ST. CHARLES – For the first time in 37 years, Joseph Battisto is not worrying about the future.
That's because this school year was Battisto's last as principal of St. Patrick Catholic School in St. Charles, a position he has held for 20 years. He is retiring this month for unspecified health reasons.
The last few months have been a extended goodbye to Battisto, and Thursday was no different. During a luncheon held in Battisto's honor, many of the school's teachers and staff members shook his hand and gave him hugs.
Many of the well-wishers thanked Battisto for his contributions and dedication to the school. Battisto usually would arrive to the school every day in his 14-year-old Toyota Camry at about 5:30 a.m., and he wouldn't leave until 7 p.m., said Monsignor Joseph Linster, St. Patrick's former pastor.
"You're only as good as the people who surround you, and I could have never been surrounded by a better principal than Joe Battisto," Linster said.
To replace his worn-out Camry, the school community has started a fund to buy a new car for Battisto. Other gifts presented to him in the past few days include a scholarship in his name and plans to dedicate a statue of the Holy Family to him on school grounds.
Battisto, who received a standing ovation on Sunday during a celebratory Mass in his honor, said he was overwhelmed by the parish's generosity.
"I very much appreciate all the consideration and thoughtfulness that I've received from everyone," Battisto said on Thursday during the luncheon.
As he reflected on his 20 years at the school, Battisto said he was proud of seeing the staff work in a faith-filled environment with students on a daily basis. He said he also was glad to contribute to the parish's program to build the current K-8 St. Patrick School on Crane Road, which opened in 2011.
Without Battisto's input, the school wouldn't have the number of classrooms that it does and facilities such as the band room and computer lab that students use every day, Linster said.
Battisto is strong in his leadership and inspiration, said Sister Liz Ryan, the school's assistant principal. She called herself one of the luckiest people in the world to have a boss, a mentor and a friend in Battisto.
Ryan said change in life is important, but Battisto's retirement will make her sad.
Battisto said he has not made any plans beyond recuperating for his health, but he knows he will miss the school community dearly.
"All the children, the parents, the faculty, everyone," he said.