Camille Kopczewski is grounded by her upbringing, her faith, and the Our Lady parish community. She was raised in Pickaway County on a working farm and as she explains, “My dad worked incredibly hard and soybeans paid for his daughters’ college education.” As a student in high school, Camille promised herself she would never be a teacher after watching a classroom of particularly antagonistic students reduce a particularly kindhearted teacher to tears. Given her farming background, she obtained a master’s degree in Agriculture Communication and then worked for Ohio State in Extension. Her goal was to work in agricultural publications; perhaps as a magazine editor, radio host, or something similar.
At the same time, she was teaching dance in Mt. Sterling and realized this was giving her talents a natural outlet and that she was being called to education, despite her promise never to pursue it. Camille taught in South-Western Public Schools for five years, but then wanted to spend more time with her own daughter. As a result, she accepted a part-time position at Our Lady of Perpetual Help as the Director of Religious Education, a role she would serve in for ten years.
Directing the Parish School of Religion allowed Camille to embrace her talents and she stated, “The PSR families added such beautiful threads into the fabric of the parish.” At PSR’s height during her tenure, she was responsible for approximately 380 students and over eighty volunteer teachers and instructors. She pauses and then adds, “I really do miss that.”
During the same time, her own daughters were very much a part of her gifts to the parish. From her classroom, Camille gestures towards the church and recalls her toddler daughters in fleece sleepers playing while she was running Thursday night RCIA sessions and how one of them had her own “Office Kid” identification badge because she spent so much time in the church office.
After ten years as Religious Education Director, Camille needed a change and Julie Freeman offered her a teaching position at the school. For the past eight years she has taught various classes and grade levels. She currently teaches religion and social studies to the middle schoolers and is an 8th grade homeroom teacher. Having previously taught in public schools and being a product of public education herself, Camille is very impressed by the involvement of Our Lady’s school families. “I always remember what a blessing it is that when I’m talking to a student, I know I’m talking to that student’s entire family.”
Camille also loves how she is able to integrate our shared Catholic faith into all of her lessons, not simply the religion classes. She explained how in social studies her students are currently studying ancient Rome and how she can incorporate the infancy of Christianity into those lessons. This allows Camille to focus on the kids, not simply educating them, but as she states, “I am preparing our future followers of Jesus as well as our future leaders.” Continuing that preparation of leaders, she was happy to introduce me to her current student teacher who was forgoing his own Spring Break to continuing working with her.
While Camille expressed some reservations regarding my interview and this article because she does not want to be considered “special,” that same student teacher immediately quipped, “Can I tell you how special she is so that would circumvent her not wanting to be considered special?”
Perhaps Camille’s greatest challenge as a teacher at Our Lady is individualizing her lessons to recognize the “gifts, talents, needs” of her students. She pointed to an empty desk in her classroom and added, “He is so gifted, I just need to bring it out.” Camille added, “I am so blessed when my students challenge me to challenge them.” However, her greatest joy as a teacher is the depth of respect the students and teachers have for each other and that “I get to know their stories.”
Camille is a fierce advocate for her family, particularly her husband our own Deacon Michael. Despite my eclectic taste in music, I have never been drawn towards country music (I apologize to both my wife and father who attended a Garth Brooks concert a few years ago… no, we’re not related to Garth Brooks) but Camille jokes about a song regarding a preacher husband and teacher wife. She also jokes, “I don’t know how he puts up with me as a wife.”
However, Camille knows that, “the whole [parish] community loves us and we’re part of their lives and they’ve essentially fostered our kids.” She is also part of the lives of entire generations of students and they are equally a part of her life. “This church is my home.”
A common thread I have observed when speaking with school staff is the level of anxiety of our youngest parishioners. If Camille had one wish, it would be to eliminate that anxiety. Given her history in public and religious education, I asked Camille if she felt that student anxiety has increased over the past years. She responded yes, and that some of it is due to increased awareness of emotional issues, but also placed considerable blame on the rise of social media. It is something the two of us are in vehement agreement on. Camille further explains, “Social media can be so damaging.”
Being the “deacon’s wife” and a teacher with her own children at the school, Camille has learned to develop a careful balancing act. She passionately advocates for her children and husband’s gifts and talents. However, being a part of the larger parish community, she tries hard to not promote them above others. That explains her reticence to be interviewed, but she also explains, “We figured it out.” Camille laughs, “Our family is actually very normal.”
Having spoken with Deacon Michael several times and now having an opportunity to interview Camille, I am struck by how they compliment each other. And in doing so, add immeasurable value to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Both are completely dedicated to our parish but offer very different gifts and talents. Camille is most definitely intense and passionate, while our Deacon focuses on dedication and humility. Both are certainly devoted to service.
Camille’s eyes smile above her mask when she recounts a family joke. She is an extraordinarily gifted lector, and her “painfully introverted” husband hates to read after her, given her talent in that particular charism. When she sits down in the pew after proclaiming the second reading, she likes to tell her daughters, “Okay, Deacon, your turn.”
By Eric Brooks