St. Francis celebrates Catholic Schools Week

The theme for this year’s Catholic Schools Week is “A+ for America: Catholic Schools.” St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Merrill will join other Catholic schools across the nation in celebrating Catholic Schools Week from Sunday, Jan. 30 through Friday, Feb. 4.

According to the National Catholic Education Association, the theme for Catholic Schools Week 2011 celebrates the fact that Catholic schools are an added value (“a plus”) for the nation. Because of their traditionally high academic standards and high graduation rates, all supported by strong moral values, Catholic schools and their graduates make a definite contribution to American society.

Catholic Schools Week is celebrated nationally the last week in January. For 2011 the dates are Jan. 30 through Feb. 5. Schools typically celebrate Catholic Schools Week with Masses, open houses and activities for students, administrators, faculty, school staff, the community and families

“Historically, Catholic schools are known for their high level of academic achievement, moral values and high graduation rates,” said Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). “What may not be as widely recognized are the outstanding successes recorded by students of low-income families and students from the inner city. That’s certainly a plus for many portions of the American population.”

Marie Powell, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted: “This year nearly 30 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million Catholic school students come from minority populations. Enrollment of students who are not Catholic has increased to 14.5 percent, an indication that many diverse families seek the benefits of a quality education with moral underpinnings.”

The 7,094 Catholic elementary and secondary schools make up 44.4 percent of all private schools in the United States.

A Catholic-school education is available in all regions of the nation. Urban schools represent 30.7 percent of the total, suburban 36.5 percent, rural 20.5 percent and inner-city schools 12.3 percent.

Catholic Schools Week is a joint project of NCEA and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Catholic Schools Week at St. Francis will kick off Sunday with students taking an active role in the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Francis Catholic Church. Students will be carrying banners in the opening procession, taking part in the mass and reading essays. A hospitality/open house will be held at the school following mass.

On Monday, students will be able to wear their pajamas to school and a pancake breakfast will be served.

On Tuesday, middle school students will go ice skating at the MARC and students will write thank you letters to the school’s volunteers.

Wednesday will be sledding day at Jack Pine Hill, with cocoa after sledding. Students will bring food items to donate.

Thursday will bring students from Catholic schools in other communities for the East Region CSW mass with Bishop Christensen. Students will be coming to Merrill from Medford, Tomahawk, Park Falls and Rhinelander. Activity stations for students will be offered in the afternoon.

On Friday, Father Mike will be making pizza for students and staff. The students will have their choice of activities in the afternoon.

Students in grades K-8 are working on essays to say what makes their school great.

St. Francis Principal Jaclyn Behnke said Catholic Schools Week is an opportunity to “celebrate who we are and what we offer to the parish and the larger community.”

St. Francis students do very well beyond eighth grade, Behnke said, with about 99 percent graduating from high school.

“Our students leaving here do very well at Merrill High School,” she said. “In many cases they are able to go into accelerated courses.”

A cornerstone of the educational philosophy at St. Francis is that families should be involved in their children’s education.

“We believe in a family atmosphere,” Behnke said. “Parents are very involved in one way or another. Whether it’s helping out in the classroom or chaperoning a field trip, we always have parents working on things to help us. We believe we are partners with our parents. We complement each other and reinforce morals and values.”

Students are also encouraged to be involved in the community. The school performs monthly service projects, which ties in with the A+ for America theme of this year’s Catholic Schools Week.

“Our society benefits from our students because they really have strong values when they leave our schools,” Behnke said. “We focus on the greater good and it works.”

St. Francis Xavier School is a fully accredited Catholic school started in October of 1898 by the Racine Dominican Sisters. The parish was divided in 1958 with St. Robert Bellarmine being built on the east side and St. Francis being built on the west side. Both schools operated until 1969 when St. Francis closed. St. Robert Bellarmine, staffed by the Merrill Holy Cross Sisters, remained open. In 1977, The Merrill Catholic Schools became an entity with the St. Francis building housing the middle school (sixth through eighth) and the St. Robert Bellarmine building housing the elementary grades (first through fifth). The parishes were merged in 1997 under the name of the mother parish, St. Francis Xavier. All eight grades were moved to the former St. Robert Bellarmine building. A new addition to accommodate the middle school was built in 1997-98 with Pre-K and Kindergarten being added.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School welcomes children of all faiths. Students come from families that want their children’s education to include values and tradition.

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