Pete Theban is a hero of mine. The list also includes the likes of St. John Paul II, St. Damien of Molokai, my parents, my grandmother, and Pete. He wouldn’t like being included on such a list. He was humble. He was quick to deflect praise and put it on to others but nevertheless he makes my list of heroes.
I first met Pete when I arrived at Christ the King Catholic Church and Marquette School in the summer of 2007. I was assigned there in my first pastoral assignment as a newly ordained priest. I was excited to be at the parish and was especially excited about being assigned to Marquette School, a place I had long admired for it’s academic reputation and it’s fidelity to the Catholic faith. That summer, I met Pete. I didn’t know that I would soon lead a Catholic school but I had a hint that at some point in the future I might be a pastor at a parish with a school, so I watched. I watched Pete. I watched the way he interacted with people. I watched the way he spoke with students and parents. I watched what he did in the morning as the kids came into school. I watched how he interacted in meetings. I watched and I learned. A lot.
When I learned from Pete can be summarized in three words: Prayer. Kindness. People.
Pete was a man of prayer. He prayed alone and he prayed with others. He prayed for wisdom on big decisions to be made and he prayed for the intentions of others. He had a weekly Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. He led the school in prayer on many mornings. He was a man of prayer and he taught me to rely less on myself and more on the Lord.
Pete was a man of kindness. Great kindness. Each morning he would stand outside the school and greet students and parents as they came in. He had an umbrella when it rained so the students wouldn’t get wet. He would stand and take the questions of parents and grandparents. He was always so patient. His kindness extended to those going through a tough time. Pete went to a lot of funerals. Whether at funerals of former students, the parent or grandparent of a student, you name it, and chances were that Pete was there. I remember driving to Cleveland, OK (about a 45 minute drive) for the funeral of the father of a Marquette student. I thought to myself, “I’ll probably be the only person from Marquette there.” Wrong. Pete was there. I remember going to the funeral of the grandfather of a Bishop Kelley student. This student was three years removed from Marquette. It was a small funeral. There was the family, a few close friends, and Pete. That kind of kindness is all too uncommon in our world today. Pete taught me to be kind to people because we never know what they are going through.
Pete was a man of the people. He always seemed to be energized by people. This was especially true of his students. Whether a kindergarten student or an 8th grader, whether a recent former student or an alumnus from 20 years ago, Pete drew strength from his students. I always admired that. In addition to loving students, Pete loved his teachers. I’ve never seen a school leader that was as beloved by his teachers as Pete. He was incredibly loyal to them. He listened to, and and was attentive to their needs. His teachers loved him.
But beyond his students and his teachers, more important than any of those important people, Pete was a family man. He loved his wife and children. I imagine there were sacrifices along the way to be at school early or to stay late for a parent meeting or to go to all those funerals, but in my conversations with Pete, at no time was his smile as big or his words as proud as when he spoke of Anita, Abbey and Nick. I always admired his dedication to his family and his example is one many fathers would do well to emulate.
Prayer. Kindness. People. For me, those define Pete Theban. He loved his life. He loved his job. His loved his family. He loved the Lord. And the best part of it all is that he still does. Rest in peace dear friend. Thank you for your example.