Laverne Suster: When a teaching career evolves to a labor of love

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This article was originally published by the Hawaii Catholic Herald on 1/25/2017.

By Deborah Manog

Laverne Suster with with 4 of her 5 sons, her husband on her left and Chaminade President Bro. Bernard Ploeger on the far right.

Ten students from Chaminade University’s Catholic Educational Leadership Cohort graduated with their Master of Education degrees on Dec. 12. One member of the cohort, Laverne Suster, was named Chaminade’s “Outstanding Graduate” in the Master of Education program.

Education, dedication, compassion

Suster says her role in education has been much more than a profession. Teaching has been a labor of love, and she continues to flourish both professionally and spiritually at the place where the first seeds were planted — Our Lady of Perpetual Help School.

When the school first opened in 1967, Suster was a wide-eyed second grader. She recalls the memory of a very organized and diligent nun, Sister Mary Francine. When an accident kept Suster from attending school for a while, Sister Mary Francine would go to her house on Saturdays to go over the lessons that she missed. Although Suster was just a child at the time, this simple gesture warmed her heart.

Laverne Suster was surprised that some of her students came to lei her at graduation.

“That dedication and compassion, that’s the kind of teacher I want to be,” Suster said.

Later, Suster attended Campbell High School, across the street from Our Lady of Perpetual Help. One day she gazed out at her alma mater and remembered the fine education she had received in a school that created a safe, family atmosphere. At that moment, she knew she wanted to return as a teacher someday.

A few months before graduating from Chaminade University with her degree in education with a focus on English, there was an opening for a language arts teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. She applied for the job and has been teaching there for 35 years.

“Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been my home for most of my life,” Suster said.

Teaching in a Catholic school is important to her because she loves to teach her faith to the students and speak about God. She repeats the phrase, “say what you mean and mean what you say,” to her students every day. She hopes for her students to lead a lives of integrity, to really know themselves and to help them have an idea of their goals.

“I want them to become strong people and strong in their faith so that when they leave us and get out to the real world, they won’t be swayed off of their path,” Suster said.

In 2014, Suster was invited to become a part of the Chaminade University Catholic Educational Leadership Cohort.

Her cohort included elementary and high school teachers, as well as a few school administrators. With each person having a different background, they learned a lot from each other, Suster said. The cohort constantly motivated and supported each other and also sent each other reminders of due dates. She also credits Hawaii Catholic Schools superintendent Rockers for his encouragement.

(L to R): Christopher Ugale, Director of Mx Scholar Programs at Maryknoll School; Conception “Bernie” Gora, Vice Principal at St. Theresa School, Honolulu; Adrianne Hill, teacher at St. Patrick School; Laverne Suster, Teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help; Delta Tereschuk, 5th grade teacher at St. John Vianney Parish School; Kanoelani Turner, 8th grade and social studies teacher at St. John Vianney Parish School; Michelle Gabriel, Vice Principal of Student Life and School Culture at Maryknoll School

One of the last assignments in the leadership cohort had Suster and her colleague, Tracy Spencer, implement a type of change at Our Lady of Perpetual Help that involved graduation policy. They asked Rockers to clarify the assignment. Without hesitation, the superintendent got in his car and made the 28-mile drive in afternoon traffic to discuss the assignment with them in person.

This willingness to help meant a lot to Suster. Now, she often has the phrase pop up in her head: “Dr. Rockers would go.”

Suster said, “if a student comes up to me and asks for help on something, now I think to myself, ‘Dr. Rockers would go; he would say yes and make that extra time.’”

Managing a full-time job, along with being a wife and a mother to five sons, and going back to school wasn’t easy. She would find pockets of time to do her school work late at night when her family was asleep and early in the morning before heading out to work.

“It’s all in God’s timing and he opened doors, gates and windows for me,” Suster said.

At the Chaminade University commencement ceremony on Dec. 12, Suster was surrounded not only by friends and family, but by the familiar faces of her current students, grades 6-8. She hopes that by seeing her graduate with her master’s degree, her students will be inspired to one day work toward their own degrees in higher education.

“You’re never too old,” Suster said. “Education is forever.”

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