By Father James Kurzynski
Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Menomonie
Catholic schools are a staple in the life of the Church, especially because our educators are tasked with teaching the future generation of Catholics. But a Catholic school is so much more than teaching reading and writing. Via the children, a whole community forms. St. Joseph School in Menomonie has been building minds and communities for the last 125 years.
On April 9, St. Joseph School celebrated 125 years of Catholic education. In the fall of 1890, the same year the University of Wisconsin-Stout began its history in Menomonie, Father Louis Koluza and the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration began a journey that continues today. The early days were challenging, exemplified by Father Koluza giving the parish rectory to the sisters for their residence as he slept in a temporary addition to the church sacristy. In time, however, the rectory was turned into the first school building known as St. Stanislaus School. Supported by a parishioner base of millworkers, lumbermen and farmers, St. Stanislaus’ early days were marked with sacrifice and dedication to educate the parish youth of St. Joseph Parish.
Just as plans for a new school building were in the works, tragedy hit St. Joseph Parish as a fire destroyed the church in 1899 and forced the new plans for a school to be set aside. Through many iterations and setbacks, and after years of sacrifice, struggle, work and prayer, the foundations were set, both materially and spiritually, for the longevity of St. Joseph School to take root.
St. Joseph School “struggled” in its early years with a beautiful problem: the number of students exceeded the capacity of the building. At this time, Monsignor Charles Blecha was pastor of St. Joseph Parish. This beloved figure, both of the parish and the Menomonie community, continued the “cutting edge” reputation that marked St. Joseph Parish by constructing one of the most architecturally modern churches in our diocese in light of the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council.
As the new pastor of St. Joseph Parish, I am often touched by people in the community who identify as “St. Joseph School Alumni.” The pride I sense in them reflects the pastoral efforts of the priests and religious of the past, but also the modern era of St. Joseph Parish through the efforts of such pastors as Father Lyle Schulte, Father Tom Krieg and Father John Mano. When reflecting upon this rich history, it is clear that the celebration of the 125-year history of St. Joseph School is a testament to a community of faith that has continually given of themselves to not only educate young people in subjects such as math and English, but has been committed to this education in an environment where they grow in their love of God and neighbor.
The recognition of this rich history was a beautiful night of reflection and song on April 9. The night provided a delightful mix of reminiscences and celebration with the current students, their families, our faculty and the staff of St. Joseph Parish and School. Even in the personal touches like having St. Joseph Alumni Alicia Hartung Duerst and Katie Marach Myers act as masters of ceremonies displayed a clear desire to connect St. Joseph’s past with its present and future.
In speaking with our current school principal, Keila Drout, she was very pleased with every aspect of the celebration of the school. Keila was moved by the realization of the commitment and sacrifice of the families who send their children to St. Joseph School. In her eight years as principal, Keila feels that what makes St. Joseph School unique is the communal commitment to Catholic education and the pride that our families take in our school. Keila expressed her desire to continue the tradition of excellence that preceded her and wants to help build a strong school for the future youth of St. Joseph Parish and the families who choose to be a part of our school community.
I wish to extend my personal thank you to those who made our 125th a success and to those who have graced the halls of St. Joseph School with your presence. May all of us thank God for the gift of Catholic schools, and may we continue our commitment to Catholic education.