The education and fellowship our students receive at Saint James Elementary School stays with them throughout their lives. Our graduates go on to lead fulfilling, successful lives and we are so proud of who they become.
SJS Alumni Spotlight - Wheatley Family
We love hearing stories about SJS alumni from the same family. We've had husband and wife graduates, siblings that make attending SJS a family tradition and families with multiple generations of alumni. The Wheatly family is a second-generation alumnus.
Helen has lived in Elizabethtown her entire life. She and her husband Chris have been married for 27 years and were married at St. James Catholic Church in 1994. Chris attended Catholic schools in Louisville (St. Helen's and Holy Cross). Helen graduated from St. James Catholic School in 1980 (when it only had grades 1-6). They have three kids who all graduated from SJS.
Helen recently retired from Elizabethtown Independent Schools, where she taught high school English for 29 years. She firmly believes that her strong faith stems from her grade school education - where she attended Mass with her classmates twice a week. Learning to speak in front of the congregation at a young age gave her confidence. Currently, she feels lectoring for her parish is using the talent God gave her.
When she thinks back on her years at SJS, she remembers the pride felt when chosen to read the story of the Nativity on Christmas Eve. Helen's PawPaw had purchased a new Christmas outfit for her to wear during this special occasion, and she stood proudly reading the scripture to the congregation.
Another memory that stands out to her surrounds the principal, Mr. Brown. He was also the religion teacher for fifth and sixth graders. Helen remembers Mr. Brown explaining there is NEVER a reason to rest when kneeling. He told students to look around at the older congregation members and notice the reverence the elders showed by kneeling upright. He said, "Never be lazy in prayer.” Even today, as Helen kneels, she always thinks about Mr. Brown's lesson and has tried to teach her children the same.
Christopher Wheatley, Jr.
Christopher lived in Elizabethtown until he graduated from Elizabethtown High School in 2016. He attended SJS from pre-school to the graduating class of 2012.
Christopher begins graduate school in the fall at Penn State. He plans to earn his Ph.D. in Materials Science & Engineering and work in either the consumer goods or semiconductor industry.
SJS ensured he was well prepared for high school, allowing him to succeed all four years at EHS. SJS was also instrumental in preparing him to earn scholarships and his undergraduate degree at the University of Kentucky. In addition to academics, the faith-born connections from SJS continued in college and helped reignite the passion he had for his faith. According to Christopher, it has never been stronger.
In seventh grade, as the school was letting out, Christopher was heading out the door when his teacher Ms. Hernandez wished him a good rest of the day. Without thinking, he replied, “Thanks, Mom!”
Christopher said he turned bright red when he realized what he said, but that moment represents how comfortable and close-knit the environment was at St. James.
Mary Kate Wheatley
Mary Kate graduated from Elizabethtown High School in 2020. She attended SJS from 2005, starting preschool to graduation in 2016.
Currently, she attends Marian University in Indianapolis. Her major is Biology Pre-med. She is involved in the San Damiano Program, a faith- and service-based community; College Mentors for Kids, an organization that provides mentors to students at Holy Angels Catholic School; Knights for Life, an organization dedicated to defending life; and is in the process of starting Leaders for Life, an organization that partners with Versiti Blood Center of Indiana to organize blood drives on campus.
Mary Kate's education at SJS has helped her be successful by encouraging strong organizational habits, using assignment books and weekly plans to help structure her time.
When she thinks back on her time at SJS, she feels incredibly blessed to have been surrounded by teachers who challenged her in the classroom and supported her faith journey. Mary Kate also thinks of the many opportunities that a smaller school offers; one-on-one time with teachers, the flexibility to be involved in all of her various interests and close-knit friendships.
A fond memory of her time at SJS was her eighth-grade class trip to New York City.
Lucas attended SJS from preschool through graduation in 2019. He is currently a junior at Elizabethtown High School, where he participates in the Golf and Bass Fishing teams. He also served as President of FBLA this past year and is active in 4-H.
Lucas says his SJS education has helped him succeed by providing the skills and confidence needed for leadership. He has held a leadership position since joining 4-H in sixth grade. During his eighth-grade year, he ran for Governor of KYA, giving a speech in front of hundreds of people. He said SJS prepared him for these types of situations.
Lucas' favorite teacher was his fifth-grade science teacher, Mr. Todd. He provided labs where the students were able to experiment and test their hypotheses. Lucas also enjoyed completing a bug project in his class. He said Mr. Todd made learning fun and memorable.
SJS Alumni Spotlight - Matthew Keith Barnes
SJS Alumnus 2006-2017
Matthew Barnes was born and raised in Elizabethtown, Ky., and attended SJS from 2006 to 2017. He is currently a senior at Elizabethtown High School (EHS), and in the fall, he will attend the University of Notre Dame, studying biochemistry.
“My education at SJS helped me succeed by instilling in me a sound work ethic and a solid spiritual foundation. The high expectations I encountered at SJS have stayed with me throughout high school,” said Matthew. “ I also developed my desire to give back to my community and help others while at SJS.”
Matthew is on the varsity swim and tennis team at EHS, and also swims competitively for the E-Town Dolphins Swim Team. He is vice-president of the Beta Club, and a member of the Y-Club, Hardin County Youth Leadership, Youth Salute, Health Careers Explorers Program, EHS Representative to the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Program, The National Society of High School Scholars, The Congress of Future Medical Leaders and the National Youth Leadership Forum. He is also an Eagle Scout with St. James Troop #303.
He is involved in community service through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Feeding America, Warm Blessings Soup Kitchen, The Salvation Army, The Lion's Club, The Angel Tree Program and St. James Church.
“The greatest gift I received during my time at SJS is the friendships I developed. The friends that I made in three-year-old preschool are still my best friends today.”
“One of my favorite memories at SJS was playing the role of Jesus in the Passion Play. Playing this part was the greatest honor. It culminated all of the years of religious education into one very humbling experience, one I will never forget."
SJS Alumni Spotlight - Elizabeth (Liz) Pawley
SJS Alumnus 1996-2005
Liz Pawley was raised in Cecilia, Ky., and attended kindergarten through 8th grade at Saint James Catholic School. She graduated high school in 2005, going on to attend the University of Kentucky, where she earned her Bachelor's in Communication and Psychology. She continued her education at Florida State University, receiving her Master's and Educational Specialist degrees in Career Counseling.
"I am currently a career counselor at the Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati. I've worked in higher education for the past seven years and love teaching and advising college students," said Liz. "One of my favorite parts of my job is the opportunity to be involved with diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts on campus."
Liz said Saint James Catholic School instilled a sense of discipline within her that drives her to succeed.
"The academic workload was both challenging and rewarding and prepared me for achieving my college degrees. In addition to an advanced curriculum, SJS taught me to practice kindness, compassion, and empathy towards everyone. These tenants were incorporated in our daily lessons, and they help me each day to be the best counselor, colleague, friend, daughter, partner, and human I can be."
Saint James Catholic School builds strong relationships, and after nearly 20 years, some of Liz's closest friends are her classmates from her time at SJS.
In 8th grade, Liz was diagnosed with bone cancer. The entire school and parish came together to support her and her family.
"There were fundraisers held, quilts knitted, care packages sent, meals delivered. My classmates took turns carrying my books when I was on crutches. My teachers worked hard to make it possible for me to transition easily to home learning. I was so humbled and still look back with gratitude. The generosity extended from my SJS family stays with me and inspires me to give to others going through tough times."
"Although I can confirm I have not worn a blue or white polo shirt or khaki pants since, I have such fond memories of SJS and will always view it as a home."
SJS Alumni Spotlight - Paige and Matthew Nichols
For Paige and Matthew Nichols, Saint James Catholic School is a family affair.
“We were both raised in Elizabethtown and grew up attending Saint James Catholic School and Church,” Paige said.
They attended SJS from preschool through eighth grade, Paige from 1993-2004 and Matthew from 1996-2007. In addition, all of their siblings and some of their cousins attended the school, and they each have a brother currently in middle school.
Because of that connection, it was important for the Nichols that their children attend as well. They have two daughters, Poppy Charlotte, age 3, and Rosalie, 5 months old. Poppy started preschool in August of this year.
“SJS instills faith, discipline and education – in that exact order – with the first two significantly outweighing the last,” they said.
Both Paige and Matthew credit the school with helping them succeed.
“SJS education set us up to succeed by creating a foundation of strong work ethic, a clear sense of honesty and integrity, and surrounded us with a support structure that encouraged us to push our limits,” Paige said.
Paige currently teaches a Pre-K class at SJS and volunteers for church activities that involve teaching, in addition to taking care of her daughters. Matthew is in his last year of medical school at the University of Louisville, pursuing a career in ophthalmology.
“I’m thankful for Sister Michael Marie and the discipline she instilled while I was a student at SJS. I appreciate that more now that I have two daughters and want them to have that same discipline while at school as well as at home,” Matthew said.
“SJS has a very special place in my heart,” Paige said. “After my sister died in 2001, the school and Sister Michael Marie were a stronghold for me. That is the kind of love and support you get when you are part of such a close community.”
SJS Alumni Spotlight - Laura Gilbert
SJS Alumnus 1990-93
Not all children are blessed with a stable home life. This was the case, unfortunately, for Saint James Catholic School alum Laura Gilbert who needed the chance to just be a kid and to be shown love. She attended SJS for sixth through eighth grades as a non-Catholic student and made the decision in high school to join the Church.
“I still have fond memories of school dances, field trips, class projects and teachers,” Gilbert said. “With the backbone of the Catholic Church, Saint James gives kids the opportunity to be stewards.”
Gilbert lives in Bowling Green and has two sons, Gerrard, 11, and a 6-year-old nicknamed Flintrock. She is in the billboard and digital display business, as well as interior design. She credits her success to the individual attention she received at the school and from other SJS families.
“I’m proud to have gone to school there, and I have my own kids in Catholic school because of my time at Saint James,” she said.
SJS Alumni Spotlight - Joe Prather
SJS Alumnus 1953-1956
At Saint James Catholic School, Joe Prather learned the values that served as a solid foundation throughout his life.
“My years at SJS were some of the very best of my life,” Prather said. “I’ve enjoyed reflecting back on the excellent teachers I had, the lifelong friends I made and the wonderful memories of my time there.”
Prather attend SJS from 1953 to 1956. An active member of Saint James Catholic Church, Prather is a retired banker, realtor and auctioneer; served as a Kentucky State Senator, Secretary of the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet and Secretary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet; and now serves as chairman of the Hardin Memorial Health Foundation Board of Directors and a member, Elizabethtown-Hardin County Industrial Foundation Board of Directors.
Prather’s favorite teacher was Sr. Mary Miguel, Sister of Loretto, he said.
“I had a lot to learn going into my years at SJS,” he said. “She was always available after school and on Saturdays to work with me and offer me guidance.”
Prather is married to Jennie Brown Prather. They have five children and nine grandchildren.
SJS Alumni Spotlight - Jeff Lanz
SJS Alumnus 1975-1977
Jeff Lanz, SJS alumni, said his education at the school gave him a strong inner belief in himself.
“I was amazed at how strong my education at SJS had been,” he said. “I felt much further along than the majority of the students in my classes.”
Lanz attended SJS for fifth and sixth grades, from 1975-77. He now works as manager of sales operations with Jack Henry & Associates (iPay); recently was instituted as an Acolyte with the Archdiocese of Louisville by Archbishop Kurtz; and serves as the Worship Chair for Saint James Parish.
“At SJS I made wonderful friends, had excellent teachers and learning experiences, and considerably strengthened my understanding and love for the Catholic faith,” Lanz said. “I will forever fondly remember my time there, and it has truly helped shape the individual I have become.”
SJS Alumni Spotlight - Angel Veza
SJS Alumnus 1994-2003
As a student, SJS Alumna Angel Veza considered the school to be a second home and second family.
“I truly enjoyed my time at SJS and look back on it fondly,” she said.
Today Angel, who lives in New York City, is involved in several ventures. She is business initiatives manager with ReFED (Rethink Food Waste through Economics and Data), a nonprofit solely dedicated to reducing food waste in the U.S. She also oversees procurement and purchasing at Manhatta Restaurant in New York City and is lead designer for a consulting firm, First Principle Group.
“My education at SJS helped me think critically and creatively and gave me a myriad of opportunities to explore my interests, all of which contributed to my successes,” Angel said. “I loved the wonderful relationships I built with my teachers and fellow classmates.”
SJS Alumni Spotlight - Lauren Hartlage
SJS Alumnus 2001-12
Saint James Catholic School alumna Lauren Hartlage credits her time at the school for her success in high school and college.
“Through my education at SJS, I learned that to be successful you have to work hard and make no excuses,” she said. “My teachers always expected the best out of me and pushed me to reach my full potential. They also taught me to respect others, which has proven to be very important in my success in high school and college.”
Born and raised in Elizabethtown, Hartlage attended SJS from 2001-2012. A finance student at the University of Louisville, she continues to make a name for herself as a member of the UofL golf team. At the end of 2018 she was ranked 59th in the world and 22nd among American golfers. Because of her talent as a golfer, she recently was given an invitation to play at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship next month
“My Catholic education has had the biggest impact on who I have become today,” Hartlage said. “My time at SJS was some of the best years of my life. To me, SJS is family and somewhere I will always be able to come back and call home.”
SJS Alumni Spotlight - Carson Ching
SJS Alumnus 2010-17
Carson Ching, a sophomore at Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, credits the high level academics at SJS for his success.
“They helped me earn high scores on standardized testing and the placement test for high school that allowed me to receive a merit scholarship,” Carson said.
Carson received national recognition with Duke TIP ACT and is a Xavier Scholar and academic scholarship recipient. He’s also involved in Junior Varsity and Varsity Academic Teams/Quick Recall, Math Team, Liturgical Music Ensemble, History Club and the Environmental Club at St. X.
“I greatly enjoyed my time at SJS for various reasons,” Carson said. “There was a good mix of both fun and serious learning that kept me engaged in my studies. I made many friends and was motivated and challenged to learn many interesting things in the classroom at SJS.”
Carson also credits SJS for giving him the confidence to pursue and achieve leadership roles – such as Speaker of the House at Kentucky Youth Assembly his freshman year of high school.
“SJS is a place where seeds of faith and knowledge were planted in me for many years to come,” he said. “The emphasis on faith and service enriched my understanding of the Catholic Church and showed me that success is not just measured in personal accomplishments but in how one helps others.”
Carson lives in Louisville with his parents, Robert and Mary Ching.
SJS Alumni Spotlight - Kristi Zoglmann Ditto
SJS Alumnus 1985-1994
Kristi was born and raised in Elizabethtown, as was her husband, Brent Ditto. They have two daughters, Kate (9, in 4th grade at SJS) and Avery (7, in 2nd grade at SJS).
She works in the accounting department at the Limestone Bank in Louisville, substitutes at SJS, and is the children's liturgy of the word coordinator at St. James Church.
“Attending SJS gave me a strong work ethic that I carried with me throughout high school, college, and my career. It also gave me a strong faith foundation and instilled in me the importance of giving back to my community.”
Kristi has fond memories of her eighth grade class trip to Chicago, and the candle passing ceremony where eighth grade "passes the torch" to the next group of eighth graders.
“SJS is family to me, and I wanted my children to have the chance to receive a great quality education, and so much more that the school offers.”