Mandy Wildern is the Diocese of Lansing’s Associate Superintendent of Catholic Schools and the former Principal of Saint Mary School in Charlotte and, yet, Mandy had never even considered teaching in Catholic schools until the Feast of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, January 4, back in 2012. What happened? In her own words, Mandy now explains her incredible story:
Isn’t it interesting when you make plans? Thinking about everything, aligning all the steps and pieces needed to get you to the end result. So often I made decisions centered around what I wanted and what I thought I needed. How many times have I said I “know” the next move, or I “know” what is best for me? So many times, I’ve lost count!
I spent the first 13 years of my career enacting my childhood plan to teach students with special needs in the public school system. I began as a teacher, then became a Behavioral Specialist, and reached the plan’s pinnacle as a Special Education Director. As I watched my mother, aunts and uncles all serve students of different backgrounds during their careers, I knew this was the career for me! I felt like this was what I was created for: to serve children.
During those same 13 years, I married my best friend and we began creating our family. The blessings of two daughters, being married to an amazing, devoted husband, and earning two educational masters while holding down a full-time teaching and administrative positions was all part of the plan. I knew the exhaustion and the time away from my family was a necessary evil needed to make all of my plans come true, yet my family and friends were not as sure.
Looking back, I can remember my dear friends repeatedly asking me, “Are you sure you are happy?”. I remember one conversation in my office, two friends sat me down and said, “Mandy, you look awful. You have aged 20 years in the last five. You are running yourself ragged.” (Only true friends can say those words.) Yet I would always say, “I’m fine. I know what I am doing.”. This is just what working mom’s do.
Fast forward to the morning of January 4, 2012. Some memories of that day are faint and difficult to visualize, and some are so vivid: the smell, the temperature, the sounds, the colors and feelings will be with me forever. I will never forget that day: I was sitting in my basement office at our local high school wondering, "Is this what I am supposed to be doing with my life?"
As I sat there, reclined in my office chair thinking, I remember the sunlight streaming through the vertical blinds onto my desk. The thought of my elementary school, Saint Mary in Charlotte, came into my mind. The school’s current principal and my friend, Linda Yeager, announced her retirement earlier that school year, but it did not register until that moment. Without thinking, I reached over and picked up the phone, dialed the school number, and surprisingly Linda answered.
I surprised myself as I asked her what she thought about me applying for the position of principal at Saint Mary. This thought had never crossed my mind before. I was a public educator. My plan was to work in public education my entire career, retire, and enjoy all the benefits of the teacher pension plan. Yet, something was steering me in a different direction. Without considering the consequences, for some reason I picked up the phone, dialed, and veered away from my plan.
Linda, in her sweet angelic voice said, “Oh Mandy, Mass starts in fifteen minutes. How about you come over and we go to Mass, pray and then talk!” I hung up the phone, put on my jacket, and headed over.
To my surprise, it was the feast day of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. During the late Father Francis Mossholder’s homily, he shared a little about how Saint Elizabeth had started the first free Catholic School in the United States back in 1809 in Maryland. I found her story remarkably relatable. As I thought about it, I recognized the Holy Spirit’s influence on my urge to call Linda about the position that very day.
Fortunately, I applied, was hired and served as principal of Saint Mary School in Charlotte from July of 2013 until June of 2022. This new plan, what I believe was His plan, allowed me to be near my children each day as they attended Saint Mary School, to learn more about my faith, to grow as a wife, a mother, and an educator who was able to support the growth of children’s minds, hearts and souls. Looking back, I firmly believe this is what I was created to do, and in that order - wife, mother, and educator.
Each day, I continue to grow in my conversion, but January 4th will forevermore mark a turning point in my journey. Don’t misunderstand me, I still believe it is good to “make a plan” but to KNOW the plan is for and from God. As I channel Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, I will continue to let the Holy Spirit guide my planning, making sure to listen to and trust what He has in store for me.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!