Bishop Rhoades visits St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth School
By Kay Cozad
FORT WAYNE — During his first pastoral school visit of the new year Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades traveled between the two campuses that make up St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth School in Fort Wayne on Tuesday, Jan. 4. His first stop was to the St. Joseph campus on Brooklyn Avenue.
St. Joseph School was established in 1918 by the Sisters of St. Agnes. The current Brooklyn Avenue building opened in 1953 and provided a quality Catholic education for students kindergarten through eighth grade until the burgeoning St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish on Aboite Center Road constructed a catechetical center that expanded the school to two campuses. It was in 1997 that kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes moved to the St. Elizabeth campus creating the joint school. Third and fourth grades followed in 2007 with another expansion to the St. Elizabeth campus.
At the St. Joseph campus, following a brief visit with office staff, Bishop Rhoades, along with St. Joseph pastor Father Tim Wrozek, both of whom are fluent in Spanish, St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth Principal Lois Widner and Catholic Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Myers surprised the eighth-grade Spanish class with an impromptu appearance. Later in the gym the curious fifth- and sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes listened attentively as Bishop Rhoades spoke of his devotion to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, whose feast day they celebrated that very day.
Each grade had the opportunity to ask Bishop Rhoades questions that ranged from curiosity about his favorite Scripture to his pectoral cross and ring. One eighth-grade student stumped Bishop Rhoades with his chosen Confirmation saint, John Wall, an English cleric from the 1600s.
The sixth-grade religion students thrilled at showing off their in-class Smartboard during a review activity and the upper classmen of St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth School sent Bishop Rhoades off in style by presenting him with a school sweatshirt and stocking cap.
Following lunch with teachers and staff Bishop Rhoades traveled to the St. Elizabeth campus where he, St. Elizabeth pastor Father Jim Shafer and parochial vicar Father Andrew Curry met with the kindergarten through fourth-grade classes individually, offering them encouragement to pray for their own vocations, reciting traditional prayers, and answering their questions concerning such matters as his marital status and the size of his zucchetto cap. The lower grades of the school presented Bishop Rhoades with an embroidered blanket in the school’s blue.
An All-School Mass at St. Elizabeth Church was celebrated by Bishop Rhoades, along with concelebrants Fathers Wrozek, Shafer and Curry. Students of the school reverently served as readers, altar servers, gift bearers and in the jubilant contemporary band and choir.
During his homily the bishop spoke of the life of St. Elizabeth Seton and his special devotion to her as they celebrated her feast day. He had attended college in Emmitsburg, Md., where St. Elizabeth is buried, for only two weeks when the celebration of her canonization occurred.
Bishop Rhoades spoke of how St. Elizabeth founded the first Catholic School in the U.S. “How fortunate you are to attend a school named after this great saint,” he said. Bishop Rhoades noted that St. Elizabeth had a deep devotion to St. Joseph and founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. “There is a beautiful connection to have this school named for St. Joseph and St. Elizabeth.”
In conclusion Bishop Rhoades said, “We ask her for prayers for this school and parish to strive to be like her … Strong and faithful followers of Jesus.”
Bishop Rhoades introduced St. Elizabeth Parish’s first vocation, seminarian Royce Gregerson, who served at the All-School Mass and encouraged the students to pray for him and consider a vocation to the religious life.
The accredited St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth School boasts two classes for each grade, with up to 30 students in each class. Kindergarten is the exception with three classes of up to 20 students each, including full-day and progressive-day. The 60 dedicated staff members include 35 certified teachers.
Lois Widner has been principal of this two-campus school for nine years and finds little difficulty administering the two campuses. “The collaboration of the staff between the two campuses brings unity to the school,” Widner says, adding that upper classmen are paired with younger students in their spirit pals program that fosters friendships at both campuses as well.
“We have a tremendous academic program and an awesome staff,” says Widner. “Our vision statement reads, ‘Building the foundation for a successful and faith-filled life.’ That’s what we’re all about.”
In addition to daily religion classes, weekly Mass and a monthly All-School Mass, the students are challenged with not only the regular diocesan curriculum but several supplementary programs as well. St. Joseph has instituted the National Junior Honor Society that provides service opportunities as well as an all-grades Spanish program. Extracurricular activities include a variety of stewardship activities, a fine arts program that includes a guitar program, show choir and band, a peer mediator program, Scouts, CYO sports and a journalism club.
The support staff at the school is well equipped to assist the students in a variety of ways. A resource room is available for academic assistance as well as the school counselor who offers not only support groups for various needs but sports therapy dogs on campus as well.
The support of the pastors, staff, parents and students is what makes this school a stand out in Catholic education, says Principal Widner, who encourages interested parents to call for a tour.
Father Wrozek is pleased with this joint school and says, “Our kids are really smart and good. The faculty and staff are by far head and shoulders above the rest.”
Father Shafer agrees adding, “They’re the best kids in the world.”
St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth School
St. Elizabeth campus
pre-K through fourth grade
Enrollment: 327 students
Pastor: Father Jim Shafer
10700 Aboite Center Rd.
Fort Wayne, IN 46804
St. Joseph campus
fifth through eighth grade
Enrollment: 202 students
Pastor: Father Tim Wrozek
2211 Brooklyn Ave.
Fort Wayne, IN 46802
Principal for both campuses: Lois Widner
Staff for both campuses: 60
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.