School secretary retires after 37 years, but love will go on

By: By Tom Dermody

“St. Vincent de Paul School, Mary Davis speaking.”

For 37 years, that greeting has welcomed callers to St. Vincent de Paul School in Peoria. At the end of June, Mrs. Davis — who has served six principals as school secretary and been the gatekeeper for thousands of students and visitors — is retiring at the age of 81.

“It’s been a joy,” she told The Catholic Post recently while reflecting on the nearly four decades since she was hired by Sister Angelene, OP, former principal.

The joy peaked during an emotional final week of classes in May that saw her office filled with flowers, cards, and gifts. At nearly daily tributes — including an open house on May 27 attended by many former teachers, principals, and alumni — the humble, soft-spoken Mrs. Davis was repeatedly applauded, lauded, and even serenaded.

The parish’s Women’s Guild announced the establishment of an annual $500 “Mary Davis Scholarship” to honor her “outstanding commitment and service” far into the future.

It’s the perfect tribute for Mrs. Davis because, even though her duties included record keeping and other office duties, it was always about the children.

“You have to love children,” she said when asked to list the top requirements for a school secretary.

That love was returned in a big way by this year’s 500-plus students, each of whom brought in a flower on the same day in late May.

“It was like a flower shop in the office,” said Mrs. Davis. A card and gift shop, too. There was a prayer basket from the fifth grade. A poster from the third grade. Home made cards and gift certificates. The eighth grade girls basketball team, which won the diocesan title this year, even gave her their gold medal following their graduation Mass.

For years, Mrs. Davis was the go-to person when a younger student needed a temperature taken on a Band-Aid for a skinned knee.

The student council recalled that service and others in a version of the Beatitudes they composed for a presentation of cards to her during a school assembly. It read:

“Blessed were we when we were hurt, Mrs. Davis took care of us.
“Blessed were we when we did not have lunch money, Mrs. Davis took care of us.
“Blessed were we when we were late for school, Mrs. Davis checked us in.
“Blessed were we when we were sick, Mrs. Davis called our parents.
“Blessed were we when we forgot our homework, Mrs. Davis let us call our parents.
“Blessed were we when we received our awards, Mrs. Davis typed them up.”

In her early years with the school, Mrs. Davis coaxed Ditto and stencil machines to make copies. When a phone message came, she went to the classroom.

Now, in her third different office space, there are computers and copiers and a P.A. system. While the phone used to ring “endlessly” on snowy days, now an alert system transmits closing or early dismissal messages to all parents.

The toughest part of her job?

“Getting substitute teachers at the last minute,” said Mrs. Davis without hesitation. But she spoke much more about the blessings of her job, including working in a faith-filled environment and interacting with students, staff, and parents.

Msgr. Jason Gray, administrator of St. Vincent’s, noted that founding pastor Msgr. Robert Livingston served the parish for 32 years. Mrs. Davis served the school for even longer, and “she ranks right up there with Msgr. Livingston” in terms of affection and influence within the school.

Mrs. Davis plans to treasure all of her memories and keepsakes, saying of the latter “I’ll get them out every so often and the tears may flow.”

Cards or notes may be sent to Mrs. Davis in care of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, 6001 N. University St., Peoria, IL, 61614.

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