TOOELE — The students and parents crowded into St. Marguerite School’s gymnasium grew hushed on the afternoon of May 11 as they awaited the arrival of the principal. When Lorena Needham came through the east door, cheers and applause arose. Needham looked surprised, then embarrassed, when she realized that she had walked into a surprise party in honor of her retirement.
Fr. Kenneth Vialpando, pastor of the parish, said Needham has been a blessing in many ways to the school and parish community. She has welcomed the teachers, the parents and the students, “each and every one of us, no matter what our race, our color or our creed,” he said. “You’ve spoken the language of Christ; you’ve spoken the language of the heart.”
Several members of the community publicly expressed their thanks for Needham, whose leadership and bilingual skills enabled her to communicate in and outside of the school with both the English- and Spanish-speaking communities, Fr. Vialpando said in a letter he wrote to the faculty.
Among those who spoke at the surprise party were two students, one of whom thanked Needham for giving him a second chance and allowing him to make up work over the summer when he was in danger of being held back a grade; another student said everyone at the school would miss Needham, and “we will always have you in our hearts.”
A couple of parents also thanked Needham for making them feel welcome in the community. Guadalupe Aguilar, speaking in Spanish, offered her gratitude for all Needham has done for the children.
“They all love you,” Aguilar said. “Thank you for all the love and care that you have given them, for all the lessons, and the teachings … with all our hearts, ‘thank you.’”
In the letter to the faculty, Fr. Vialpando said because of Needham, enrollment at the school has increased; they passed their accreditation; they have a new school board, parents who are active in the community and high-achieving students. Needham also looked within the Catholic community and the public sector “for benefactors, grants, endowments and donations so that our school doors would remain open, now and in the future,” he wrote.
A retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, Needham came to St. Marguerite School five years ago, after 13 years as a full-time volunteer with the Church in Alabama and Georgia. She applied for the principal’s position “because I see the great value of Catholic education,” she said. “It is so important to have great teachers and a great school in which they can talk about God and they can pray and they can be formed in faith together as a great community of faith,” especially for anyone who may feel they don’t deserve it or can’t afford it, she said. If these people talk with the school principal, they will “find that there is a place and there is an open door for them,” she said.
Every day at the school has been a highlight for personal reasons, she said. “I think the great moments come when we have a breakthrough and we find that we’re fast friends and we have things in common that help us to enjoy life and be part of a great learning group. Every time one of those moments happens is a highlight for me.”
She doesn’t have specific plans for retirement, although she does intend to stay in the Tooele area and continue to provide music ministry at the parish’s Spanish and bilingual Masses, she said.
“I just try to discern what God has in store for me. My heart is always in liturgy and music, and I hope to be able to continue doing that kind of stuff,” she said.