Joshua Schipper
Video/Digital Content/Graphic Design Producer
May 7, 2024 // Bishop

Decatur Community Marks 100 Years of Catholic Education

Joshua Schipper
Video/Digital Content/Graphic Design Producer

A century of Catholic education has passed in the St. Joseph School building in Decatur. Bishop Rhoades joined St. Mary of the Assumption Pastor Father Dave Ruppert and Father Stephen Colchin, who himself is a 1965 graduate of the former high school, in celebrating this milestone at Mass on Sunday, May 5.

Catholic education began in Decatur in 1873 when parishioners began using a new church building and dedicated the former church as their first school. In 1881, they built a new school that was served by the Sisters of St. Agnes from Wisconsin.

Bishop Rhoades greets parishioners of St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Decatur on Sunday, May 5.

Bishop Rhoades spoke of the history of the present St. Joseph School building and said he had shuffled through files in the diocesan archive to find some interesting facts about the school, including that builders of the current school used 1,100,000 bricks in its construction in 1924. Also of note, he said, was that when Bishop John F. Noll dedicated the building in October of 1925, St. Joseph was both a grade school and a high school.

Eventually, he said, the school became overcrowded, with 990 students enrolled in 1967. While the parish considered building a new high school, they opted to close the high school portion with the approval of Bishop Leo A. Pursley.

“I wish to commend you today for your continuing commitment to Catholic education here in Decatur, following in the footsteps of your ancestors in the faith,” Bishop Rhoades told those gathered for Mass. “You recognize the importance of forming your children in the faith. Yes, Catholic schools are well-known for their academic excellence, athletic and other extracurricular activities, and good discipline. But the main reason we have Catholic schools is to form our children as disciples of Christ, to teach them the faith, and to help them to grow in their faith, and to develop good Christ-like virtues. Our mission is to communicate Christ to our children and young people.”

Bishop Rhoades also shared some reflections on the Gospel passage for the day, which was part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to His disciples at the Last Supper.

“Jesus loves His disciples as utterly and completely as His Father loves Him. The Father’s love, we can say, flows through Jesus to His disciples. All Jesus asks of them is that they remain in His love.”

Remaining in Jesus’ love, Bishop continued, means keeping His commandments.

“God’s commandments may appear to some to be just a list of prohibitions and an obstacle to freedom. But the truth is exactly the opposite. His commandments are directions for our life, essential and valuable rules for finding true joy and freedom. When someone loves us, they desire that we be happy. Jesus, in His love for us, desires our joy.”

Continuing the discourse, Jesus said, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” Reflecting on this, Bishop Rhoades said that when people obey this commandment, they find joy and freedom.

“Joy is intimately linked to love. On the other hand, if we do not love, if we live selfish lives, paying no heed to God’s commandments, we find ourselves miserable. Sin may bring some immediate pleasure, but ultimately, sin enslaves us and brings sadness to our hearts.”

He continued that, when he visits Catholic schools, he sees a lot of joy.

“We try to teach our children authentic happiness – the joy that comes from our friendship with Christ, from remaining in His love and loving one another as He has loved us.”

Photos by Joshua Schipper
The community gathered for a Mass, celebrated by Bishop Rhoades, to mark 100 years of Catholic education in Decatur.

Concluding his homily, Bishop Rhoades said that it is important to recognize that everyone needs to be educated in love. This education, he indicated, happens at Mass in celebration of the Eucharist.

“The Eucharist draws us into the mystery of Christ the Bridegroom’s love for His Bride, the Church. Here we see the truth expressed by St. John in his first letter, today’s second reading, that ‘God is love,’ and that ‘He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.’ This divine love appears most radiantly on the cross upon which Jesus laid down His life for His friends.”

At the conclusion of Mass, Bishop Rhoades thanked Father Ruppert for his priestly ministry of pastoral leadership at St. Mary Parish before the parishioners gathered for a celebratory lunch in the parish hall.

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