First-grade teacher Gloria Hansberry has been a constant smiling face at St. Bernardine School, 815 Elgin Avenue, for more than 20 years. This year, Hansberry will be retiring from the school.

A Mass in her honor will be held at 8:30 a.m. on June 9 with a reception to follow.

“I lived in St. Louis, and I came up to Chicago to go to Concordia’s Teachers College (now Concordia University), in River Forest,” Hansberry said. “For student teaching, I was paired up with Minnie Gnewuch here in Forest Park, and she totally changed my life. I can’t even explain it. She is this dynamic person, and she saw that I was a dynamic teacher. After a week of student teaching, I knew this is what I would be doing with my life.”

Hansberry taught elementary education at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church for six years when the church had a school, but left when her son was born.  

Years later, Hansberry converted to Catholicism and put her son, Brandon, in school at St. Bernardine. She said that this is when she felt “called” to teach.

“One of the things I have enjoyed the most about teaching here is having that connection with my faith life and my professional life in one place,” Hansberry said.

“My favorite subject to teach is religion because I am a spiritual person. One of my talents is relating that connection to God with children and creating liturgies that are child friendly. A lot of times children don’t have a connection with God and don’t come to church because it is so far over their heads. We can work with them to help simplify the information and help them grow in their faith.”

Hansberry said she will also miss teaching the Superkids Reading program. It was started this year, and she said her children picked up on it “amazingly” fast. The program was created by Pleasant Rowland, who started the American Girl line of historical dolls and books.

“In my retirement, I am going to take some time to relax,” Hansberry said.

Robert Maas, the principal at St. Bernardine, said that Hansberry is very involved in the community.

“She is a very hands-on teacher,” Maas said. “She is a Eucharistic minister for the parish. She is loved by all of the kids and parents who have had her. She is a wonderful person and a great addition to her staff. She will be sorely missed.”