A century of Catholic education

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St. Anthony celebrates milestone
By: 

Times Herald Photo by Joan Koehne

Sunflowers line the back of St. Anthony School on Franklin Street in Oconto Falls. The sunflowers were planted by the students as part of a school garden, which also includes vegetables for student meals. The Catholic school is 100 years old, and a centennial celebration Saturday includes school tours, Mass celebrated by Bishop David Ricken, dinner and a dance.

An Oconto Falls school on Saturday will celebrate 100 years of weaving together spirituality and academics. St. Anthony School will commemorate a century of providing a Catholic education to thousands of children.

The theme for the anniversary is Honor the Past, Celebrate the Future.

“I think 100 years means we’re doing the job we’re supposed to be doing and that God really wants us here,” said Rosie Marifke, principal. “We’ve had years when we’ve been really down in enrollment … and the fire was devastating, but here we still are.”

A 2012 arson fire displaced students and staff until renovations were completed.

“It’s a reminder to me of all the sacrifices that have gone into the school,” the Rev. Joel Sember, parish priest, said.

Norman Kratz, a 1952 eighth-grade graduate, remembered the three-room school he attended, saying there were eight nuns and a cook. The Kratz family moved to Oconto Falls when Norm was in third grade and he attended until eighth grade.

“I enjoyed going to school there. We got a good education,” Kratz said. “The nuns were very strict, of course. We had to go to Mass every morning.”

He remembered playing marbles on the playground in the spring and recalled how the boys and girls each had their own section of the playground.

He had perfect attendance during his St. Anthony years, and a total of 12 years of perfect attendance, beginning at Ss. Cyril and Methodius in the town of Eaton and finishing at Oconto Falls High School.

“My sister always said my mom kicked me out because I was too naughty,” he said. “That’s our family joke.”

A faith-based education and small-school setting were what convinced Sara and Mike Applebee to enroll their daughter, Paige, at St. Anthony.

“We wanted her to be able to live and practice our faith all throughout the school day, not just at church on Sunday or at home,” Sara said. Paige, now in fourth grade, has been enrolled since 4-year-old kindergarten. Her mother said it’s been a wonderful experience.

“She’s just so completely comfortable there. It’s like her second home,” she said.

All five children in the Tom and Pat Trudell family attended St. Anthony. Because of a wide spread in age, at least one Trudell was enrolled every year for a 22-year span, from 1980 to 2002.

“We saw a lot of changes and lot of personnel coming in and out, but it always stayed the same for the core values and the Catholic faith, and that’s why we sent them there,” Pat said.

The family is marking a three-generation association with the school. Tom attended from first to eighth grade, and now the couple’s two grandchildren attend the school.

Trudell said the school faced many challenges over the years, but the anniversary provides a time to leave behind the worries.

“We all need to come together and celebrate,” she said.

The anniversary committee sent out invitations to 1,200 guests, which included hundreds of St. Anthony alumni, plus staff members and others associated with the school.

The centennial event begins with tours of the school at 3 p.m., followed by Mass with Bishop David Ricken at 4:30 p.m. Ricken will visit the classrooms for a blessing afterwards. The celebration continues at Romy’s Holiday Inn, Kelly Lake, with dinner and a dance.

“I think it will be a great celebration,” Sember said. “I think it underscores the contributions the school has made … to the community.”

He said the school continues to be relevant and provides an alternative style of education, compared to the public school system. Calling it the “gift of a Catholic education,” Sember said the school combines a blend of faith and reason, a topic Pope Francis recently wrote about.

Although the Catholic faith is central to the school, students need not be Catholic to attend.