A note last fall from a Saint Viator High School alumna, wishing to connect with her former chemistry teacher, prompted a front page story in the latest edition of the Viatorian newsletter, Viator.

Beth Miklius Mainardi, who graduated from Saint Viator in 2000, wanted to thank Fr. John Van Wiel, CSV, for nurturing her love of science — and for being a role model in her own career as a Catholic school teacher.

Sergio Serrano

Ironically, her letter came into the Viatorian Community just two months after a similar note from a graduate of Colegio San Viator in Bogotá. Sergio Serrano wanted to contact Fr. John Pisors, CSV, who had encouraged his love of science, nearly 50 years ago.

Their experiences were separated by 30 years, but the sentiment was the same: Looking back, it was a Viatorian who had made a lasting impact on their lives.

“During these strange times when isolation is required, I began pondering about life and the people who influenced me, and your name kept coming back,” wrote Serrano, who would go on to chair the civil engineering department at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Likewise, Mainardi came to a similar conclusion this year.

“I’m helping to open a brand-new Catholic high school,” Mainardi said in her letter, “and when I reflect on all the gifts I received from my own education, Fr. Van Wiel keeps coming to mind.”

Mainardi, second from left in second row, in Saint Viator High School’s Science Club, 1999.

Fr. Van Wiel retired in 2013 after nearly 40 years as a teacher and administrator, including the last 20 at Saint Viator High School. He keeps in touch with many of his students and knows several that went on to become doctors, nurses and teachers, but not many who are teaching chemistry.

Mainardi has taught chemistry now for 14 years at Delbarton School in Morristown, NJ, before helping to open Lumen Gentium Academy this year in nearby Boonton. But she remembers exactly when her passion for science — and for teaching — took flight. The story is detailed in the newsletter article, but suffice it to say that it included a molecular modeling kit, kindness and encouragement.

“Father realized that the role of teacher is ultimately not to just be scorekeeper, but to encourage, inspire, and at times, give a kid like me a molecular modeling kit,” she says, “so that she could have the confidence to keep going.”