SOUTH BEND — St. Adalbert Catholic School has been an inspiring center of learning for 100 years, first for children of the Polish immigrants who built the parish, and later for children from many ethnic backgrounds whose families settled in the neighborhood.
The school’s “Celebration of a Century” observance from July 29-31 attracted hundreds of people for festivities that included a memory walk through displays in the school, an afternoon family fest, Mass and a pancake breakfast.
What was even more remarkable than the large turnout, however, was the intense pride and love of the parish and school displayed by the alumni, students, parents, volunteers, teachers and parishioners who came together to celebrate this impressive milestone.
In his homily at the Sunday centennial Mass, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades noted that thousands of children have received a Catholic education at St. Adalbert, thanks to the grace of God as well as the great sacrifices made by the Polish immigrants who built the school, by the Felician sisters who have been at St. Adalbert since its founding, the parishioners and community who support the school, and the lay teachers and staff who have continued to carry out the school’s mission.
“A few verses before the passage in today’s reading, St. Paul wrote, ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’” Bishop Rhoades said. “This was the conviction of those who built and those who have sustained St. Adalbert’s School these past 100 years. We can face any obstacle and overcome any hurdle that we encounter in life, for we know that the Lord is with us with His amazing love and grace.”
Indeed, the story of St. Adalbert School is nothing short of amazing. As Bishop Rhoades noted in his homily, the school had a peak enrollment of 1,112 students in the 1929-1930 academic year. The enrollment dropped considerably as parishioners aged over the decades, and many people began to question the school’s viability.
Then, in 2003, nearby St. Stephen Parish was closed. The predominantly older congregation of St. Adalbert welcomed St. Stephen parishioners, many of whom were young Latino families with children, into their community. That infusion of new parishioners gave new life to both parish and school, and as Bishop Rhoades noted, the St. Adalbert tradition of educating immigrant children continues.
“This is a beautiful witness to the Catholicity of the Church as we are one body in Christ, people of different languages and cultures united in our Catholic faith, united in our commitment to our children and to their education in the faith,” Bishop Rhoades said in his homily.
Many volunteers from the community, including members of the Christ Child Society, contribute countless hours as teacher helpers, librarians and committee members. Also, the University of Notre Dame has lent its support by making St. Adalbert a “Magnificat School,” providing such assistance as teaching materials, teacher development, school board and parent workshops and methods to increase Catholic identity.
“We can be filled with hope at the renewal and, in a sense, a rebirth of St. Adalbert School, thanks to the commitment of so many people,” Bishop Rhoades said in his homily.
Holy Cross Father Peter Pacini, pastor of St. Adalbert, said that the school enrollment continues to climb, with 65 new students coming for the 2011-2012 school year, bringing total enrollment to 212 students. Father Pacini and school principal Mary Ann Bachman are particularly pleased that 42 of the new students are parishioners who are now able to attend St. Adalbert with vouchers from the new Indiana Choice Scholarship Program.
A testament to the school was made by alumni, who came from distant states as well as the surrounding area. Kathleen Podemski Rojek, a 1970 graduate and New Jersey resident, was joined by her sister, Barbara Podemski Prendergast of Florida, a 1966 graduate. The two sisters and several other alumni assisted in finding current address of classmates so the alumni could be informed about the centennial celebration.
Another alumna, Chris Micinski Miller, recited an impressive heritage at St. Adalbert. Her grandparents, parents and she all attended St. Adalbert School and were married in the church as well. Although she is a member of St. Pius X Parish in Granger now, she volunteers on the St. Adalbert school board and assists with special projects.
Miller said that she was impressed with people like Jean Fuehrmeyer, head of the centennial committee, who “fall in love with this school and embrace it and do so much for it, even when they don’t have the same history as me.”
Fuehrmeyer, also a member of St. Pius X Parish, also serves on the school board along with her husband, Jim, and is the Tuesday school librarian. She said that she fell in love with the school as a Christ Child Society volunteer and felt that this was the place the Lord was calling her to serve.
“When I heard the Gospel today, I thought, that’s us. We are a five-fish, two-loaf school, and we are feeding 5,000,” Fuehrmeyer said.
St. Adalbert parents also seem to feel that same passion. Brenda Harley is not a parishioner, but chose the school because, she said, “When I got here, I just had a good feeling,” a feeling that has seen her son through six years at the school as she has volunteered on various school projects.
Albina Robledo was among the families who moved to St. Adalbert when St. Stephen closed. Her son is a graduate of St. Adalbert and her daughter is a current student.
Robledo said she tries to spread the good news about St. Adalbert in her job at the Indiana Health Center and through her contacts in the community.
“I spread the word that it is highly important for people to enroll their kids in a Catholic environment for children to learn Catholic values they don’t get at other schools,” Robledo said.
That point also was stressed by Bishop Rhoades in his homily.
“This conviction in the power of God’s love is also what inspires us to support St. Adalbert’s School and to be generous in our sacrifices to support it. … Why is this school so important? Why is it worth the sacrifices? Because passing on the faith to our children must be one of our highest priorities. That’s what Catholic schools do,” said Bishop Rhoades.
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