Bishop Rhoades visits St. Joseph School in Garrett
By Michelle Castleman
GARRETT — Tucked neatly just three blocks from Main Street in Garrett, and fondly believed to be the very first school in DeKalb County, St. Joseph has been a provider of quality Catholic education in the rural community since 1874. St. Joseph is the only Catholic school in the county. The school has 102 students in grades pre-kindergarten through six.
Kristine Call is in her second year as principal of the school and oversees a staff of 22, which includes seven full-time teachers. Father Andrew Nazareth serves as pastor at St. Joseph, a parish of 340 registered families.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades paid a visit to 301 W. Houston St. on Nov. 22 and celebrated a morning Mass as he continues his pastoral school visits. Dr. Mark Myers, superintendent of Catholic schools, joined in the day’s festivities.
The Mass began with a beautiful entrance hymn by the angelic St. Joseph sixth-grade choir. Bishop Rhoades explained to the students that the red vestments he wore for every Mass celebrates the feast day of a martyr — Holy St. Cecelia, on this particular day.
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades detailed how St. John saw a lamb on the top of a mountain and a throne with a multitude of people — clearly a vision of heaven.
He encouraged the students to “follow the Lamb, follow Jesus, wherever you go, even when it is difficult, like it was for St. Cecelia.”
With utmost reverence, the St. Joseph students took roles of lectors, cantors, gift bearers and servers for the special Mass with their honored celebrant.
Before returning to the gymnasium for a morning assembly, Father Nazareth took the opportunity to officially thank all the countless volunteers and donors who made the summer renovation project at the school a reality.
Bishop Rhoades echoed the thank yous adding one to Father Nazareth for living out the important mission of caring for a parish school — passing on the treasure of faith to the young children.
In the school, Bishop Rhoades blessed each of the new rooms one by one. As the students returned to their classrooms, the bishop began his rounds, making several stops before lunch.
In the new kindergarten room he quizzed the youngsters on what prayers they knew and had them recite the ‘Glory Be’ with him.
In the sixth-grade room, the bishop was impressed with the 17 personal computers donated in an effort to retain students at the middle school level. He assessed their knowledge of the mysteries of the rosary and also their choice of football teams.
It was in the second-grade room where Bishop Rhoades could hardly break away as he was asked numerous random questions ranging from the very insightful, “How many times a day do you pray?” to the curious, “What is your favorite color?”
A full Thanksgiving feast followed in the cafeteria where parent volunteers monitored the students so the staff could join the bishop.
Margaret Norris has been at the school 21 years. Norris explained what drew her to the school originally has kept her there all these years, “There is a real sense of family at St. Joseph.”
St. Joseph School is a hidden treasure in DeKalb County. With the mission statement “Children following God in respect, faith and knowledge,” the school attracts children not only from the Garrett community, but also throughout DeKalb County and outlying areas.
The curriculum at St. Joseph follows the academic standards of the state of Indiana from language arts and math, to music and physical education. The new computer technology lab extends hands-on learning to all areas of the curriculum. Field trips, science and art fairs, choir and athletic programs are some of the many extras that enrich the students.
This, along with an average class size of 14 students, provides a stimulating, well-rounded education steering the students into a productive future.
In addition, St. Joseph has a wide range of volunteers that offer their assistance in all areas of expertise. And St. Joseph’s Home and School Association (HASA) is active, as is the nine-member school board, along with the principal and pastor, who assist in directing various school activities and marketing efforts.
Call, who has been in Catholic education for 21 years, is most impressed with the community spirit and says, “Everyone genuinely cares for everyone here in this school community. … One thing I am most proud of about St. Joseph is the effort everyone puts in for the benefit of the students.”
She feels one of the many strengths of St. Joseph school is with small class sizes and the family-type atmosphere, staff members and parents work closely together to address each student’s needs. Students show strong gains in their academic abilities and yearly growth is evident.
St. Joseph School recently completed a major makeover. The empty space in the gymnasium was renovated into a second level which allowed for a new music room, library and computer lab. Space was added to relocate the Title I and kindergarten rooms to the main campus.
Housed under the century-old, Italian-style church, the cafeteria, was also given a facelift. Finally, the school office underwent changes creating space for the secretary, principal and staff lunch room.
Because of their exemplary test scores (the 2010 sixth-grade class scored the highest of all schools in the county on their ISTEPs), St. Joseph School attracts Catholics and non-Catholics alike. St. Joseph’s faculty, staff, parents and students practice the school’s mission statement in their daily lives, and perhaps the school is best known for their simple motto, “God has made us a family.”
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