St. Philip was playing in the state volleyball finals at Kellogg Arena, which meant administrative assistant Mary Rabbitt was in front of the student section “making sure they behaved”. An MHSAA official approached Mary and asked if she was a nun.
“No, but I was raised by one,” Mary said.
And, Mary, in turn, has helped raise 34 classes of St. Philip graduates, two of which included her sons.
“Mary Rabbitt might be one of the cornerstones that St. Philip was built on,” said Katie Reed, Class of 2000, former St. Philip teacher, and current St. Joseph assistant-principal. “Priests, students, teachers, and principals came and went, but Mary has always been a constant at the high school.”
At the end of this school year, that constant will retire.
“I’ve tried my best to convince her not to retire,” said Fr. John Fleckenstein, St. Philip pastor and former St. Philip principal. “But in the end, she has earned it. And we will miss her very much.”
Mary graduated from St. Philip in 1974. She worked for the Federal Center until she and her husband welcomed their first son, Jamie, in 1980. Their second son, Chris, followed two years later.
Meanwhile, St. Philip was having trouble keeping a secretary. In 1984, Mary decided to apply.
“I always loved the school,” Mary said. “I thought I could work and still have my summers and be home with my sons as much as possible. I thought it was a win-win.”
The win, however, had to wait.
“They turned me down,” Mary said. “They said I was too young. The position opened up again the next year. I tried again, and they hired me.”
She was the youngest person on the staff. Many of the teachers – Joe Zuk, Jim Ryan, Mike Hume, Shelia Guerra, Sr. Therese Mary – were Mary’s teachers in high school.
“It was neat to see a different side of them,” Mary said. “I don’t think as kids we realized what they did. They worked hard.”
The best part of her new job was the students.
“The kids were a hoot,” Mary said. “They weren’t afraid to laugh at themselves.”
And Mary wasn’t afraid to laugh with them, or any of the students who followed them, provided they toed the line and represented the school well.
“I give them my look, and they know to stop,” Mary said. “I can joke with them. I can tell them to straighten up. I can hug them. I can laugh with them.”
“At times, Mary is tough. But her toughness is because of her love for the parish, the school, and the kids,” Fr. John said.
“Mary loves our students and wants the best for all of them,” said Vicky Groat, Class of 1985, St. Philip principal and athletic director. “She will push them when they are not doing what is expected of them.”
This mom-like role continued after graduation.
“Very often you will find alumni sitting in her office talking to her about life,” Ms. Reed said.
Only once did Mary consider leaving St. Philip for a higher paying job in a quieter office. She tried it for a couple of days and then returned.
“When you are used to having 200 people constantly around you, well, I just couldn’t do it,” Mary said.
Mary’s job description is best described as “whatever the school needs”. At times, she had mopped floors, ran the cafeteria, directed traffic, coordinated graduation, even dog-sat Rosie when Fr. John taught Theology class.
“Mary has been a huge blessing to our schools,” said Cathy Erskine, BCACS enrollment director. “She tries hard to hide her heart of gold, but she has always done whatever it takes to support the students and staff of St. Philip.
Mary credits her work ethic to her St. Philip teachers.
“Do what you’re supposed to do, no questions asked,” Mary said. “I learned that from them.”
Much has changed in 34 years, including the location of her office. Mary has shepherded 11 principals, five athletic directors, dozens of teachers, and hundreds of students through it all.
The decision to retire was “bittersweet”, but Mary wants to spend more time with her husband, her grandchildren, and her mother. When she returns to St. Philip next, it will be as a volunteer, a fan, and a grandma.
“Mary is a true champion of Catholic education and a committed advocate of St. Philip High School,” said Kathy Gallagher, BCACS Foundation Interim Director.
More importantly, Mary raised her STP children well.
The BCACS Blog staff would like to thank Kyra Rabbitt for providing many of these wonderful photos.