Capping decades of teaching Guam’s students

Chaco, St. Anthony’s resilient principal to retire at end of month

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St. Anthony Catholic School principal Lorena Chaco takes a moment inside the administrative offices of the school. She will retire at the helm of the school after six years as principal, 13 as a teacher, and 45 years overall as an educator. (USY photo/Tony C. Diaz)

By Tony C. Diaz
Umatuna Si Yu’os

Even before she could barely read and write, Lorena Queja Chaco knew she wanted to be a teacher.

By the time she was four years, the Chamorro girl was already gathering her younger cousins in Tumon and reading to them in makeshift “classrooms.”

“Ever since I could remember, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” said Chaco. “It was my passion.”

The make-believe teacher grew up to be a seasoned educator who devoted 45 years of her life guiding Guam’s children in our public and Catholic schools.

St. Anthony Catholic School bids farewell to their dedicated principal at the  end of the month as Chaco, 69, marks 20 years at the school and her final retirement in education.

“I’m leaving this school with a lot of joy, a lot of love,” said Chaco.

Sitting down with the Umatuna Si Yu’os in her bright and tidy office at St.  Anthony this week, the always smiling educator described her love for children, our Catholic faith, her beloved, late husband Felix, and her treasured time at the Tamuning school.

She called St. Anthony a wonderful school whose devoted members are strongly grounded in the Catholic faith and where evidence of the Catholic identity is everywhere.

When parents of prospective students ask her about St. Anthony, Chaco zeroes in on our faith and the teachings of Jesus.

“The first thing I’ll tell them is that the Catholic identity is very strong and that when your child comes here, we teach the child at a very young age what humility means,” she said. “And how that humility will take them through the course of their years here. It comes in different forms, but the Catholic identity is very important here.”

At St. Anthony, the teachers all emphasize that each child matters. Each child can learn, no matter what.

Buoyant and resilient with a cheerful spirit, Chaco is the kind of principal who strives to be caring and positive with everyone, even during difficult times or challenges.

Whether it is the students, teachers, staff or parents, she has loved greeting and interacting with the school family of St. Anthony each day for the past 20 years.

“That’s what I’m going to take away, the interaction with everyone that is here – most especially the students,” she said. “They would say, ‘How’s your day, Mrs. Chaco?’ or ‘What did you eat for lunch?’ or ‘Can I tell you a secret Mrs. Chaco?’”

“That’s the thing I’m going to miss, just talking to the children. Just getting to know who they are,” she said.

Even though she is leaving, she said the school will remain a part of her forever.

Lorena Queja Chaco is the second eldest of 10 children born to the late Bernardo and Cynthia Queja of Tumon.

She attended Tamuning Elementary and Tumon High in the 1960s. Tumon High was renamed John F. Kennedy High School and after graduating from JFKHS in ’68, Lorena pursued her dream to become a teacher. She graduated from the University of Guam in 1972 with a degree B.A. degree in Early Childhood Education and Special Education.

She spent 25 years working for the Guam Department of Education as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and school programs consultant before retiring in 1997.

Lorena began teaching at St. Anthony Catholic School in June 1999 under longtime principal Sister Doris SanAgustin.

She logged 25 years of actual service in the public schools and 20 years in the archdiocese at St. Anthony. She is grateful to have been part of the mission of guiding our children for that long.

“It does not matter whether it’s public school or its private school, it’s all about the kids,” said Chaco. “They need the affirmation that we care.”

She described what she believes is the most important quality all children need from we adults.

“Love. They need to know that they are loved,” said Chaco, a mother of two. “Even the kids that are challenged, when they come here, they need to know that they are loved.”

St. Anthony gives them that love.

Lorena married Felix Chaco of Agat in 1971 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church.

The Chacos were very active members of the Agat parish throughout their 47 years of marriage. Felix taught confirmation to the parish youth and Lorena handled first holy Communion.

Felix and Lorena raised two children, Rebecca Jean Perez and Felix Anthony Jr. Chaco. Inspired by her mom, both children have forged successful careers as educators.

Her dear husband died two years ago on Dec. 4, 2017. A courageous Marine sergeant who was awarded a Purple Heart while serving four years in Vietnam, Felix’s love for his wife radiated for one, in the tremendous support he gave his wife throughout her career as an educator.

“He was very supportive,” said Chaco. “Before I married him, I told him I was going to be a teacher, do you have issues with that?”

“He just said, ‘I’m honored because I’m going to marry someone who is an educator and you’re going to help educate our kids.’”

The Chacos forged an understanding that even though she was a teacher, he would still share a very active role in the entire process of helping to teach their children by attending parent-teacher conferences and other school-related functions. He did so not just for their children, but also helped other families and children at schools in the public and private school systems.

She leaves St. Anthony thankful for everyone and grateful for all the experiences, from the successes and blessings to the hardships and difficulties.

“Man, I tell you, every school year was very memorable,” said Chaco.

“Every school year, there was something happening. I said, ‘Lord, my cross is heavy. What’s happening?’”

Life, faith and education is what happened. And Lorena Chaco feels blessed to have been an important part of it all.