SCROLL THE ARROWS to see more photos.
Mark Register Ed.D. had spent his entire time at St. Peter School in Jefferson City waiting to become a Crusader at Helias Catholic High School.
One night during his freshman year there, his dad came home and said, “We’re moving to Sedalia.”
“I thought the world was coming to an end,” said Dr. Register, president of Sacred Heart School in Sedalia and a member of that school’s Class of 1975.
“But God knew what the plan was,” he continued. “And thankfully so, because I feel so blessed to have had Sacred Heart in my life all this time.”
Dr. Register sees his pending retirement — his second — as just another part of that same plan.
“My last day of service as president ... will be June 30, 2023,” he wrote to Sacred Heart School families, graduates and fellow St. Vincent de Paul parishioners on Oct. 20.
“I’ve said many times, I’m one of the lucky few who found out what they were supposed to be doing and where they were supposed to be doing it — and got to be there and do it,” he stated.
Supported by St. Vincent de Paul Parish of Pettis County, Sacred Heart School is the only Catholic school in the Jefferson City diocese to offer pre-kindergarten through high school.
Dr. Register taught there from 1985-92, returned as principal in the 93-94 school year, retired in 2013, and came back as principal in 2017.
The parents of many of the current students had him as a teacher, coach or principal, and some of those parents went to school with his children.
“I’ll be 66 in July,” he said. “It’s time for younger people to take it on.”
He and his wife Julie M. (Habing) Register have been married for 37 years. They have two sons, two foster daughters, and 10 grandchildren.
Register was quick to point out, “None of this would have been possible without the unwavering support of my wife Julie. She made so many sacrifices over the years so that I could effectively fill my role as school leader. I am so grateful to her!”
“My wife and I feel blessed that we were able to raise and educate our children at Sacred Heart,” he said. “We now look forward to the same wonderful opportunity of the Sacred Heart experience for our grandchildren in the years to come.”
“Some really cool things”
Dr. Register studied education at what is now the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, with an emphasis on special education and physical education.
He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from UCM and a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
He taught for three years in Clinton, Missouri, before returning to Sedalia and accepting a job in client support at the sheltered workshop there.
After a couple of years, he volunteered to assist with some of the coaching duties at Sacred Heart.
He officially joined the faculty in 1985 as a religion and physical education teacher and a high school coach.
He then served as principal of Ss. Peter and Paul School in Boonville, which he calls “a great school in a beautiful community.”
“I told them when I interviewed there that there was no reason I wouldn’t stay unless Sacred Heart came open, because that’s home for me,” he recalled.
That opening occurred in 1993. He got hired as principal at Sacred Heart and remained in that role for 21 years.
“I worked hard and got to do some really cool things,” he said. “I was blessed in every way. It was a great way to spend a career.”
Over the years, he helped strengthen relationships between the school and the larger Sedalia community and helped maintain the school’s commitment to promoting Catholic spirituality and a distinctly Catholic worldview, along with academic and extracurricular excellence.
He helped usher-in distance learning in partnership with the MIT-E ITV consortium. Many dual credit opportunities were also expanded through UCM, Central Methodist College in Fayette and State Fair Community College in Sedalia, offering new options for students seeking college credit while still in high school.
He said some of his most exciting times at Sacred Heart came during the planning, fundraising, construction and furnishing of a major addition to the school building, including more classrooms, an administrative suite, a commons area and a new gym.
The first phase, including the new gymnasium, commons, main offices and music room, opened in the fall of 2005. The second and third floors, with classrooms, computer lab and new art room, were completed and opened in the fall of 2009.
“That kept us all busy, but it also put an exclamation point on our efforts to show the community that we plan to remain a viable educational entity in Sedalia and that Catholic education is going to continue to thrive here,” he stated.
Called by name
Dr. Register has made a point of learning every student’s name by heart.
“I’d say I probably know all of their names from K through 12,” he said. “The preschool and daycare children are always a little tougher.”
His favorite part of each day involves standing at the cafeteria entrance to the school from 7:30 to 7:50 each morning, greeting the students as they arrive.
“The kids are what I’ll miss the most,” he said. “I love being in the hallways and talking to them about the ballgames and maybe about getting that algebra grade up.”
His first retirement, beginning in 2014, wasn’t really retirement, although it felt like it.
He served for three years as intake manager for the Center for Human Services, a local assistance provider for people with disabilities and their families.
“I was working 40 hours a week, no nights and no weekends,” he said. “After being principal for all those years, that kind of felt like a part-time job.”
His original teaching certification was in special education, and he’s always had a place in his heart for people with disabilities.
“I enjoyed the work,” he stated. “I could’ve stayed there and been very happy. But sometimes, God has a different plan for you.”
Dr. Register’s successor in administration at Sacred Heart accepted another position outside Sedalia in 2017.
Friends and parishioners started kidding Dr. Register about coming back to Sacred Heart.
“One thing led to another,” he recalled. “Then, Paul Beykirch, chairman of the Sacred Heart search committee, gave me a call.”
Dr. Register accepted the invitation to join the school’s newly-reconfigured administrative team, eventually introducing the President-Principal leadership model.
He worked with the current and previous pastors, school families and the diocese on a plan to keep the school financially viable for years to come.
“I’ve gotten to be very close to Fr. Joe (Corel, the current pastor) and developed a tremendous respect for him,” said Dr. Register. “He’s a very bright guy and very much wants our school to succeed. He wants us to be very Catholic.”
The better part
One thing Dr. Register knows will remain constant is the school’s unflinching Catholic identity.
“I’ve been fortunate to gain a much greater appreciation for that as the years go by,” he said.
“Of course, you want to offer a good education, good extracurricular activities, good opportunities,” he stated. “But Catholic is the reason we exist.”
He’s convinced that the school’s faith identity will grow stronger and more distinct with the ongoing implementation of the diocesan pastoral plan and emphasis on the stewardship way of life.
“That’s the part I hope people will cleave to,” he said. “We want to help parents form good Catholic, Christian children to populate and influence the world for generations to come.”
Dr. Register plans to stay active in the parish, including as a member of the newly-formed parish stewardship commission, and do some volunteer work.
“It will take time to get more fully into the stewardship mentality,” he said.
He talked about the countless “leaps of faith” the faculty, parishioners and greater community have made to keep Sacred Heart effective and sustainable.
“What this community has done over the years to keep this school open and viable is nothing short of miraculous,” he said.
“And that’s going to have to continue.”
“Things got better”
Sacred Heart alumnus and longtime faculty member Richard Bahner attributed much of the school’s success and possibly its survival to Dr. Register’s years of steady hand and diligence.
“Under his leadership, instead of daily fighting for its very existence, the school grew and prospered for the first time in over 20 years,” Mr. Bahner stated. “Very few school leaders have been responsible for as much positive change in the life of a school as has Mark Register.”
Sacred Heart in Sedalia included one of a handful of parish-based high schools in central and northeastern Missouri when the diocese was founded in 1956.
Now, Sedalia has the only one.
“I think we had a bit of an advantage in that we had a somewhat larger population base,” said Dr. Register. “There were also a lot of stubborn people here who weren’t inclined to let go of it.”
Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe, who led the diocese from 1969-97, favored keeping the high school open through the difficult times, which strengthened the community’s resolve.
“Once we knew the bishop was on board, it made it easier for us to commit to continuing to make this available to our families,” said Dr. Register. “And then things got better.”
He looked back at how the “deep divide down Ohio Street” kept members of Sedalia’s two former parishes and the Bahner mission in separate silos for decades.
Years of work at collaboration, spearheaded by laypeople and the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood who were pastors of the Pettis County parishes, culminated with a formal request for Bishop W. Shawn McKnight to combine the three parishes into one in 2019.
“Having a unified community of Catholics in Pettis County is very healthy,” Dr. Register stated. “It’s been great for our school and even better for our community.”
Fr. Corel said he’s happy for Dr. Register and his wife to be able to spend more time together, and will continue praying for them.
“Mark has served Sacred Heart School with tremendous leadership, passion, conviction and strength the whole time he has been at the helm,” said Fr. Corel. “I am so grateful for him and the many ways we have ministered together during my Priesthood, including these past four years where the Lord has called us to serve in the same parish community.”
Dr. Register lauded his fellow administrative team members, Principal Nancy Manning and Dean of Students Dr. Amanda Burdick.
“They’re doing a good job,” he said. “With them here, I am confident I’m leaving the school in good hands.”