To hear Rob Chesire tell it, he was almost a lawyer. It was 2001. He was 22, just out of college and toying with law school.
But something just felt off.
"I didn't feel the call there," Chesire said. "I was praying: 'What now, God?' "
That same year, Chesire received an email from a professor at Creighton University — his alma mater in organizational communication — outlining a new CU graduate program called the Magis Catholic Teacher Corps.
The program places potential teachers in Catholic K-12 schools throughout the region. After two years of full-time teaching and coursework, they earn a graduate degree in education.
The program offered Chesire the answers he had sought. He enrolled and began his trainee teaching stint at Creighton Prep.
A decade later, Chesire still teaches at the Omaha high school. He works with the choir program and teaches theology.
"It's hard to believe that the time has gone by so quick," he said.
Over the past 10 years, 44 Creighton students have completed the training and earned graduate degrees in education, according to university officials. Another 27 are currently enrolled.
Creighton's program was developed as part of a national response to a Jesuit call for additional teachers willing to accept lower pay and benefits to teach in parochial schools. Their reasoning: If you require graduate students to teach in a parochial school, more students might stay after graduation. They hoped to fill a shortage of Catholic school teachers, especially in communities where poverty was high.
They also hoped to counter financial reality. Catholic schools typically pay teachers $10,000 to $30,000 less than public schools pay theirs, said Rita Schwartz, president of the Philadelphia-based National Association of Catholic School Teachers.
"Our teachers, though, don't go into teaching Catholic school for the money," she pointed out. "It's because of their faith."
Creighton's program places student teachers in 16 schools in nine cities across Nebraska and South Dakota, including Omaha's Marian, Holy Name, Jesuit Academy, Assumption Guadalupe, Holy Ghost and St. Joan of Arc.
Over the past three years, 17 out of 24 Creighton Magis program graduates have taken jobs at Catholic schools.
"They serve in a variety of schools in terms of geography. Some are in the inner city, others in suburban areas or small towns," said Carrie Wortmann, the program's director. "These students are ... committed to society and to their students."
Following the Jesuits' call, many of the nation's 27 other Jesuit colleges and universities created a graduate teaching program similar to Creighton's.
Andrew De Leonardis, a first-year graduate student, said he'd like to stay in the Catholic school system, whether in Omaha or closer to his native San Diego.
"The marriage of both faith and the school's mission of focusing on the inner city really kind of drew me in," said De Leonardis, who teaches at Jesuit Academy, an Omaha middle school. "It's definitely a challenge, and that's what I wanted."
To save money, he lives with eight other Magis students in the old convent at Our Lady of Lourdes church. He said the group shares ideas and talks shop at weekly dinners together.
The sputtering economy has actually helped Catholic schools attract more talented teachers, Schwartz said, but retaining them during a time of downsizing parish schools has proven a persistent challenge.
"Very, very few Catholic schools are growing in population," Schwartz said, "and they're certainly not building new schools."
The Archdiocese of Omaha still feels it can attract and keep talented teachers, said the Rev. James Gilg, Omaha's parochial superintendent of schools.
Second-year Magis student Jake Moore would like to be one of them when he graduates in May. He student teaches at St. Augustine Indian Mission school in Winnebago, Neb., but would like to return to the metro area after marrying this summer.
"I'll probably try to teach high school," Moore said. "I think staying at a Catholic school would be great, but I could do good things in the public schools, too."
Contact the writer: 402-444-3100, email@example.com