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Debbie Linnane to retire after 50 years in Catholic education

By Jeff Kurowski | On Mission

ALLOUEZ — Five bishops, 10 directors of education/superintendents, the development of six Catholic school systems, the building of new schools, creating countless manuals and directories, planning all-school Masses — Debbie Linnane has experienced them all and much more since her career began with the education office of the Diocese of Green Bay in 1974.

Debbie Linnane

Linnane will retire as office manager/administrative assistant for the Office of Catholic Schools on July 5. 

Her introduction to working for the diocese was in a temporary position for “The Spirit,” the diocesan newspaper at the time.

“I came out of high school and they needed someone to do layout (for a week). I had worked on the Pulaski News, so I had some experience with layout,” said Linnane. “I mainly did the layout of the paper for that week and some ads.” 

Weeks after the temporary position ended, Linnane saw a newspaper ad for the position of secretary to the superintendent of education for the diocese.

“Luckily, because of the training I had in high school, I could start working in a secretarial position,” she said. “(Pulaski High School) had a two-year program that included shorthand (and) all your different office equipment.”

The late Msgr. Mark Schommer, who died in 2017, was superintendent of Catholic schools at the time and hired Linnane.

“(Msgr. Schommer) was a big guy, but very gentle. All the people were very kind and genuine,” she said.

The education office was then located at 133 S. Monroe Ave. in Green Bay.

“We had the bottom floor of the convent (which was originally used by the sisters who taught at Cathedral School) and half of the second floor and use of the basement area,” said Linnane.

She recalled using an IBM Selectric typewriter. There also wasn’t a copier in the office, so when producing materials, the typing was first done on stencils, which were then placed on a mimeograph machine to print copies, she explained. The copies were then hand collated.

Under Bishop Aloysius Wycislo’s leadership, a diocesan office complex was created in Allouez, so in January of 1981, the education office moved from downtown to its current location.

“Melania (Hall) was not being used at all. The bishop’s office was in the big red brick building (the former Chancery on Webster Avenue). (Bona Hall) covered most of the departments that came over,” said Linnane.

“Where I sit right now is where I’ve always been,” she added. “I always say, ‘I’ve probably had the best view in the city.’”

Linnane’s second-floor office window once overlooked the apple orchard on the west side of the diocesan campus.

“Those were cut down. They replanted evergreens and maples. There’s been so much growth. I would think to myself, ‘When I can’t see Lambeau Field anymore, that’s the time I should retire,” she said with a laugh. “From my window, you can just see the corner (of Lambeau).”

Reflecting on her 50 years working in education for the diocese, Linnane recalled “many months of planning for two days” of The Gathering, an annual in-service for administrators, teachers, school staff and catechists, held in the fall at St. Norbert College in De Pere.

“I worked with Sr. Pat McCormick. We didn’t have email. We had to make telephone calls to prospective speakers or write letters. We had to get their bios and overviews of their talks,” said Linnane. “There was a main speaker and four sectionals with 40 different presentations at each. I worked a lot with the exhibitors. Plans are to still host in-services for our teachers now, so there is continuing professional development.”

Working on logistics with the staff and DASA (Diocesan Association of School Administrators) for the All Schools Mass celebrated in 2010 at the Resch Center in Green Bay, and again in 2015, also stands out as highlights for Linnane.

“It’s a very impressive moment seeing all the Resch Center seats and chairs on the floor filled with students and teachers representing all the schools in the diocese,” she said.

The late Lee Nagel was tasked with implementing one- to two-year themes for parishes, Catholic schools and religious education programs, during his time as director of education. Linnane assisted with the creation and distribution of resources to accompany the themes, which included “Echo the Promise,” “Feast the Hungry” and “Tending the Soul.”

“This required a lot of typing,” she explained while paging through a large binder featuring lesson plans to be used in the schools and religious education programs.

“For some reason, I really like to type, so when we did these resources, it really energized me,” she said. “I did shorthand with Msgr. Schommer and sometimes tapes. Lee was a good one for doing (recordings). Lee would also sit at my desk and dictate as I was typing. I worked under some great superintendents. Joe Bound (former director of education) was a great support for me especially in the transition of forming mission teams which then included some changes in job duties. They (superintendents/directors of education) all bring their special gifts.”

What kept Linnane in her position for such a long time?

“In education, there’s always change between curriculum, what’s happening in the schools. There’s always something new,” she said. “There’s always a new project. The people who work in the schools and religious education are very innovative. The people around me have changed, but they all have the same goal to further Catholic education — what can we do to support our Catholic schools and religious education programs?”

Linnane said she is grateful for the support of her family — husband, Pat, and their three children, Molly and twins, Joe and Abby. She also points to her sister, Marcia Collins: they helped each other, she said, with their families when the need arose.

In retirement, Linnane said that she will “keep busy,” including doing volunteer service.

“It was a good ride,” she said of her years working in education for the Diocese of Green Bay. “There’s always going to be change. I just learned to go with the flow. When you’re surrounded by good, hardworking, dedicated people, it makes your job easier.”

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