Sister Maria Heppler, OSB, Appointed Sub-Prioress of Mount St. Scholastica Sr. Maria Heppler celebrates over 35 years with Catholic Charities.
It’s hard to say goodbye, especially when it comes to Sister Maria Heppler. Sister Maria, Director of the School Consultation Program, has been a part of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas for over 35 years – the longest serving employee in the history of the organization. A Benedictine Sister of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas, she is leaving for an appointed role as sub-prioress for the monastery.
Sister Maria began her career as a teacher. After five years, she knew she was being called to help children in another way. School counseling seemed like the perfect combination for her since she was a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in the State of Kansas with a M.S. in Counseling Psychology from Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, Maryland, and a B.S. in Elementary Education with a Minor in Theology from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
On January 1, 1982, Sister Maria began at Catholic Charities as a school counseling consultant. The program started just two years before, with three archdiocese schools. This year, there are 14 school counselors serving 19 Catholic elementary schools in Douglas, Franklin, Johnson, Nemaha, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties.
As the school counseling program grew, so did Sister Maria’s responsibilities. In 1987, she became the program’s director and was instrumental as its purpose shifted from preventative to crisis-focused counseling. School counseling consultants were now dealing with issues such as bullying, cyber bullying, suicide, depression, anxiety and abandonment. “We saw a change in the family structure, which resulted in different types of issues in the schools,” says Sister Maria. “There were addictions in the families and many more mental health problems. What we really began doing is therapy in the schools.”
Sister Maria also began coordinating Catholic Charities’ Crisis Support Team for the entire Archdiocese. Whenever tragic events happened at a Catholic elementary or high school such as a loss of a student, teacher or parent, she went on-site and worked closely with the administration to develop and implement a plan to help the grieving students and staff.
“Throughout it all, I hope I’ve been a compassionate, non-anxious, steady presence and support to those who are in the Catholic schools serving the needs of the students,” says Sister Maria.
In late August, Sister Maria will assume her new position assisting the prioress and coordinating daily activities for the 124 Sisters who are in residence at Mount St. Scholastica. While she welcomes the opportunity to have more interaction with the Sisters, she says she’ll miss working with Catholic Charities’ school counseling program. “I’ve been very proud to work for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas,” adds Sister Maria. “It’s a wonderful ministry that truly responds to the changing needs of the community.”