.

“It thought it was so interesting, and it said something when I found out it was open,” she said. “It was so quiet and peaceful and I sat down and said a prayer.”

She also asked for a sign. Perhaps she got it when she left the church and walked back to the school.

What she heard were sounds from the beautiful countryside, very similar to the sounds she heard at her grandparents’ farm.

Her interview went well and she received the call with good news several days later. She asked for a day to consider it, then realized that was the place she wanted to be.

“It’s a special place,” said Whinnery. “It was meant to be.”

Originally from Austin, where her father worked for Hormel, Whinnery is the oldest of four children. Her family moved to Spencer, Iowa, then to St. Paul, where Whinnery completed Catholic elementary school and high school. She earned her undergraduate degree in elementary education and her graduate degree in organized leadership, both from the University of St. Catherine’s.

A career in education was an easy choice for Whinnery. She enjoyed school.

“When I was attending school, I pretty much knew what I wanted to do,” she said.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Whinnery taught second grade first in Hutchinson, then in Red Wing.

Again teaching in a Catholic school was foremost in Whinnery’s mind. She recalled the many great teachers she had and the dedication they showed. She described it as a “vocation,” rather than a job.

When she left Red Wing, she continued to teach for another 15 years with the kindergarten teachers in Sacred Heart, St. John’s in St. Paul and at Nativity. She was working for her graduate degree.

She loved teaching, but began looking at education in another way.

“I was considering the big picture, the challenges,” Whinnery said. “I could be creative when I was teaching kindergarten, but as a leader, I could do something that influenced others, impact them.”

With her decision to seek administrative positions, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was also making decisions. Whinnery had to have her Minnesota K-12 license, which meant another 18 months of schooling at St. Mary’s University.

She was principal at St. Pius X for seven years and 14 years at St. Mark’s in St. Paul before coming to Vermillion.

At John’s she will be working with the students and parents and helping to implement a vision for the school. There will be some different instructional method changes designed to help the students.

When asked if she’ll miss being in the classroom, she said: “I believe I have the best of both. I do what I do in the office and I can do some reading instruction in the classroom.”

And she sees that will continue at St. John’s.

“This is a special place,” she said. “It was truly meant to be.”

Whinnery has three grown sons and five grandchildren.