By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — When All Saints Catholic School Principal Jeanne Von Feldt lost her husband, Ed, to sudden illness after 52 years of marriage in 2020, the school community wrapped her with love, comfort and support. All Saints is family, and one of three loves in her life, along with faith and her immediate family. These three motivate and sustain her. These are the things “I pray for every day.”
The passion she feels for her All Saints family made the decision to retire this coming summer difficult but necessary to spend more time with her immediate family of two adult children, their spouses and children, and her siblings. In a touching letter to the All Saints community on Jan. 18, she shared her love for the school and for Catholic education.
“I so believe in Catholic Education and I feel so blessed that I was able to work directly with it and see so many of our students flourish because of this opportunity. I know that this school has made a difference in so many lives. I have seen how God has touched this School so many times. Ed Von Feldt felt the same way about All Saints Catholic School and often said that he felt that God had placed us here for a reason.”
Jeanne Von Feldt began serving as principal of All Saints on Aug. 1, 2011, continuing a long career in Catholic and public school education, including years in Wisconsin where Ed was principal of a large high school. After he retired and with his encouragement, she accepted a position as assistant principal of Regina Elementary in Iowa City and served there five years before becoming principal at All Saints. “I loved Regina, too,” she said.
Ed and Jeanne were educated in Catholic schools and fell in love as students at St. Ambrose College in Davenport. “Catholic education played a big part in our lives,” Jeanne said. Ed helped her with the annual gala at All Saints and loved writing grants, for which he had a special skill. One grant, from the Scott County Regional Authority for $65,000, funded a virtual science reality lab. “When he got that grant, I heard him yell, ‘Yes!’ Then he invited people to come to our school to look at it. He was like a proud papa.”
Challenges and successes are plentiful at All Saints, a diverse school that ranks among the top 20% of private schools in Iowa for highest percentage of students of color, according to Private School Review. The Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) of the Alliance for Catholic Education of the University of Notre Dame profiled Jeanne Von Feldt in September 2021. All Saints has 412 students and 111 of them are Hispanic.
The profile praised her leadership for guiding All Saints to be a “thriving and diverse Catholic school community.” Her “infectious personality, demonstrated success at the school level, and her heart for this mission, made her the perfect addition to our team of LEI mentors, which she joined in 2017. Since then, Jeanne has helped mentor more than 20 Catholic schools looking to similarly embrace the growing Latino population in their communities and grow enrollment.”
Jeanne Von Feldt celebrates All Saints’ diversity, while acknowledging some challenges, the biggest being the language issue. “Some of our parents don’t speak English so if they have questions or concerns about their child we always make sure that we have someone on staff to translate for us. It is sometimes difficult for the parents to help their child at home when there is a language issue. When I give tours to Hispanic or Vietnamese families, I always have someone on hand to help me with the family questions.”
She said some students “have low expectations of themselves or other adults in their lives have expressed doubt about their abilities. With a willingness to support their growth, students often meet the expectations set for them. ELL (English Language Learner) students deserve the same rigorous goals as traditional students.”
The strength of such a diverse school, she said, is preparing students for high school and for the work world. “It is always wonderful to see our students learn about their friends’ cultures and traditions. They learn to accept the students as persons and they don’t judge by the color of their skin.”
A passion for people
As principal, “Jeanne gives her all,” said David Sowells, assistant principal and director of technology. “I don’t know where she gets her energy but she puts everything she has into her role here. I think one thing that keeps her going is that she wants the best for the school and isn’t willing to settle for anything but the best.” Students, staff and families see that commitment, he said.
Parent Megan Cox describes Jeanne Von Feldt as “the consummate champion for All Saints! She surrounds herself with incredible people, provides direction and supports them as they create a vibrant learning environment with Catholicism as its backbone,” says Cox, a member of the Home & School Association. “She regularly greets people of all ages with a warmth and caring that makes you feel like the brightest part of her day.”
Cox, who has three children at All Saints, said her family chose the school because “Catholic education is important to our family and the warm welcome and diverse environment at All Saints made it feel like home. We appreciated how the school had a Catholic approach to education while valuing science and discovery.”
“When we first visited All Saints and spoke to Principal Von Feldt we were impressed with how well the students treated each other and the staff. When a middle school student dropped his papers all over the floor we saw fellow students race to help him pick them up. Once our son was at school, we realized this is the norm at All Saints!”
Jeanne Von Feldt said her own children accepted her decision to wait until this summer to retire after witnessing the school community in action at the annual gala and after their father’s death. Now it is time to say goodbye to her school family. However, All Saints will remain “a part of me.”