Job well done: former Catholic student, longtime Catholic educator Erin Vader to leave diocese
From her earliest days, Erin Vader’s parents instilled in her a purpose: her job was to give back.
As a young adult with a fresh degree in English from the University of Texas at Arlington, she set out into the world certain of two things. One, she would do something that would serve her community. And two, she was not going to teach.
She was only half right — much to the benefit of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fort Worth.
A product of St. Maria Goretti Catholic School in Arlington and Nolan Catholic High School, returning to the educational system that formed her was a natural fit.
“My Catholic faith was a completely integrated part of my life. Growing up, we were always at church or at school,” she recalled. As a child, she watched her parents, also Nolan graduates, put their faith into action and serve in various ministries in her home parish of St. Vincent de Paul in Arlington.
Vader’s career began at St. Andrew Catholic School, teaching middle school. She discovered she loved the intellectual side of instruction, but what she cherished most of all could only be found in a Catholic setting.
She explained that Catholic education “allows you to really support the parents in the formation of the whole child. We aren’t just teaching a subject; we are forming young disciples. We help them identify the gifts God has given them. That’s the most exciting part for me, helping them discover gifts they didn’t even know they had, and how to use those gifts as servant leaders in the world.”
She delighted in watching her Catholic faith, so fundamental to her character since her childhood, take root in her young students. She reminisced, “You take an unruly group of seventh graders on the way to Mass. You’re telling them to ‘hush’ and ‘be quiet’ and ‘remember where you are going.’ The minute they hit the holy water font, you see the change that comes over them. You see that they get it. They understand that they’re in the real presence of Christ. That’s an amazing thing.”
A Bigger Community
Equipped with almost 10 years in the classroom, plus years of additional education (Vader would eventually earn a doctorate in educational leadership from Texas Wesleyan University), she became principal of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic School, then Our Mother of Mercy.
She laughed as she remembered her years as principal in the small grade schools in Fort Worth. “The principal of a small Catholic school does everything — sometimes you’re a teacher, custodian, health professional, development director, and occasionally the cafeteria lady.”
But the satisfaction that came with being a classroom teacher was multiplied as she moved into leadership positions. “Your family gets bigger. It’s not just your classroom. You’re responsible for a lot of people’s formation. Not just the kids, but also the faculty and staff, and to a degree the parents of your students,” she said.
Not only did her focus change from one classroom to the greater school community, but her vision changed from planning the week’s lessons to concentrating on the long term.
The St. Andrew parishioner said, “It becomes about not just the kids you have, but the kids the school is going to have 10, 20 years down the line when you’re not there anymore. You always have one foot in the now, and one foot in the future. When you make decisions that are good, that will last, that’s very rewarding.”
After her principal years, her next stop was her alma mater, Nolan, where she was president of the high school for three years. Currently, she is helping all 19 schools in the diocese as coordinator of schools advancement and alumni relations.
After giving back to Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fort Worth for more than 20 years, Vader will move to the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri to become superintendent of Catholic schools, effective May 1. The Catholic school system in central and northeastern Missouri includes three high schools and 37 elementary schools, educating about 7,000 students annually.
The diocese is one of two in the U.S. that allows children of parents who tithe regularly to attend grade school tuition-free.
Vader said that, beginning in her years as principal, she’s always had a role in development, and she finds the tithing model employed by the Diocese of Jefferson City intriguing.
“Knowing the challenges that our Catholic schools face in the U.S., we have to be looking at innovative, out-of-the-box funding models,” she said.
Leaving the diocese where she’s lived her entire life will be challenging, she admitted. However, Vader plans to employ the same strategy in Missouri that has worked well for her in Fort Worth. “I pray for a lot of grace,” she said.
And despite the fact she’ll miss “everything” about Fort Worth, she’s taking with her the faith instilled by her parents, by her teachers and religious sisters, the schools, and the parishes to which she’s belonged.
Although the territory will be new, Vader will still be doing the work she was raised to do, giving back to the next generation by providing a strong faith foundation for young Catholics.
“What a gift it is, that my faith is so integrated into who I am. The idea that I am able to be part of giving that gift to other people is amazing,” she said.