Hundreds in St. Louis mourn and honor Jean Kuczka, teacher killed in school shooting
Jean Kuczka loved field hockey, rock musician Tom Petty and Diet Coke. She lived a life in service to her family, the members of the teams she coached and the hundreds of students she taught over the years.
Hundreds of people gathered at the Cathedral Basilica on Monday to hear those tributes and honor Kuczka, who died last week when a gunman shot her and Alexzandria Bell, a 15-year-old student, during an attack at the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in south St. Louis.
“She was the most selfless person we’ve ever known, and she was always there for us,” her son Stephen Kuczka Jr. said at a funeral Mass, flanked by his four siblings. “Mom believed every child is a unique human being and deserves a chance to learn.”
The Kuczka family, joined by people from across the St. Louis region, gathered to remember the life of their matriarch, a health and physical education teacher at Central and Visual Performing Arts High School.
Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski led the Mass, which included readings from scripture and hymns. Wreaths of red, yellow and orange flowers sat alongside the 61-year-old teacher's casket — framing a portrait collage of her and Bell.
Kuczka was born in St. Louis on March 7, 1961, the first of four children to Barbara Edmonds and Kenneth Kirk. She developed a passion for education after starting to teach swimming lessons at a local YMCA when she was in high school, her son said, later going on to graduate from what is now Missouri State University with a degree in physical education and health.
Kuczka was a part of the 1979 Missouri State University National Championship Field Hockey team. In 2010, she was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Her teaching career also led to numerous awards, including a national honor recognizing CVPA’s accomplishments in health and wellness.
Kuczka also coached cross-country at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, which shares a campus with CVPA. She had been with St. Louis Public Schools since 2002, after teaching for 18 years at Seven Holy Founders, a Catholic school in south St. Louis County that is now a campus of Holy Cross Academy.
A full choir in red robes and a booming organ filled the cathedral’s halls as mourners prayed and sang alongside the clergy.
“Education was not a job for her — it was a calling,” said the Rev. Leo Spezia, associate pastor at Most Sacred Heart Parish in Eureka. “What she told her students might [not] always be what the students wanted to hear, but she told them with honesty. … Mrs. K knew the way she taught the truth, and she wanted to prepare people for life."
Kuczka also is remembered for her charitable activity. She was an active volunteer with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Last month, she hosted a trivia night to support the organization and was preparing for the 15th annual bike ride to cure diabetes at Amelia Island, Florida, in December.
“The world is truly a better place because of Jean,” Stephen Kuczka Jr. said. “She touched each and every one of us, and she has left us with memories we will cherish forever.”
Kuczka and Stephen Kuczka married in 1983. They would have celebrated their 40th anniversary in January.
Besides her husband and son, she is survived by another son, Joseph Kuczka; daughters Abigail and Isabelle Kuczka and Megan Boeger; sisters Susan Weeke and Catherine Kelly; brother Andrew Kirk; and six grandchildren.
Kuczka was buried at Resurrection Cemetery in south St. Louis.
Andrea Henderson contributed to this report.