Story by Anna Kenney ’19, Photo by Anna Finochiaro ’08
As an August breeze blows through the trees surrounding Marian, it brings with it another school year. In the air students and staff feel excitement and anticipation. There are also feelings of regret for a summer long gone and the anxiety that the new school year can bring.
As a car pulls around the circle to the old entrance of Marian, one girl was feeling the emotions of sadness and anger. This girl was Kathy Bast. It was 1957, and it was her first day in Omaha and her first day at her new school. Kathy’s dad had just been transferred from Minneapolis to work in Omaha at Cargill. A teenage girl who had to leave all her friends behind, Kathy was definitely not very happy to be in Omaha or to be at Marian. Her parents had interviewed Mercy, Marian and Duchesne and chose Marian for her. To Kathy, Marian was a foreign country.
As Kathy’s dad dropped her off at Marian, he said something that would change her attitude about Marian. “My father never wasted words. He looked me right in the eye and he said, ‘When you walk into that building, I want you to look around and choose the kind of women to be your friends that you want to become.’” These women, with whom Kathy became friends, and her teachers, the Servants of Mary, would have an influence on her that would affect the rest of her life.
Kathy Bast was seated alphabetically in the first row, second desk. She took her father’s advice to heart. “I remember taking my chair and looking across the room and watching behaviors and actually making a choice of the people I wanted to gravitate toward. And so, those are my friends,” Tocco said. Tocco still keeps in touch with some of the 74 girls who were in the class of 1961. Some of her friends visit a nursing home together. Some still go out to lunch. All continue to live out the Spirit of Marian.
Tocco remembers fondly her time as a student and her education. “It was intellectually stimulating because the teachers were marvelous educators. They cared about the girls. It was always the girls first, and you knew that.” The Servants of Mary gave all their time to teaching and serving the Marian community as well as serving the greater communities of Omaha, the United States and the world.
As the oldest of 11 kids, Tocco remembers work study being very important to her. “I actually loved it, because I knew it bought me my education.” The generosity of the Servants of Mary is still present in the school today. This was one of the many values and virtues that helped develop Tocco’s spirituality.
Tocco was very involved as a student. She was elected senior class president and was involved in student government. Being a class officer was all about service, and Principal Sr. Mary Marcella Sitzmann helped her learn this value. During preparations for senior prom, Sr. Marcella instructed her to go to the girls who hadn’t bought tickets and tell them that if they couldn’t afford one, the school would cover it. Also, her boyfriend was instructed to find dates for these girls.
Tocco had no thoughts of ever being a religious sister because she planned on marrying her high school boyfriend. When a priest at senior retreat asked her to discern her vocation, she did. She went to the Marian chapel and began her discernment process of prayer and asking God if this was his plan for her. “I believe that every person who comes into your life is like a tool of the Holy Spirit.” She thought this might be God talking to her. She had recognized how happy the sisters were and how they greatly impacted the lives of the people they touched, and she thought maybe she could do that too. “Well, why don’t I try it? I can always leave; that was my out. So, I stayed for 12 years.”
The Servants of Mary were trained to be educators, so she was to be a teacher. In 1965, the sisters were asked to open St. James Catholic School. During their annual week-long silent retreat in August, Tocco met with the mother superior to find out her assignment for the next year. She was just finishing her sophomore year of college, and she learned she was going to be in charge of six ungraded primary rooms. A mantra played in Tocco’s head that has stayed with her. “Baptism by fire,” which means “you are lit on fire and just do what the Holy Spirit leads you to do.”
In 1969 she was assigned to teach English and religion at Servite High School in Detroit, Michigan. During the “Long Hot Summer of 1967,” 159 race riots swept the country. Detroit was still experiencing race riots, rebellion, animosity and fear. “As the train pulled into Detroit, there were fires burning everywhere… We had a 10:30 curfew. Our boys couldn’t practice on the field because the National Guard tents and tanks were on the field.” This experience was completely new and challenging for Tocco. She was there until 1975.
Tocco then left the Servants of Mary because she felt that God was taking her down a different path. She came back to Omaha, married and then divorced. She believes that God led her in all of these choices, and she has no regrets. Tocco joined the teaching staff at St. Robert’s and taught there for 15 years. During this time, she interviewed at Marian twice.
Getting on her knees, Tocco found that God wanted her to be teaching and ministering at an all-girls school. She asked Elizabeth Kish, Head of School at the time, for two weeks to pray after her interview. On the feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 2000, Tocco decided that Marian was again the place for her. She thought that if Mary said yes, so could she. Tocco taught at Marian from 2000-2013 and continued to touch the hearts of many Marian girls. She had learned well from the Servants of Mary and was passing on the value she so embodies, spirituality, as she was hired to teach theology.
Through the years, Marian has greatly impacted her spirituality. One summer she made a decorated rocker as a memento and a visual for her students. It is filled with some of her favorite quotes, phrases and Bible passages. When Tocco retired from Marian, the famous rocker was passed down to theology teacher Lori Spanbauer, and the rocker still resides in her classroom.
Tocco continues to serve the Marian community as a substitute teacher. Whenever she subs, no matter the class, she always passes along a message of faith to the students. Whether it is a special prayer or something she would like to teach the students, Marian girls are learning to embody spirituality like Tocco. Marian will always be an influence in Tocco’s life and she has left a legacy at Marian.