Lori Racine leaves a lasting legacy -- and a much larger student population -- at the Warren County school.
For nine years, Lori Racine has guided Holy Rosary School.
When she took over as principal in 2014, the school had 82 students. Today, that number has more than doubled, with a total of 186 kids now getting a Catholic education at the Warrenton school.'
“That’s pretty awesome,” Racine said.
Don’t expect her to take any credit, though.
“The teachers are truly the heart of everything here,” she said.
And that’s a big part of the reason that Racine made the difficult decision to leave the school – because she knows the school is in great shape for the future.
She will remain principal at Holy Rosary until the end of June before taking up her new role as principal of St. Clement of Rome Catholic School in Des Peres.
She’ll be replaced at Holy Rosary by Mary Wooley, who currently serves as principal at St. Anthony Catholic School in Sullivan.
“I’ve known Mary for probably a decade if not longer, and she’s a very trusted and respected colleague. I’m very, very happy for her and for Holy Rosary that she’s coming here,” Racine said.
Holy Rosary teachers felt a different emotion upon learning of Racine’s impending departure.
“Sadness,” said third-grade teacher Sarah Vance when asked what her reaction was after she learned Racine would no longer be principal. “I’ve been working with her for so long. I’m happy that she wants to try a new adventure.”
Vance, who has also taught second and fourth grades, is the only teacher currently at the school who predates Racine, having taught at Holy Rosary for 17 years.
“Even though she was a new principal, I think she had a vision and she was really great at making sure we all knew what that vision was for the school and that we were following that vision and that we had unity,” Vance said.
Racine has been a part of the Catholic school system for more than a decade, but didn’t grow up with religion. Her husband is Catholic, and she said the two would go to church occasionally – but then something began to intrigue her.
“All the questions I had growing up started to really come to the forefront because I wanted some answers because I felt an excitement for getting closer to what I feel was the truth in the church.”
She likened her experience to what she discovered as she became a black belt in Taekwondo, learning the traditions of the ancient martial art.
“I was sitting in Mass and I was starting to draw some parallels. This is a tradition that has been around for more than 2,000 years and I just got curious because I felt compelled to be there,” she said. “The more I learned about the history of the church itself and its teachings, I just felt it was the right place for me to grow in my relationship with Jesus.
“I wasn’t expecting then to teach in a Catholic school, but I see God does have a plan and I answer that call. I used to think it was just a gut feeling or an instinct, but I understand it’s a calling, really.”
Racine wasn’t just a new principal when she took over at Holy Rosary. She was also fairly new to teaching.
“I actually came into teaching later in life,” she said.
She started her professional career as a professional dancer and choreographer. Her husband was a professional hockey player.
“We did those careers for 15 years and started our family and just kind of reinvented ourselves,” Racine said.
“As I contemplated what to do next with my life and what I was hoping for my daughter’s future, I really reflected on my own childhood and how I had difficulties as a student myself.”
As she remembered her own educational journey, Racine said she could only think of one teacher who she thought really cared deeply about students.
“I thought, ‘you know what, I want to be a teacher and I want to be the kind of teacher I didn't have.”
That led Racine to get her masters in education and become a teacher. After long-term subbing in a few public school districts, she became a full time teacher at Ss. Joachim and Ann Catholic School in St. Charles.
It was there she truly found her calling.
“I really admired the principal at Ss. Joachim and Ann. She was really able to lead a school, not only academically and professionally and all the things that’s required of an administrator, but she made everyone feel like they belong,” Racine said. “One day, I just expressed to her that I think I do that for my classroom but I really appreciated how she does that for the whole school community. And she said ‘it’s interesting you say that because I think you should be part of the potential leadership for the archdiocese.”
That put Racine on her path to becoming a principal.
“It really did spark a new fire in me to become a leader in the Catholic school system, and very shortly after I finished that program, Holy Rosary was looking for a principal.”
After meeting with the search committee and the Rev. Father John Mayo, she took the leap of faith.
“It’s worked out beautifully,” she said. “It’s been one of the biggest blessings of my life to be here.”
Racine routinely tries to downplay her contributions to the school.
“I cannot take credit for all the amazing things going on here. Like I said, the teachers are truly the heart of everything here but I feel comfortable leaving because I know how strong and how committed and dedicated and loving and awesome they’re going to be regardless of whether I’m here or not.”
She also attributed much of Holy Rosary's growth to the Warren County community.
“I believe the word got out that this is a place where faith is the forefront of what we do and how that permeates into your daily life at school and living and growing in virtue,” she said.
There’s a “rich tradition” at Holy Rosary, she said. Multiple generations of families have attended the school. “But I think it expanded beyond just the immediate community of Holy Rosary and the community at large understood that we are welcoming to all people.”
She said multiple Warren County communities have discovered what Holy Rosary does.
“Our goal is that every student here knows that they are loved, that they’re cared for, and that we will move mountains to help them succeed at every level of their life, and hoping that will sustain them and build a foundation for them in their future,” she said.
She also attributed the school’s significant growth to Holy Rosary’s relationship with the Warren County R-III school district, scholarships from the Today & Tomorrow Educational Foundation in St. Louis, and to the local community itself.
All, she said, have provided opportunities to students and help keep tuition costs low.
“That’s just like the perfect storm to be able to grow Holy Rosary,” she said. She also noted that there is potential for significant growth at the school in the near future, both through the All Things New plan from the Archdiocese of St. Louis and because of new businesses opening in the county.
“It’s hard to leave as I think about the future because it’s very bright and I’m very happy for this community.”
But, Racine says, now is the time to go.
“I’m leaving because I feel it’s just time for a personal change and a new experience,” she said. “I’m looking forward to sharing the gifts that are here and letting people know that this kind of environment, this kind of school, is possible.”
Part of the reason for her pending departure is a desire to work with a team of administrators.
“As the principal here, you’re kind of a one person show. I have thrived in that,” Racine said. “I believe in doing absolutely everything administratively and beyond but I am looking forward to working with a team of people at my new school and just experiencing that different type of administrative model and hoping one day that Holy Rosary will be able to have that, which I believe is in their future.”
And while she’s looking forward to her new adventure, it doesn’t mean it’s easy for Racine to say goodbye to the school that’s been her home for nine years.
“They’re a really wonderful group of people and I cry a little bit each day as I spend my time with the students and know how much I’ll miss them.”
About the author: Jason Koch is the editor of The Warren County Record, and covers local news and government for the newspaper. He has won multiple awards from both the Indiana and Illinois APME and from the Illinois Press Association. He can be reached at 636-456-6397 or at firstname.lastname@example.org