Superintendent of Schools Bob Voboril stands in front of a wall honoring men and women who have served Catholic education in the Diocese of Wichita. Voboril will soon retire after 25 years of service to diocesan Catholic education. (Advance photo)

Superintendent of Catholic schools says his job was the best part of his professional life
By Christopher M. Riggs
Superintendent Bob Voboril was thinking about the next quarter century of Catholic education while commenting about his legacy after 25 years at the helm of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Wichita.
“What I see as my legacy will be the quality of the leadership in our schools,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our principals and their faith and their commitment and their sacrifices.”
Voboril said he was happy to share the pride he has in the Catholic schools of the diocese and his “tiny role” in it. “I feel like I got on the nose of a rocket and was able to be a part of some great success and maybe helped articulate it a little bit. But I will be grateful to my dying day for every opportunity I’ve had here.”
Voboril said his 25 years serving the diocese have not only been a blessing but have been the best part of his professional life.
“When I came here, I already had an unusual array of experiences,” he said. “I had already been an elementary or high school principal for 18 years. I chaired a diocesan task force on reorganizing Catholic education. I had opened and closed schools, built buildings and tore them down and remodeled them.”
In addition, he was already a national speaker about Catholic education and wrote a newspaper column.
“So I came with a lot of educational background, but I had to grow up personally and as a Catholic, because I was part of that generation that separated professional life from personal life.”
That changed, he said, with his exposure to and growth in understanding stewardship as a way of life. “I’ve grown so much personally and in my relationships and in my ability to be respectful to people in their relationships.”
The past 25 years have also greatly benefited his family, Voboril said.
“It’s a blessing. It enabled me to give my six children the best Catholic education possible in this country. In many other places we may not have been able to afford Catholic schools. All six of my kids graduated from Catholic colleges. The five that are married, married Catholic college graduates and they’re in love with their faith.”
His wife, Pam, says they are lucky, he said. “Our kids are making us holy. Our kids are so much further along in their faith and they’re bringing us with them.”
The reputation of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Wichita is now well-known across the United States and overseas, Voboril said.
Bishop Emeritus Eugene J. Gerber deserves much more credit for Catholic schools in the diocese than he is given, he said.
“But it was really Bishop Gerber who developed the philosophy and the theology of stewardship and was responsible for the American bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship with Archbishop (Thomas J.) Murphy. He was the one who took the guts of our operation here as a diocese and showed how to make it consistent with stewardship in every aspect,” he said. “The longer I’m here, the more I admire Bishop Gerber and what he did.”
Voboril played down his role, explaining that he was given a national audience to articulate stewardship and so his name was attached to it.
“Stewardship is fundamental to everything we do in this diocese and particularly the schools,” he said. “In some ways the schools were a cause of the diocese moving to stewardship and, of course, in the 30 years since, they’ve been the beneficiary of it.”
Voboril said parishes gradually adopted a stewardship way of life. “The parishes have accepted Catholic education as their mission. That’s had a profound impact on the schools primarily.”
If the faithful of the diocese had not adopted stewardship, he said, instead of 10,500 students enrolled in diocesan Catholic schools, only 5,000 or 6,000 students would be enrolled. “We would have a lot fewer schools and the schools would be very different.”
The adoption of a stewardship way of life by the parishes in the diocese affected the schools, Voboril said, in that the student learns that education does not begin with a relationship between the teacher and a student but a relationship between God and the student.
“And you don’t develop [talents] so that you get a better job, or make more money, or become popular or to get awards. You develop your talents because you owe it to God to be the best you can be.”
Voboril said his contribution to Catholic education in the diocese is helping parents and educators understand that “God has a plan for each individual and the purpose of school is to help that individual discover what God wants for them.”
That evolution of understanding has impacted the number of seminarians now studying for the diocese.
When he arrived in Wichita, Voboril said the diocese had about 15 seminarians and few of them were Catholic school graduates. Today the diocese has 46 seminarians, most of whom are Catholic school graduates.
The future health of Catholic education here depends on how the faithful of the diocese continue to grow in their stewardship way of life, he said.
“There’s a real challenge for this diocese and it’s starting to hit us in the face. Catholic schools require tremendous sacrifices and if each generation is not willing to sacrifice, you’ll lose,” he said. “We saw that in the ’60s and early ’70s, when people blinked and Catholic schools closed.
“We see it around the country. Every Monday I get a newsletter that tells me how many schools are closing at the end of the school year. I think we’re going to see something on the order of a 150 across the country. I’ve been fortunate. I haven’t had to close a single school in the City of Wichita in my 25 years and we have more inner city schools than we ever had.”
One of the challenges has resulted because of the change in demographics, resulting in a low-income corridor in central Wichita.
“We have to act now for the future,” Voboril said. “And so, yes, the Hispanic community cannot fully fund Catholic education by themselves right now, but if we don’t provide a Catholic education for them today, then instead of 120,000 Catholics (in the diocese), in 25 years you will have 75,000 Catholics here.”
If the people of the diocese and its leaders are not willing to sacrifice for Catholic schools, he said, the diocese will have fewer vocations, fewer people attending Mass, and contributions will decline.
“We’ve seen it all over the country, wherever people close their schools, there’s a decline in the church,” he said.
Family involvement in the school is the reason the parish benefits, Voboril said.
The perfect example is St. Joseph School in Ost, he said, where a parish of 125 families is operating a Catholic school with 180 kids.
“It’s a miracle. It’s a miracle because those people believe in the importance of Catholic education, not only for themselves – half their kids come from other parishes,” Voboril said. “There’s a power to that little school. To me that’s the biggest challenge we face is that…we are willing to make the sacrifices for the next generation of Catholics who will lead the church.”
Part of his legacy will be the idea that a moral purpose comes before the academic purpose of Catholic schools, he said.
“If you don’t teach a person what’s right and wrong, it doesn’t matter what else you learn because you won’t know how to use it. There’s been a profound shift in our schools to a Catholic culture that permeates everything they do and you see it in the lives of the people who work there.”
That shift is evident, he said, in that he has hired 168 principals the past 25 years. And out of those 168, there have been only four divorces among them.
“That’s a remarkable percentage and it tells you something about the quality of the people who lead these schools” Voboril said. “I get tickled when people say Catholic schools are so Catholic in this diocese, and I say to them, we have 38 schools and there are 38 lay people running them and we’re down to a dozen sisters teaching in our schools. So when you say we’re Catholic, you’re saying that our lay people who work in our Catholic schools are remarkable for transmitting the Catholic faith to what we do.”
The enrollment in diocesan Catholic high schools has increased 1,000 students over the last quarter century from 1,500 to 2,500, Voboril said.
“And we’re turning out tremendous young people,” he said. “We’ve gone from being really good prep institutions to being the best Catholic high schools in the United States and people all over the country study what these four schools are doing.”
Another shift is one of subsidiarity, he said. Instead of the Catholic school office running the academic programs for all the schools in the diocese, more responsibility was given to the parishes.
“So, the power…is in the parishes. But, we’re unified as one diocese with a common mission. That, I think, is powerful. And it’s also unique in the United States. We’re the only diocese in the country that funds its Catholic high schools directly from the diocese via the parishes.”
The mission is always to form these kids in the faith, he said. “We like to say every Catholic school is Catholic, but in our diocese, we’re Catholic first.”
Other changes over the 25 years, he said, include improved teacher salaries, upgrade in retirement plans and health insurance, and the incorporation of students with learning disabilities.
Teaching has also evolved, he said.
“We no longer say I teach a class of 25. We say I teach 25 individual children, each with their own gifts and needs and plans. That’s a big change.”
Voboril said he’ll always be associated with the Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic School Fund that he founded because “we now have 1,200 children in the schools who go home and don’t speak English at night.”
The fund proves between $1.5 and $2 million a year to parishes that educate high concentration of low income children. “That’s a profound shift in our diocese and it’s making all of us better. We’re so proud that we’re able to help each other.”
That’s phenomenal, Voboril said. “We’ve gone from about 8,800 to about 10,500 students at a time when the rest of the country has lost about 40 percent of its enrollment. That’s not my doing, that’s a credit to the bishops, the parishes, parents, and parishioners of the diocese.”

Endowment honors Bob Voboril
The Voboril Endowment for Teacher Support has been established to provide bonuses to teachers in schools with a high percentage of low-income families.
The endowment has been created under the umbrella of the St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School Fund to award bonuses to those who teach in schools where more than 60 percent of the students qualify for a free or reduced lunch.
Those wishing to make a gift in honor of Bob Voboril may mail a check to Catholic Diocese of Wichita, Voboril Endowment for Teacher support, 424 N. Broadway, Wichita, KS 67202.
For more information, call Ann Maley at 316-269-3917 or email maley@CatholicDioceseofWichita.org.

A video of the full, 26-minute interview with Bob Voboril is available here.

Janet Eaton will succeed Voboril
Janet Eaton, a former teacher and principal at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Wichita, has been named superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, effective July 6.
She succeeds Bob Voboril who is retiring after 25 years as superintendent for the diocese.
Eaton is leaving the Catholic school system of the Archdiocese of St. Louis where she has served as a principal of St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon, Missouri, since 2011. From 1999 to 2011 she was principal at Immaculate Conception School in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Newman University in 1986, a master’s degree in Building Administration from Wichita State University in 1994, and an educational specialist degree in District Level Administrative Leadership from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2016.
Eaton taught at SEAS from 1986 to 1992 and was principal there from 1992 to 1999.
She and her husband, Kevin, have three children, Ryan, Molly, and Cooper.