Distinguished Teacher: Kindergarten is home for Vanessa Fite in Kewanee

KEWANEE — Standing in the middle of her kindergarten classroom at Visitation Catholic School, Vanessa Fite somehow manages to keep in check five little boys and girls with boundless energy, affirming them for good decisions and gently guiding them away from decisions that could be better.

In the end they have so much fun that during free play most of them come together as a class and play “school.” “Miss Fite says this,” they tell one another.

Vanessa Fite

“This is my love and my home. It’s a good age, it really is,” said Fite, who has taught kindergarten for 31 years and been at Visitation for 35 years.

Helping the little ones love learning is a privilege and helping them to love God and Jesus is pure joy for Fite.

“It’s so important to me to pray with the kids,” she told The Catholic Post. “It answers a lot of questions for them, at this age. Telling them that ‘Jesus loves you’ — if they’re troubled about something they have that that they always know.”

For being dedicated to her students for so many years and her faithful presence in the school, Fite was named the Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools. She will be honored along with Father Paul Joseph Langevin, OFM Conv., Distinguished Pastor of the Year, and Patsy Santen, Distinguished Principal of the Year, at a Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria on Tuesday, May 3. A luncheon will follow.


Principal Wayne Brau nominated Fite, who serves as his backup when he needs to be out of the office.

“She teaches Catholic values so well,” he said, but noted that Fite is not Catholic.

“If you would be around her class, if you listen to her teach, you would never know it,” he said. “If you would see her when she takes the kids to Mass, you would never know it. She does such a good job.”

“I’m a very faith-filled person,” said Fite, who is active at the Kewanee First United Methodist Church.

“The parochial school education is really important, I think, for their faith foundation and the virtues and values that don’t seem to be evident to them in other places, which is unfortunate,” she said.

Fite credits God for leading her to Visitation.

She grew up in Kewanee and attended Wethersfield High School. After graduation, she went on to Black Hawk College for two years to major in art and then to Northern Illinois University with an eye to being an interior designer.

When one of her professors told her, “You have to be cutthroat in this business,” Fite knew she couldn’t continue. “I’m competitive, but not cutthroat,” she said.


Told by a high school counselor that she would make a good English teacher, Fite enrolled at Illinois State University to study elementary education.

“It was a God shift for me, God’s plan for me, because I do definitely think that teaching is a vocation,” she said. “You love it deep down in your heart, especially nowadays with all the challenges. You need to love education to be in it.”

She was a substitute teacher for one year and taught in Bradford for two years before the job at Visitation became available. In addition to kindergarten, Fite has taught first, second and third grades there.

In all, she has been in education for 39 years, long enough to teach alongside two former students. She is coming close to having a third generation of students in her classroom.

“I just hope we laid a good foundation here for them — faithfully, spiritually, emotionally, and, of course, academically,” Fite said. “Whatever their successes, I just hope they’re happy and I hope they have learned to love God through it all.”

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