By Kollen Long
At 8:15 on a chilly morning two days before Thanksgiving, Janet Eaton, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Wichita, held the door and greeted teachers as they entered Bishop Carroll High School for religious education classes.
It was reminiscent of the time she surprised St. Joseph Ost Catholic School by visiting on the first day of school with treats for the staff.
Which brings to mind the fact that, since she was named superintendent in July of 2018, Eaton has sent almost 1,000 Tweets highlighting achievements and activities in the Diocese.
Visibility, communication and outreach have been a focus for Eaton, whose career in Catholic education has spanned more than 30 years. Several principals said that Eaton, through her positive attitude and work ethic, is making her mark on the Diocese’s 38 schools and 10,300 students.
“She is energetic, joyful, positive, and always has the best interest of students at heart,” Bishop Carroll Principal Vanessa Harshberger said.
A graduate of Newman University with a master’s degree from Wichita State, Eaton replaced Bob Voboril, who had served as superintendent for 25 years before retiring.
Eaton said that earning the superintendent’s position was “a dream,” in large part because the position allowed for a long-awaited homecoming. Eaton started her career as a teacher at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in west Wichita, and later became principal there before moving to the St. Louis area for her husband’s job.
Eaton spent 12 years as principal at Immaculate Conception Parish School, where she played a role in tripling that school’s enrollment. She then served as principal at St. Dominic High School for seven years before returning to Wichita.
Eaton smiled and delicately deflected the question when asked why she thinks she was chosen to lead the Diocese.
“Coming back to serve here had always been a dream,” she said. “It has been amazing to be back…I would hope that, ultimately, I was chosen because of my love for Catholic education.”
David Charles, principal at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, said that Eaton’s experience at various schools and different levels allow her to be an effective “servant leader.”
“These experiences allow her to see many different perspectives,”Charles said. “Because she can see through many varied lenses, she is able to understand different points of view. She listens well and her work ethic is incredible.”
Eaton said that her career has been guided by the Holy Spirit, and evidence of that belief came when she made the difficult decision to leave St. Dominic, a school she “adored.” Eaton accompanied students on a retreat and listened intently as “the sermon at Mass was the reading of ‘shake the sand from your sandals and move on.’” Soon after, she learned of the Wichita opening and immediately reflected on the sermon.
“You just know it’s the voice of God speaking to you,” she said.
While Eaton’s resume is impressive, and she speaks professionally and articulately, she can’t help but slip into a bit of teen-speak at times — likely because of the time she has spent around teenagers.
“Faith is cool,” she said.
Eaton, whose son is a freshman at Bishop Carroll, said that she is thrilled to see that sentiment on display as she travels around the Diocese. Eaton has visited each of the 34 elementary and middle schools and four high schools more than once during her tenure.
“I see the reverence at Mass in the kids, a desire to be close to God,” Eaton said. “I see it in the faculty as well. Everyone is so proud of their schools and their faith, as they should be.”
Eaton’s pride is evident — simply glance at her Twitter feed, which shares important and fun events from around the Diocese:
• A video of St. Catherine of Siena elementary students doing a boogie-down dance in celebration of the school’s new gym. “Too fun,” Eaton wrote.
• A photo of Father Lies celebrating the Feast of the Holy Rosary with St. Francis seventh and eighth graders.
• A video with a high cuteness score showed Holy Cross kids giving a high five to Father Spexarth as they exited the building.
• In November, Eaton dropped by Bishop Carroll and was surprised to see a group of girls jogging through the halls — cheerleaders doing a run-through before state competition.
“She has a deep desire to let the world see all the fabulous happenings taking place in our Catholic schools,” said Erin Hohl, principal at St. Joseph’s. “She’s very proud.”