Former St. Peter Claver School principal remembered for strong faith, leadership

| November 6, 2012 | 0 Comments


St. Peter Claver School in St. Paul is a thriving place for its K-8 students. Much of the credit goes to Teresa Mardenborough, who became principal in 2002 and remained in that post until her retirement in 2009.

Perhaps fittingly, Mardenborough died on Oct. 31, exactly 58 years after the original founder of the school, Father Jerome Luger, died. He founded the school in 1950, and it stayed opened until 1989. It reopened in 2001, with Mardenborough on the committee that decided to make that move.

Mardenborough, who was 73, died after a year-and-a-half battle with breast cancer.

“She was a very, very fine, disciplined educator, reputed for her success, especially with educating young people of color,” said Father Kevin McDonough, pastor of St. Peter Claver parish who coaxed Mardenborough out of retirement to be the principal. “She also had a very clear faith vision of Catholic education.”

Mardenborough also was a member of the parish for 44 years, singing in the Gospel Choir, working on the Liturgy Committee and also serving with the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver, an African-American lay organization in the U.S. and South America. A native of Cuba who moved to the U.S. in the early 1960s, she was a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence for 10 years before being granted dispensation. She never married.

An inspiration to others

Father McDonough noted that even after her retirement, she was a presence at the parish. And, her faith was unmistakable and inspirational.

“I appreciate the absolute depth of her commitment to her Catholic faith — very proudly Catholic,” Father McDonough said. “I will miss the enthusiasm she had for this parish and its spreading of the Gospel.” Cathy Cornell, who works in the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools, noted this spirituality in a letter she wrote to Catholic school principals and presidents.

“Her unwavering faith was an inspiration to all who encountered her,”?Cornell said. “If you asked Teresa how she was, she always replied, ‘I am blessed, truly blessed.’”

One concrete way Mardenborough served the broader Catholic community was in helping Archbishop Harry Flynn write his pastoral letter on racism. Titled “In God’s Image,” it was released in September 2003.

“She and Archbishop Flynn were personal friends,” Father McDonough said. “And, she helped him with some of the ideas for the letter. Archbishop Flynn always said, ‘She has the faith.’”

Although Father McDonough only had her as principal for six years, he had her as a friend for nearly 25. That friendship made it easy to want to hire her as principal, and also easy to let her retire in 2009.

“She was knocking on the door of [age] 70 and she said ‘I really want to do some fun things before I go home to God.’” he said. “So, I was sad, but I can’t say I was terribly sad because I think she had done exactly what she set out to do. She had exceeded expectations and she deserved the chance [to enjoy retirement] and I was very happy for her.”

Relying on prayer

Father McDonough has a favorite anecdote about her, which he will share at her funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Nov. 17 at St. Peter Claver. He did note one of her practices at school that spoke to her faith and her attitude toward the students she led as principal.

“She gathered the children every morning — the whole school — for morning prayer,” he said. “She always led the kids in three Hail Marys and then invoked Our Lady Queen of Peace. But then, she would remind students to say, ‘We remember that God has made us to be the best of the best of the best of the best — four times. So now, it’s time to return to school and — and the kids would say, ‘Work hard.’”

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