Faith and service celebrated at St. Francis during Catholic Schools Week
BY JOY MARQUARDT
Faith and service are the focus of National Catholic Schools Week celebrations Jan. 31 – Feb. 6 at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Merrill.
A Mass set for 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, sets the tone for the week of activities at the church and school, recognizing the contributions of Catholic schools nationwide.
“Service, faith, and excellence are the main focus of what we try to do at St. Francis,” said Deacon Jim Arndt who serves as Parish Life Coordinator and administrator of the school. “We try to instill that sense of faith in the kids, what we call the Catholic Identity, which leads to all aspects of service.”
A spaghetti dinner will be available for take-out from the school cafeteria following the Saturday Mass. The annual dinner is served as an appreciation for the parishioners who support the school.
“It’s important to take a break during the school year to appreciate our Catholic faith and do some fun things along with it,” Arndt said. “Catholic schools play an important role in our nation, and this is a time for the community to discover Catholic schools and all they do for our community.”
During the week, groups of students at St. Francis will each choose a community organization, such as the Merrill Food Pantry or the Lincoln County Humane Society, and participate in a service project to benefit the agency. Students hope to interact with residents of Pine Crest Nursing Home by making signs and having a parade around the building and making snowmen outside of the windows at the facility as part of the week.
“The kids look forward to Catholic Schools Week,” said religion teacher Kay Berg. “The purpose of the week is to show the students that the education they are receiving is very important, especially when it comes to learning about their faith. We try to fill the week with some fun things and hope to go sledding or ice skating and some other outside activities, as well.”
Berg teaches religion in kindergarten through eighth grade at St. Francis and works with all aspects of the faith-based resources available at the church and school. She is also coordinator of the Campus Youth Ministry.
“I try to do things that connect kids with Jesus,” she said. “With the little ones, we teach them Bible stories. We are working on the Old Testament right now. Then in second grade, we dive into the sacraments of First Confession and Holy Communion. In middle school, we focus on morals and decision making and our relationship with Jesus.”
Each student at St. Francis attends mid-week Mass and has regular prayer time as part of the school day, as well as religion class.
“I would love to talk about Jesus with the kids all day long,” Berg said. “I was attracted to St. Francis because of the Catholic Identity. It’s really important to us that we make sure our students and their families live a life centered on Jesus. We stand for what we believe in, and we don’t allow the world to change that.”
Patti Gessler is in her 20th year of teaching phy ed and art and formerly taught religion at the school.
“There’s not a class that goes by where we don’t talk about God,” she said. “We are always mentioning our faith in everything we do, whether it’s drawing or competing in a sport.”
Gessler’s art students recently competed in the Knights of Columbus “Keep Christ in Christmas” poster contest as part of the art curriculum. An annual event, two students are selected to represent the school in regional competition.
“I remember doing it when I was a student; every student competed,” Gessler said. “I think things like that are helping to spread our faith, and it shows kids that Christ is important.”
Veronica Giese has three children attending St. Francis and, as a parent, she appreciates the small class sizes, caring teachers, and faith-based education the school provides.
“The teachers are wonderful, and the classes are small, so the children get more attention, and then there’s the element of religion and the spiritual aspect of the school,” she said. “It gets cultivated on a daily basis, which gets reinforced at home.”
As a volunteer for the church and school, Giese has assisted with the annual Christmas Bazaar, St. Francis Fish Fries, and Meal Ministries, among other activities, and helps out in the classroom whenever she can. “I know one year my son went down to Pine Crest with his class and read to the residents, and it was one of the most special times for him,” Giese said. “I think the kids learn to be more caring and empathetic and to be neighborly and lend a hand to reach out to others.”
Volunteer coordinator for the Home and School Committee, parent Sandy Rell, has recruited volunteers for special events at the church and school for several years. She and her family have been involved with numerous fundraisers and service projects which benefit the community.
“The service aspect of it just carries over to our daily lives so naturally, and it’s because as students it was instilled in them at school,” Rell said. “Our family does a lot of service projects on our own, and it’s because they have talked about it in school.”
The spiritual aspect of the school and daily prayer life is also an important component of the school for the Rell family.
“The faith aspect is why we send our children to the school,” Rell said. “They are teaching them about faith, and our dinner conversations at home often revolve around what they have learned in religion class or what they did in Mass.”
St. Francis is currently taking enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year. For more information about the school, phone 715-536-6083.