Catholic education is worth the sacrifice
Parents, parishes, and local communities committed to Catholic schools
Editor’s note: This back-to-school story is also part of The Prairie Catholic’s series on the works of mercy during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Traditionally formulated as “instructing the ignorant,” the first of the spiritual works of mercy emphasizes the need to teach others what is conducive to their salvation.
“If we had to choose again, definitely we would send them to Holy Redeemer because they definitely shine as individuals.”
Brenda Baker and her husband Scott have five children. Their youngest child, Joshua, is now an eighth grader at Holy Redeemer School in Marshall.
“I’ve had a kid at Holy Redeemer for 18 years,” said Baker. “I know that each one of them got a great education and has a great formation in the faith to start their lives.”
Sending kids to Catholic school requires some financial choices for families. The value proposition was clear for the Baker family, who didn’t go on many vacations over the past two decades.
“The sacrifices we made were worth it to have our kids grow in faith, as good Christians, good leaders going out in to the world, proud of who they are and not worrying about material things but helping those around them.”
“We definitely have a presence in the community,” said Carol DeSmet, principal of Holy Redeemer School. “Our kids go on to high school and do well.”
DeSmet said parents choose Holy Redeemer School because of the faith-based education, the family environment, and the small class sizes. Holy Redeemer School has two sections in each grade and no classes have more than 20 children.
Financial aid is available for families who need it, based on an application process that determines a family’s ability to pay, explained DeSmet.
“We do not deny a child an education due to financial need. If a family has financial need, we’ll help them make it work.”
On the other side of the diocese at Holy Trinity School in Winsted, 60 percent of families receive some financial assistance with tuition.
“We never turn away anyone because of financial concerns,” says Cathy Millerbernd, dean of Faculty and Curriculum at Holy Trinity School. “We tell them that right when they walk in the door, ‘Don’t let that be the determination.’ Let’s look at why you want to come – the Catholic education, the academics, and then we’ll talk about tuition.”
Holy Trinity parish leadership recognizes that the school is an important ministry that should be supported. As with nearly all Catholic schools, support from a parish helps make Holy Trinity School affordable and accessible to families.
“I’m lucky to be at a parish where we had a very farsighted group of people who said, ‘We need to come up with a way that’s better than a bake sale to support the school’,” said Holy Trinity pastor Father Tony Stubeda. “They came up with an idea for a country music festival.”
The rest is history. The first Winstock Country Music Festival took the stage in 1993 and has grown to be one of the region’s largest outdoor music festivals. All Winstock proceeds go to help fund education for students at Holy Trinity School. Since 1993, support to the school has topped $5 million.
“It goes 100 percent to the operating budget: paying teacher salaries, buying materials, funding activities,” says Millerbernd.
Musicians playing Winstock include some of the biggest names in country music, like Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride, and Brad Paisley. In 2016, about 15,000 people attended the two-day festival. Nearly 1,000 people volunteered to help stage the event. And it all started with a small group of Holy Trinity supporters a quarter of a century ago.
“Most of them were people who had gone to school there and asked, ‘How do we do this for future generations?’ and they’re just amazing,” Father Stubeda said. “The school community, the parish community and the larger community all find it is an important way to support the mission of the school.”
“The reason that Catholic schools exist is to form young people to be better disciples of Christ,” he continued. “We’re trying to build a habit that part of being a disciple of Christ is service. The things that get done in our community are done by people like us.”
For Millerbernd, being part of the three-person leadership team at Holy Trinity is the culmination of a lifelong love of Catholic education that started back when she was a Holy Trinity student a few decades ago.
“When I was student here, it felt very safe – I loved learning about the faith,” she said. “Then coming back as a teacher and seeing families I knew and seeing the generation coming up, and now as a principal and seeing these younger families, that they are willing to sacrifice because it’s an important part of their lives.”
Back in Marshall, DeSmet reflected on one of her favorite things: when Holy Redeemer alumni come back to visit and she hears about “the little things that stay in their hearts, how Holy Redeemer School along with their parents built that foundation to always count on God.”
“Each one of them knows that faith and family are most important to us,” said Baker, explaining how Holy Redeemer School has reinforced what her children are taught at home. “Coming up through Catholic school, they are very confident in what they have become. They will stand up for what they believe in.”