Meet the 7 new principals at Catholic schools of Peoria diocese

Students returning to seven Catholic schools in the Diocese of Peoria last week found new principals waiting to welcome them. Assistant principals also were named at three schools.

The new administrators are: Randy Frakes, Immaculate Conception School, Monmouth; Anastacia Gianessi, St. Malachy School, Rantoul; David Hobin, Alleman High School, Rock Island; Richard Koehler, St. Louis School, Princeton; Sister Maria Christi Nelson, OP, St. Jude School, Peoria; Dr. Amy Perona, Peru Catholic School, Peru; and Jill Templin, Holy Family School, Peoria.

Succeeding Hobin as assistant principal at Alleman is Jacob Smithers. Emily Blumenshine will assist Ashley Davis at St. Michael the Archangel School in Streator, while Heather Francque will work with Jack Schlindwein at St. Malachy School in Geneseo.

Following is information about their backgrounds, as well as their thoughts about why they pursued teaching and Catholic education. They also tell what attracted them to their schools.


Immaculate Conception School

Degrees: B.S. in Physical Education, Western Illinois University (2005); M.S. in School Leadership, Olivet Nazarene University (2009)

Background: Frakes taught physical education and eighth grade health at Beardstown Junior/Senior High School from 2005 to 2006, and physical education and health for the sixth, seventh and eighth grades at J.W. Eater Middle School in Rantoul from 2006 to 2012. He also has coached middle school baseball, basketball and track. For the last three years, Frakes was the assistant principal and athletic director at West Central High School in Biggsville.

Why teaching: I think what drew me to teaching was the belief that I could have a positive impact on young people’s lives. As a teacher you have the opportunity not only to teach students about a particular subject, you have the opportunity to teach them about life. Teachers also get to play so many different roles in students’ lives. Every day you are a teacher, but some days you are also a mentor, guidance counselor, shoulder to cry on, a psychologist, friend, coach, the only one that will listen, the only one that will understand, the only one they feel cares. Teaching is not for the faint of heart. It demands a lot in these ever-changing times, but in all its demands I feel it has returned in rewards.

Why Catholic education: I feel that Catholic education gives us the best of both worlds as Catholics and educators. Catholic education strives for academic excellence, but more importantly it strives for moral excellence. It gives you the opportunity to tie faith into daily lessons and teachable moments without hesitation. Catholic education builds strong foundations in our youth as they navigate these challenging times. I have two daughters of my own that attend Catholic school and have been amazed to see their growth in academics and in their faith.

Why Immaculate Conception: I truly feel this is where God wanted me to be. As I look back over the past year and the decisions that were made in my family’s life, it led us to Immaculate Conception. I remember sitting down with the interview committee and how they made me feel so welcome. As we sat and discussed a multitude of topics, it felt like I had known them for years and this was a discussion we had many times before. I knew then that Immaculate Conception is where I needed to be and fortunately for me they felt the same way. I feel truly blessed to be entering such a great school and parish.


Anastacia Gianessi
St. Malachy School

Degrees: B.S. in Secondary Education/Social Studies, Bradley University with Type 09 certification (2007); M.A. in Educational Administration/Supervision, St. Xavier University, Chicago, with Type 75 certification (2013)

Background: Gianessi taught for Rankin School District No. 98 in Pekin from 2007 to 2009, and Pekin Community Unit School District No. 303 from 2009 to 2010, and was a substitute in Pekin- and Peoria-area schools from 2010 to 2011. For the last four years, she was a teacher for the Peoria Regional Office of Education No. 48.

Why teaching: In 2001, I saw a former teacher at the library, who was an inspiration to me. At the time, I was working in the restaurant industry. Throughout our conversation, she told me I would make a great teacher. I had always had a passion for education. I have a passion for education. I believe it is our duty to prepare the next generation to be faithful, productive citizens in an ever-changing world. With the support of my family in 2002, I went back to college as a non-traditional student (married with eight children) to obtain my teaching certificate. As a lifelong learner, I eventually obtained my master’s degree in 2013.

Why Catholic education: My faith guides me in my daily life. Working in a Catholic school allows me to integrate my faith and my career. Also, it is another example of stewardship to my Catholic community.

Why St. Malachy: St. Malachy Catholic School is a family where all are welcome. Catholic identity is present, with the Dominican Sisters on staff and a pastor who is involved in school activities on a daily basis. Parental involvement is required with evidence of community support and involvement. It is a great community and I am blessed to be appointed as the new principal. I look forward to sharing my faith and helping lead the St. Malachy community.


David Hobin
Alleman High School
Rock Island

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in Special Education, Illinois State University; master’s degree in Educational Administration, University of Illinois at Springfield

Background: Hobin was a special education teacher in Peoria Public Schools and for the Black Hawk Area Special Education District in the Quad Cities for eight years. He served as principal at Visitation Catholic School in Kewanee from 2009 to 2012 and Lourdes Catholic School in Bettendorf, Iowa, from 2012 to 2014. Last year he was assistant principal at Alleman High School.

Why teaching: I always wanted to be a teacher and I felt like I was drawn to teaching because I truly wanted to help young people. I wanted to give them the tools and knowledge they needed to be successful in their future. I wanted to make a difference and help affect the future!

Why Catholic education: I am a product of Catholic education. Catholic education teaches the whole student: mind, body and soul. We are able to teach to every part of the human being and we are called to do what we can to guide the students to heaven. It is about so much more than this world!

Why Alleman: Alleman High School is family! We are the Alleman family! Alleman High School represents everything that is great about Catholic education. The bond that is shared with every person who has ever been connected to Alleman is truly amazing.


Richard Koehler
St. Louis School

Degrees: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Illinois State University.

Background: Koehler has 35 years of experience, including one year at Earlville High School, 11 years at Metamora High School and 23 year at LaSalle-Peru High School. He has taught physical education and driver’s education and has coached football and track.

Why Catholic education: Koehler came out of a brief retirement to lead St. Louis School because he wanted “to help provide our families and students with a positive environment for faith and educational development.”

Why St. Louis: It just seemed like a good fit.


Sister Maria Christi Nelson, OP
St. Jude School

Degrees: B.A. in Liberal Arts, Magdalen College, New Hampshire; Certification in Elementary Education, Eastern Michigan University; M.Ed. in Elementary Education, University of Southern Mississippi; M.Ed. in Educational Administration, University of Southern Mississippi

Background: Sister Maria Christi taught grades one through eight for 12 years in the Dioceses of Madison, Wisconsin; Lansing, Michigan; Phoenix, Arizona; Naples, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; Austin, Texas; and Peoria. She served as a principal intern for two years in Austin, Texas, and was assistant principal at St. Jude in Peoria for two years.

Why teaching: I have had many amazing, influential teachers and mentors in my own life, those whom God used to change my life in radical ways. When I was discerning consecrated life, it was such a joy to know that God called me to the Dominicans, those who give their life for preaching and teaching.

Why Catholic education: The greatest attraction and joy of teaching as a Dominican Sister is to bring each child to encounter Truth, Beauty and Love: the person of Jesus Christ. I love Catholic education, especially as a consecrated religious who is called to a spiritual motherhood, as it is also a formation of the whole child, showing him or her that a life lived totally for Christ and others is happy, fulfilled and free!

Why St. Jude: The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist were invited by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and Father Patrick Henehan to the Diocese of Peoria and St. Jude Parish in 2013. I was privileged to be one of the first four Sisters in Peoria and to teach at St. Jude the past two years. Mrs. Winnie Pratt, the founding principal of St. Jude, planned to retire in 2015, so Father Henehan made a request to Mother Assumpta for a Sister to serve in the administration after Winnie’s retirement. I am very grateful for this assignment from Mother and my community, as well as humbled to serve as the second principal for St. Jude School. I am amazed and thank God for His tremendous work and grace in this extraordinary parish and school, and thank Mrs. Pratt for her beautiful dedication to build such a strong foundation for generations to come.


Dr. Amy Perona
Peru Catholic School

Degrees: B.A., Illinois State University; M.S., University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; Ed.D., DePaul University, as well as Type 75 certification, Learning Behavior Specialist 1 endorsement, and Type 10 certification (Elementary and Secondary Education)

Background: My early teaching years were spent at Tonica Grade School, working with students ages 6 to 13. After a four-year maternity leave, I returned to teaching in 2000 at Ottawa Township High School, where I taught in the Life Skills/Transition Program for 12 years. In 2013, I took a job at Illinois State University working for the Center for the Study of Education Policy as research assistant/policy analyst.

Why teaching: There was not one deciding factor that drew me to teaching, however, over time and as I’ve worked toward advanced degrees a number of factors have impacted my continued desire to stay in the field, including finding ways to actively engage students in the classroom, teacher leadership, diversifying the teacher pipeline, and social justice.

Why Catholic education: Perona cited her own personal experience with Catholic education, “not only as a young adult but also as a mother of two children who have received a Catholic education.” She said one will be attending the University of Illinois this fall and residing at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, while the other will be a junior at St. Bede Academy in Peru. “A strong foundation is the cornerstone for a strong academic experience. This starts with the values which are embedded in Catholic education.”

Why Peru Catholic: I look forward to upholding the strong academic and spiritual development Peru Catholic has represented in our community. The school believed in me as a candidate for this position, and I intend to fulfill my responsibility as principal to the highest level possible.


Jill Templin
Holy Family School

Degrees: B.S. in Education, Illinois State University; M.A. in Human Development Counseling and post-master’s certification in Educational Administration from Bradley University

Background: Templin served as school counselor for the Delavan Community Unit School District for seven years and was guidance counselor for Peoria Heights High School for five years.

Why teaching: My sister would always tell people stories of how I made her play “school” since I was 5 years old. I’ve always had a playful spirit and a passionate love for learning. Education was the perfect fit for me.

Why Catholic education: After experiencing firsthand the struggles of children and families in today’s society, I believed we were losing the basic fundamental moral, ethical and character education that children need to become respectful, responsible and successful adults. I was drawn to Catholic education because we have the freedom to teach and model those characteristics. We can share our Catholic faith and relationship with Christ without embarrassment or fear of retribution, but with pride.

Why Holy Family: When my husband and I first visited Holy Family Church, I felt people’s genuine love and passion for their faith. Holy Family offers a wonderful culture of diversity. They embrace our differences and support a sense of belonging and unconditional acceptance. They are very dedicated to supporting those in need in our community, Cursillo, TEC and many other programs that reach out and share our Catholic faith. But, most importantly, they support each other and their school in order to cultivate and build that foundation of faith in our children. So many parishioners offered their support and prayers as I began this new role as their school principal. I feel called to serve here and am blessed every day with the strength God gives me. As our Holy Family prayer states, “Grant us the wisdom to know the part you call us to play, and help us to welcome all who come to us.”

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