Blessed Trinity unveils plans for St. Mary’s building

by Jeff Pederson
Sheboygan Falls News Editor

As the students and staff at St. Mary School in Sheboygan Falls prepare to close out the final chapter of the school’s 63-year run, Blessed Trinity Parish leaders are looking toward the future with optimism.

After several years of declining enrollment in its pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade educational programs, Rev. Bob Lotz of Blessed Trinity Parish and St. John’s Catholic Church in Kohler said the time had come to make the tough decision to close the school.

“Over the past five years we’ve had a diminishing number of students enrolled at our school,” Lotz said. “The Parish Council had initiated an effort to raise the census and continue on with the school, but those efforts did not succeed.”

In addition to the financial burden of operating a small private Catholic-based school, Lotz said the low enrollment raised several concerns among parish leaders.

“We had been a small school for a very long time and the question of fiscal responsibility was certainly an issue,” Lotz said. “Socialization among our students was also a major concern. For several years we did not have more than seven students in our eighthgrade class and we only had three eighth-grade students this year.

“In some grades we had no students at all, so all of our classes were blended with first and second, third and fourth, fifth and sixth and seventh and eighth together,” he said. “We hardly ever had more than eight to 10 students in any one class.”

According to Lotz, the Blessed Trinity Parish Council determined last summer that the 2012-13 school year would be a make or break year for the school.

“Last summer the Parish Council said this would be the year to make a decision,” Lotz said. “We had 44 students at the start of the year and we set November as the deadline for raising the enrollment.

“We did a big push to increase the numbers, but by November we hadn’t gotten any more students to register,” he said. “We then began communicating with the Milwaukee Archdiocese, which gave us the approval to close the school at the end of the year.”

Parish leaders had initially hoped to continue with a scaledback educational program geared to younger students, but that also did not pan out.

“Our original plan was to transition from our pre-kindergarten and eighth grade focus to an early education model,” Lotz said. “We hoped to continue the school with kindergarten, first and second grade classes.

“We set a goal of getting 15 students for kindergarten and 15 for first and second grade, but we did not get what we had hoped for,” he said.

Lotz says Blessed Trinity has not ruled out the possibility of reviving its full-day educational programs.

“After our early education plan did not succeed, we made the decision to conduct a two-year feasibility student to seek out whether it might be possible to bring back some type of full-day education, whether it is early childhood or some other form.”

The final eighth-grade class was set to graduate from St. Mary School on Wednesday, June 5 and the last day of school for all students is Friday, June 7.

The school began in 1950 and current school building, which is located at 313 Giddings Ave., officially opened to students on Sept. 5, 1951.

Lotz said the Parish Council has developed plans to utilize the three-story school building as the home for its new Catholic Life Center.

“We are looking at this as an opportunity to expand our normal church programming and reach out to different segments of our congregation, as well as the community,” Lotz said. “We will be hiring three new full-time positions – a director of religious education, a youth minister and a director of the Catholic Life Center. Each of these new staff members will start July 1st.”

The Catholic Life Center has been designed to serve as a home base for new programming geared specifically to high school students and young adults, parents and families, adults and seniors.

“We’ve attempted to start up these types of specific programs in the past, but this time we are putting a much bigger effort into making it happen,” Lotz said. “We are excited to have a chance to reach out to various age groups with programming that we’ve never been able to offer before.”

Lotz added that the current St. Mary School building will continue to host religious education classes on Wednesday evenings for members of Blessed Trinity Parish and its sister church St. John’s Catholic Church in Kohler.

“As it is right now, we use all three floors of the building for our religious education programs on Wednesday evenings, so I have no doubt we will get the most out of the available space with our Catholic Life Center programming,” Lotz said. “We are looking forward to using the building in new and alternative ways in the future. At the same time, if we do decide to reopen the school, we will have three or four classrooms that we could devote just for that.”

“We don’t have any new programs set up now for the Catholic Life Center,” he said. “That will take time, but they will be defi- nitely be coming soon.”

On Sunday, June 9, Blessed Trinity Parish will hold a special service honoring St Mary School.

All community members are invited join in celebrating their experiences as St. Mary School students, teachers, parents, volunteers and grandparents.

The special celebration Mass will take place at 10:30 a.m. All St. Mary School alumni are asked to meet in the Baptism area prior to the start of Mass in order to enter the service together as a faith community.

Following the Mass, a social will be held in the narthex area, which will spill out into the outside area in front of church.

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