Special activities carry on tradition of Catholic Schools Week at St. Mary’s
By Joy Marquardt
St. Mary’s Catholic School in Tomahawk will celebrate the tradition of National Catholic Schools Week Jan. 31 – Feb. 6 with a full schedule of activities at the church and school.
Focusing on the theme “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” the school is planning two in-person Masses, a virtual Mass, and other special programs and projects as part of the week.
“Things may look a little different this year due to the pandemic, but our goal is to make whatever we do as special as possible,” said Principal Rita Lee. “There’s so much that has been taken away from the kids this year; we are focusing on how to make this week special.”
The week kicks off Saturday, Jan. 30, at 6 p.m. with a celebratory Mass for the community followed on Sunday, Jan. 31, by a Family Snow Fun Day. Families of St. Mary’s are encouraged to spend the day participating in an outdoor winter activity such as sledding, ice skating, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, or building a snowman and to post a picture of the fun to the school’s Facebook page.
“Since we can’t do anything together as a school, we thought it would be nice to do something with your family,” Lee said. “We thought it would be good to have some family time and a good way for families to get together that day.”
The main highlight of the week, the traditional Mass presented by Bishop James Powers of the Diocese of Superior, will be conducted virtually on Wednesday, Feb. 3, from the Cathedral of Christ the King at the Diocese in Superior. St. Mary’s will join Nativity of Our Lord Catholic School, Rhinelander; St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, Merrill; and Holy Rosary Catholic School in Medford for the live-streamed event.
“That’s one of the biggest changes this year is that the Mass with the Bishop will be live streamed,” Lee said. “All the schools will see it at the same time. Normally we would all attend at the host school.”
Other changes to the week include a virtual Good News Book Fair to replace an in-person sale and an all-school retreat with students remaining socially distanced in their classrooms while teachers rotate between classes. The theme for the retreat, “Jesus is Our Superhero,” will feature projects, snacks, and games relating to the theme.
Themed dress-up days, an all-school spelling bee, and grandparents projects round out the week concluding on Friday, Feb. 5, with a Mass in honor of Catholic Schools Week.
“We are having Mass way more that week, and the cool thing is that every time we go to Mass, it will be completely different,” Lee said. “They will get to experience some very different Masses. That’s an unexpected little bonus.”
Each class will participate in a Food Drive for the Tomahawk Food Pantry as a service project throughout the week. Classes will compete for the largest volume of food collected.
“The students are very much excited for Catholic Schools Week,” said Taylor Ahles, director of the After School Care Program and parent of two students attending St. Mary’s. “They get to do the special dress-up days, have popcorn on Friday, and do many fun activities during the week. We are also doing a Food Drive, so I’m sure there will be some friendly competition between classes.”
Community service plays an important role in the school for Ahles, who volunteers to make popcorn every third Friday as a fundraiser for the Unbound mission project which aides a child in El Salvador. She also helps out in the school’s computer lab and with the Home and School Committee, as needed. Her students have made holiday cards for nursing home residents and other projects and are planning on sending Valentines to veterans.
“We try to instill in the kids the idea of giving back to the community,” she said. “I’m hoping they are learning how good it feels to give back to others and to brighten a day.”
Ahles chose to enroll her children in St. Mary’s, because she respects how much the teachers care for their students, the class sizes are small, and she wants her children to grow in their faith.
“It’s like one big family,” she said.
Although the pandemic has altered some of the traditions at St. Mary’s, religion and faith remain an important aspect of the school. Morning and afternoon prayers are done on the intercom in the classroom rather than in the school cafeteria. Masks are required, and social distancing is practiced for lunch and weekly Mass.
“The classes are set up differently, we have to allow for social distancing, and there’s a lot more cleaning, but we try to make it as bright and happy in the classroom as possible,” said preschool teacher Kathryn Loka. “We are not able to interact with the rest of the school as we normally would, but religion is still fluent throughout the school day. It’s a very loving environment.”
Students in Loka’s class learn about the love of God, how to be kind and respectful to people, and other basic core values. They hear Bible stories, do projects, pray, and attend Mass each week.
“A lot of preschool is focused on God’s love and how we can learn to share it,” she said. “As they get older, they learn about more aspects of the Catholic faith, and it gets more in depth.”
Adam Gessler has taught fourth and fifth grades at St. Mary’s for more than three years and incorporates religion into his curriculum throughout the school day.
“Being able to share your faith life is so important,” he said. “We do different activities in science and math, and anytime you can get in a religious perspective, that’s a plus. When the students graduate, they have that foundation and that extra confidence they learned at St. Mary’s that God is on your side.”
Enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year is currently available for all St. Mary’s students and opens to members of its three supporting parishes beginning Jan. 31. Open registration for the community begins Feb. 16. For more information about the school, phone 715-453-3542.