St. Bernard's closing is wistful finale for bright star

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2010 - 11:41 PM
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Steven Broszko (right)

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Steven Broszko was flying high a week ago with news that he had won the prestigious Tommie Award, given annually to an outstanding senior at the University of St. Thomas. Less than two hours later, Broszko was squarely back on terra firma, jolted by the announcement that his beloved high school, St. Bernard's on St. Paul's North End, was closing because of dwindling enrollment.

"It was a day of high highs and very low lows," said Broszko, 22, an English and secondary education major who graduated from St. Bernard's in 2006. "But, as they say, the show must go on."

And so it did this week as Broszko, who juggles a full college course load and three jobs, was just where he wanted to be: At St. Bernard's, where as co-director of the high school's theater program, he was auditioning students for the swan song musical titled, oh dear, "Bye Bye Birdie."

The students arrive in pairs, the shy, the chatty, the gigglers, the nonchalant. Everybody's nervous. Some appear with props and staging. One girl, when asked to sing, refuses and walks out. A duo of guys arrives.

"Hey," one of them tells Broszko, who is dressed casually in blue jeans, a brown sweater and once-white tennis shoes, "we had 10 seconds to work on this..."

"...which will make it all the more entertaining for us," a grinning Broszko says, without skipping a beat.

St. Bernard's is where Broszko discovered his passion, and considerable talent, for acting. Choir director Macey Mulheron, Broszko's former teacher and now collaborator on "Birdie," said he was always "highly coachable, willing to give everything a shot." He was also a splendid ambassador, bringing fresh talent into the program, "kids we never expected, kids who were in theater and kids who were athletes."

That, Broszko said, is a benefit of a small school such as St. Bernard's, with 62 students in his graduating class. "We had phenomenal opportunities," said Broszko, the oldest of three siblings reared in Maplewood. "For most of high school, I played three sports (football, basketball and baseball) and was in three plays per year."

While he favored football and was named MVP his senior year ("An honor, but, well, our record was 1-8"), his 5-foot-8 build suggested that a college career in cleats was unlikely.

After graduating in 2006, he headed to St. Thomas with an ambitious goal: To put theater on the map and himself into every theater opportunity possible. During his freshman year, he played eight characters in "The Dining Room," which he describes as "a neat little play about family life and American culture." In the spring, he played the title role of George Gibbs in "Our Town." He did three shows during his sophomore year, then played Macbeth in his junior year, "the hardest role I've ever had and the hardest I've ever worked. Plus, I'd never played a bad guy before. It was fun."

This year, he started a theater club on campus. Teresa Lyons-Hegdahl, assistant professor of theater at St. Catherine University, which collaborated with St. Thomas, admires Broszko's energy, passion and work ethic. "Whatever he's doing, he invests fully," she said. "That energy he brings to the rehearsal inspires others."

Broszko was gearing up for a senior year brimming with inspired acting when the theater director at St. Bernard's moved away. Might Broszko and another alum, Theresa Rotter, who has a theater degree, consider taking over as co-directors?

"We knew we'd have to give up our own acting," he said, "but I was like, this is too cool of an opportunity to pass up."

They're struggling with the reality that their first year as directors will also be their last. "In the St. Bernard's theater program, you're a part of something bigger than yourself," he said. "This is your family. This is your home."

Aside from co-directing Birdie, which runs May 14-16 at Roseville Middle School, Broszko works as a resident adviser at St. Thomas, and part-time in the university relations office, all the while pulling in 3.5 grade-point average. In the summer, he works full time in maintenance at Como Zoo, and for a brief, raucous stint at the State Fair, which provides him one of his finest speaking roles to date -- that of Vegiefries hawker:

"Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, potatoes and onion on a stick dipped in a light batter and fried in soy oil, so there's no cholesterol and low saturated fat, so not only are they good they're good for you," he recites with glee.

It's this humor, as well as his talent, humility and enduring friendships (he has 1,500 Facebook friends) that likely contributed to the Tommie, voted on by students, faculty and staff. "I viewed it so highly," Broszko said. "The pool of nominees was just huge. It could have gone to a lot of people, not in a cliché way, but that's the way it is. You just feel lucky. "

He feels lucky, too, that he went to St. Bernard's, which nurtured and challenged him, and values him still.

"I'm proud to represent St. Bernard's at St. Thomas," he said. "You never know. The right person just might come forward and decide 'I want to save a school today.'"

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 • gail.rosenblum@startribune.com

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