Monday, March 9, 2020 was a half day at St. Louis U. High—the last day of classes in the third quarter. Deacon Allen Boedeker knew his time as a theology teacher at SLUH was nearing the end, but he had no idea it would be the last day of his 30-year career teaching in-person classes.
COVID-19 may have cancelled Boedeker’s final quarter of teaching in-person theology classes, but it did not take away the 30 years he spent impacting a generation of students and graciously serving SLUH. Now, Boedeker is ready to commence a new chapter of his life: the priesthood.
“(I’ll miss) primarily two things: the actual teaching in the classroom, not including grading papers, but I greatly, greatly, love teaching my sophomores. I’ll certainly miss my colleagues, some I’ve been with for all my 30 years, some that I’ve just not been with a year, but they’ve all become such good friends. I will miss the association with them, and I hope to be able to keep in touch with people who would like to,” said Boedeker.
In the summer of 1990, the Theology Department had to scramble to find a new theology teacher after their original hire moved on just months after accepting the job. Boedeker, having arrived back in St. Louis after working at a five-parish consolidation in Indiana, took the job, which was originally supposed to be part time. Boedeker transitioned to full time later that semester after another long-time theology teacher, Charlie Conway, fully retired.
Boedeker currently teaches the sophomore theology curriculum of Church History—both on a worldwide and local level—the Sacraments, and Theology of the Body.
These topics can be difficult to talk about in a sophomore classroom environment, especially Theology of the Body. But according to his students, Boedeker’s engaging class and approach fostered productive classroom discussion.
“(His) class was unique to me because he included everyone in the class discussion every day, and every class seemed to probe my pre-existing beliefs, making me want to learn more and go deeper into the topic and discussion,” said senior Michael Kreienkamp.
Boedeker implemented his question box—a legendary teaching method—to give students the chance to ask deep questions. All questions were submitted anonymously and were answered honestly by Boedeker in class.
“Basically for the entire week, we were able to anonymously submit questions written on a piece of paper by putting it in the box,” said senior Tyler Lane. “No topic was off limits which led to some pretty wild discussions. I loved how he wasn't afraid to tackle typically taboo and inappropriate issues that guys our age struggle with and give the Catholic stance on it.”
While students often had differing beliefs on the subject matter, Boedeker’s classroom maintained healthy conversation in regards to learning.
“Some of the best memories I have from Deacon Boedeker's class revolve around conversations I had with my classmates,” said Kreienkamp. “Deacon Boedeker was extremely good at guiding the conversation of the class and then letting students state their differing beliefs and learn from each other.”
“He brought an exuberant amount of knowledge to the classroom with his many years of experience working in the Catholic Church,” said Lane. “He also was in the unique position to teach Theology from the perspective of a member of the clergy as a deacon and also as a husband.”
To say Boedeker was an influential character at SLUH outside the classroom would be an understatement. Within his own department, he served as the Theology Department Chair for a six-year term, oversaw the decision to make theology class five days a week instead of three, and helped incorporate Church History and Theology of the Body into the sophomore theology curriculum.
According to Theology Department Chair Jon Ott, Boedeker’s extensive knowledge of Church history and love for the Sacraments followed him in his transition to SLUH. For this reason, those topics have been at the center of sophomore theology.
Outside of the Theology Department, Boedeker took part in countless acts of service in the St. Louis community, volunteered lots of free time helping with various SLUH functions such as Cashbah and dances, attended retreats, and served as a sacristan for the chapel. And as his name would indicate, Boedeker fulfilled his duties as a deacon at virtually every school Mass.
Boedeker’s typical school day began well before the 8:05 bell signaling the start of first period. In fact, it started two hours earlier, when he opened the library every morning for students. His early-morning tasks also included preparing the 7:20 Mass as a sacristan and proctoring a freshman homeroom.
“I asked him for help in the library. He and I would open the library by 6:15 every morning, and when I retired he opened it up at 6:00, 6:15 every day. And there’s not a lot of guys there, but I think the early morning guys appreciate walking into an open library,” said former theology teacher Matt Sciuto.
As a sacristan and deacon for countless Masses at SLUH, Boedeker’s work was greatly admired by the Jesuits at SLUH.
“As the school sacristan, he made my job as a priest so much easier,” said the Rev. Joseph Hill, S.J. “He always had the Mass prepared on weekday mornings. He always cared for the sacred vessels. He always maintained the Mass supplies and the linens. As a deacon his service at the Altar was hugely invaluable.”
Boedeker’s next journey in life will take him far east—precisely 1,173 miles—to Pope St. John XXIII national Seminary in Weston, Mass. as he begins the formation process to become a priest.
After spending a decade in the seminary, Boedeker left to marry his wife of 38 years, Mary, who passed away in January of 2019. No longer bound by the celibacy condition of becoming a Catholic priest, Boedeker decided to pursue the priesthood once again.
“My wife died about a year and a half ago, and she was one of the primary ones encouraging me to re-apply, so I’m choosing to go back,” said Boedeker.
Boedeker made the decision to join the priesthood about a year ago, though he had to delay his studies one year to teach one final year at SLUH.
“I talked to the Archbishop just about a year ago saying that I had already contracted for my 30th year of teaching, but was asking if he would accept me as a priesthood candidate, and he said yes. So, I’ve been working on the application ever since,” said Boedeker.
In addition to his full time teaching job, Boedeker is the administrator of St. Andrew Parish in South City. Currently without a priest in residence, it’s a possibility—but not a guarantee—that Boedeker gets assigned there when he’s home
“During the summer when I’m home, I don’t know where they’re going to assign me. They might put me back at St. Andrew where I am now or put me somewhere else. That's up to them—I don’t have much say in that,” said Boedeker.
As Boedeker has been at SLUH for three decades, lots of faculty have formed great relationships with him, including former SLUH President the Rev. Paul Sheridan, S.J, who helped Boedeker out by saying Mass at St. Andrew once a month.
Several colleagues describe Boedeker as a man of tremendous generosity.
“If a teacher puts out an email saying I need a sub, if Allen is open, he says yes. Most teachers don’t do that, so what made him special is he’s extremely generous, tremendously dependable, and he just does his thing very, very quietly, and he does it the best he can. And I think he does it with a real sense of vocation,” said Sciuto.
“When we collaborated to plan the curriculum, he was the picture of humility, always putting the students’ needs first and never inserting his ego into the process,” said Ott. “He continually gave without counting the cost.”
Former Athletic Director and current theology teacher Dick Wehner compared Boedeker to Sciuto—two men who constantly worked for the betterment of SLUH with little recognition.
“There is no doubt in my mind that all of us will feel the same way (when Sciuto left) that there will be a huge void when he leaves,” said Wehner. “We will all be left with, ‘didn’t know Deacon Boedeker did that?’”
After an unforgettable 30 year run, Boedeker will miss SLUH—and SLUH will miss him back.
“I’m going to greatly miss SLUH. I’ve really enjoyed teaching here for 30 years. I was hoping to be another Joe Schulte where they’d carry me out at the end, but the diocese does not see me fit to continue to teach after I’m ordained, at least not at SLUH,” said Boedeker.
“I am sad to see Deacon Boedeker leave SLUH. SLUH will not have an easy time finding a replacement of Deacon Boedeker's caliber. Deacon will definitely be missed at SLUH through all that he does within the Theology and Campus Ministry Departments,” said Kreienkamp. “The Jesuits will notice his absence maybe more than anyone as he always played a key role in Masses within the school. SLUH is losing a part of what makes SLUH outstanding, but I'm sure that wherever Deacon ends up, he will change lives for the better.”