Dawn Cisewski’s Faith Defines Her Dedication to Teaching
Sacred Heart Parish and Sacred Heart School are located in the rolling hills of farmland surrounding Polonia. Set atop a hill, Sacred Heart School is home to fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Dawn Cisewski.
Dawn’s Catholic Faith has always been central to her life. She said it began with her mother and father. Dawn’s father is Vernon R. Linzmeier, deacon at St. Bronislava Parish in Plover. “Church is always what we do,” said Dawn, whether it’s going to church at St. Bronislava, or my grandma’s parish, St. Kilian in Blenker.
Even as a child, Dawn was actively involved at the church. She recalled, “I would sing in the children’s choir and then, as I got into junior high school, I actually got up my gumption to cantor a little bit. In the old St. Bronislava Church, the choir was up in the balcony, which was great because normally people don’t turn around and look back at you. So, I felt safe up there. But when the new church was built, it took me a little while to be able to sing when people were actually looking at me. But I overcame my self-consciousness and I’ve been in the choir and also teaching CCD at St. Brons for a number of years now.
I come here with a skip in my step every morning. It’s not a burden. I feel a much different richness in my life.
“My Faith has always been with me. I would go to Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) retreats. The first time I went, it was because I had to for confirmation. After that, I went on my own. I truly enjoyed those three-day weekends and the Faith that it brought me during the quiet time as I sat and prayed.”
After graduating from UW–Stevens Point with a teacher’s degree in early childhood (kindergarten to third grade), Dawn accepted a position at St. Joseph School in Sturgeon Bay, teaching kindergarten and 4K. This new job required Dawn to leave her family, the base of everything she knew. Eventually, Dawn grew homesick. She said, “I loved my students, but I wanted to return home to be close to my mom and dad and everything that I knew and loved.” Dawn quit her job and returned to Plover and did substitute teaching while looking for a permanent position in the public school system.
As Dawn was looking for a teaching position in the public school system, Sister Ursula Myszka, principal of Sacred Heart School at the time, reached out to Dawn about coming to teach at Sacred Heart. Each time, Dawn would decline because the salary was several thousand dollars less than an equivalent position in the public schools. Sister Ursula persisted and finally persuaded Dawn to come in for an interview for a position as a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher. Dawn remembers Sister Ursula saying, “I’ve heard good things about you from people I have spoken to in the churches.” So, Dawn decided to go to the interview.
Dawn is glad that she went for the interview. She said that she found Sister Ursula to be the most amazing woman, “so caring, and it was from her that I really got going.” She took the position in 2000 and has been at Sacred Heart School ever since. Dawn said that Sister Ursula was a huge influence in her life.
Even though Dawn knows she could make more money as a teacher in the public school system, she chooses to remain at the small country school of Sacred Heart. When asked why she does not leave, she replied, “Money isn’t always everything. I feel very rich in the love I have received from this school and its families. If something happens to me or my family or anything, I know the families are here to help, to pray, to do what you need them to do. Being able to express my Faith and what I receive from this school and these families and my co-workers are more important to me than the money.”
Dawn credits the sisters who once formed the sole teaching staff of the school with reaffirming her own Faith. Sister Michele Nemojeski, a Sister of St. Joseph Third Order of St. Francis (SSJ-TOSF), is the only sister still at the school and is teaching as energetically as ever. Sister Ursula and the other sisters now live in the motherhouse in Chicago. Dawn reminisced about how Sister Ursula would take the sixth-grade students to Chicago to stay at the convent and then tour the Chicago sights, a practice begun 26 years ago, which Dawn continues to this day [the exception being 2020].
For many teachers like Dawn, their influence on young people not only happens in the classroom, but far beyond. Dawn’s Catholic Faith shapes her attitude and outlook on her students. “You know you are a teacher; you touch lives.” She recalled losing a student to an ATV accident. “I am very close to that family today because of that connection. I have an ornament in my classroom with his picture on it. I also had a rose plant that was not doing well where it was, so I brought it into the classroom and set it near his picture. I got my first rose bloom.
“These are things as a teacher that you just don’t expect. You know you’ve touched people and that God could help me get through difficult times and for me to help them get through it also. So, every time my students leave to go into seventh grade, I encourage them to keep in touch.”
Dawn is grateful for her Faith and the teacher she has become; dedicated to the needs of her students. “I come here with a skip in my step every morning. It’s not a burden. I feel a much different richness in my life. I don’t think that I ever want to leave. I think the school would literally have to shut down before I would leave. I’m proud that I have my Faith to back me up in all that I do.”
Dawn said she is very thankful to Father Alan Guanella and Principal Thomas McCann for supporting her in her vocation as a teacher at Sacred Heart School.
Story and photography by Robert Rogers
Published in the May/June 2021 Catholic Life Issue