The following story appeared in the October 8 Idaho Catholic Register.
Interim Principal John Loffer runs past Sacred Heart students to get a “wave” started during a Grandparents’ Day drive-through. (ICR photo/Ann Bixby)
By Gene Fadness
Early last month, John Loffer drove from his home in the northeastern Oregon community of Joseph to Boise to pick up his wife from the airport.
Arriving in Boise a few hours before he needed to pick up his wife, he drove to Sacred Heart Catholic School where the retired school administrator had been principal from 1995 to 2001. Even though he has been a principal at public and Catholic schools in Oregon and California, he has always had a particular fondness for Sacred Heart School. “It was a still a part of me, and I wanted to see it again.”
He drove by the school and noticed the improvements made since his years here include the newly painted school building and the wrought iron fence around the playground. It was a Saturday so he didn’t go inside and, as far as he knows, nobody saw him there.
However, on the following Wednesday, he received a phone call from a former staff member at Sacred Heart School telling him of the need for an interim principal. Loffer was intrigued by the call given his visit to the school just a few days before. “Maybe the Holy Spirit was trying to tell me something,” he said. He told the caller he needed a few days to think about it.
During that time, Loffer decided to see who the pastor was for Sacred Heart Parish. He was pleasantly surprised to see it was Father Roger Fernando, who for several years was based in Enterprise, Ore., the parish to which the community of Joseph is attached. “He was my pastor and now he is the pastor at Sacred Heart. Yes, the Holy Spirit was speaking to me,” Loffer said.
Even though he has been retired since 2015 and settled in his home in Joseph (for many years a favorite family camping and vacation stop), Loffer couldn’t get past the timing of everything. His wife, Tracy, told him, “If they are in need, we can work it out.”
One day later, Loffer was in Boise, meeting with Father Fernando and other Sacred Heart staff. “Father said when he heard it was me they were considering for the interim position was when he stopped looking.”
Indeed, it does seem to be a providential fit. The fact that Loffer is officially retired works out well because the position is interim and it gives Superintendent Sarah Quilici and others time to find a permanent replacement.
And Loffer’s familiarity and affection for the school help as well, given the stressful time this is for any school administrator, teacher or staff member.
“It was kind of overwhelming because there is so much going on,” Loffer said. “But it’s kind of like riding a bicycle, a little wobbly at first, but steering straight.”
The last time Loffer was a principal, no one was dealing with a pandemic. “But I did not have to worry about that because the staff here already had things in place to deal with COVID. They were already on top of things and moving forward.”
The challenge is made easier also because of all the connections from his past years at the school. Some of the same staff members are still at Sacred Heart and many of those who were students at Sacred Heart when he was principal are now parents of students at the school. “In a lot of ways, it’s been like old home week coming back,” except for the
fact that the old home week is going to be about nine months. He lives in a home provided by a woman who winters in Mexico and is able to make the 4.5-hour drive home to Joseph on weekends, or Tracy comes here.
For Superintendent Quilici, Loffer’s quick response has been a godsend.
“There were some challenges at the start of the 2021-22 school year and many communities were divided,” Quilici said. “When there was a principal vacancy at the beginning of September, I was praying about who God would raise up to be the leader of Sacred Heart. God was faithful and brought Sacred Heart a strong interim leader. John has experience in Catholic education and a background in the Sacred Heart community. He’s working with staff and families to bring stability to Sacred Heart this year.”
Loffer is impressed with not only the staff, but the support from parents as well. “This all speaks well of the Sacred Heart community. A lot of things have changed since I was last here, but Sacred Heart is still meeting its mission.”
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