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Principal Peters bids farewell to students at St. Victor School
Iowa native moved to Monroe in 2001
Joe Peters

By Gary Mays


MONROE — It was only a few weeks before the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, when Joe Peters first came to Monroe from his native Iowa to lead the city’s catholic grade school.

The young principal, now 54, had never been to Monroe but liked the school and the town, hard by the Illinois border, right away. Yet the tragedy of 911 tested him in ways he never could have imagined back in those heady, early days.  

It was a new job, a new place, and a new mission for the lifelong catholic educator who graduated from Loras College, the seventh oldest catholic college or university in the United States. He even commuted to his new job from Dubuque for a while before finding a home here — a home he said his extended family loves to visit each year because of the small-town vibe, fun events, and storied history.

“It felt like a good fit…but right there and then (Sept. 11) I knew I wasn’t prepared,” he said, reflecting on that day recently while on the verge of retirement after decades at the helm of the fledgling school. “They don’t teach you everything about being a principal in college.”

The plan then was to stay in the job for just two years. But Peters would persevere through the 9/11 tragedy, COVID 19 and many other challenges — and triumphs — faced by the city’s only catholic grade school, which serves about 120 students through the St. Clare of Assisi Parish and St. Victor church.

On May 31, Peters donned his beloved Captain America outfit for his last day as principal, greeting each child as they came in. Later that day, they would “clap out” their principal on his final day with students present — as silly string, glitter and confetti filled the hallways.

“It was the right time to go, I don’t have to be in charge all of the time,” he said during a recent interview in his office.  “We made the last day with the kids into a fun thing, instead of a sad event.”

In a few weeks, Peters passes the torch to the school’s new principal, Brittany Klitzke, a 5th-grade teacher who went to St. Victor as a child.

“I’m excited to continue the legacy of what Mr. Peters has done for the school and the community,” said Klitzke.

Peters took over a school with an already storied history. St. Victor was established in 1916. Starting in the early spring of 1916, construction on the $17,000 building was finished in time for the school’s September opening. At that time, the parish leadership asked that the teachers for the school come from the Sisters of St. Dominic, who had their motherhouse in Racine. 

Sisters from that order taught at the school until the late 1970s. 

Peters said that although he was an Iowa resident coming to the city from Dubuque in 2001, the people here welcomed him with open arms and the priests of the parish and nuns provided boundless support for their new principal. Having the school in Monroe not only benefits the students, he said, but also the families that those students come from; and the community itself.

“To be a part of and have an impact on a child’s life is amazing,” he said, adding that the school brings kids from two states and about 20 different zip codes to town. 

“Having a catholic school here is good for Monroe,” he said.

Peters said he has been “blessed” to be able to retire at a relatively young age, and plans to stay in Monroe, volunteer and, perhaps at some point, serve as a substitute teacher somewhere. He said he is committed to the school’s central mission of a parochial education being offered in south-central Wisconsin.

“I always tell people we get to offer a comprehensive education, but we add the component of faith, values, and morals to it,” he said. “About 30% of our families are non-Catholic — that tells me people are really looking for that in their children’s education.”