Catholic schools in the United States have a rich history dating back to the early 19th century. They emerged in response to the growing waves of Catholic immigrants arriving in the country in the early 1800s, primarily from Ireland and Germany. These immigrants faced significant discrimination and prejudice, and, as a result, they sought to establish a system of education that would not only provide academic instruction but also instill Catholic values and faith in their children.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Catholic parish schools in the Diocese of La Crosse became a focal point of community life. Religious orders, such as the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the Benedictine Sisters, played significant roles in shaping the educational landscape. Due to the strong commitment to academic excellence and the desire to pass on our Catholic Faith, the Diocese of La Crosse saw the expansion of its school system to include not only parish grade schools but eventually middle and high schools, ensuring that generations of students received a comprehensive education rooted in Catholic values. Today, these schools continue to serve as vital hubs of faith formation and academic achievement within the diocese.
The Gift of Catholic Education
One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me was my Catholic education. I had the privilege of attending St. Patrick Grade School in Onalaska, Cathedral Grade School and Aquinas High School in La Crosse. Not only did I receive an excellent education from the priests, religious sisters and lay teachers who served in these schools, but I also had a solid experience of religious formation, which played a significant role in my becoming a diocesan priest.
The word “tradition” stems from the Latin word traditio, which means the action of handing over or to pass on. In essence, it embodies the act of transmitting beliefs, practices and knowledge from one generation to another. This concept is integral to our Catholic Faith, as it signifies the continuous passing down of sacred teachings and customs through the ages. Catholic schools play a pivotal role in this process. They serve as educational institutions deeply rooted in the tradition of the Church, where students receive not only academic instruction but also a comprehensive religious education. Through rigorous religious curricula, regular participation in sacramental life and exposure to the rich tapestry of Catholic rituals, students in our schools are immersed in the Faith. Moreover, the presence of priests, religious figures and committed teachers as mentors provides living examples of individuals who have dedicated their lives to upholding and passing on our Catholic way of life. This nurturing environment fosters a deep sense of connection to the Church’s heritage, enabling students to become stewards of the Faith in their own right, thereby ensuring the enduring legacy of Catholicism.
The great gift that was passed on to me by my parents is now the gift I pass on to the children of the parishes that I serve. I pray that they will treasure this gift of excellent academic and spiritual formation as I do and that they, in turn, will pass it on to their children.
One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me was my Catholic education. I had the privilege of attending St. Patrick Grade School in Onalaska, Cathedral Grade School and Aquinas High School in La Crosse. Not only did I receive an excellent education from the priests, religious sisters and lay teachers who served in these schools, but I also had a solid experience of religious formation, which played a significant role in my becoming a diocesan priest.”
Father Douglas Robertson
Pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish and Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Marshfield
Published in the January/February 2024 issue of Catholic Life Magazine