Catholic education provided for generations Print
Grand Mom
Thursday, Oct. 04, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Grandmom column by Audrey Fixmer

“Don’t you want to be a teacher?” asked my friend Joan just weeks before we were to graduate from Madonna High School in Aurora, Ill.

This was the all-girls’ class of 1945, where we were taught by Franciscans Sisters. We had both been accepted by St. Ben’s in Minnesota, where we would be taught by Benedictines.

I was confused. “What do you mean, a teacher? I don’t want to be a nun, you know.”

“Well,” she replied. “You can certainly be a teacher without being a nun.”

“You can?” I asked innocently.

I had to process that information. After 12 years in Catholic schools I had known nothing but nuns in the classroom.

“Lay teachers” was not yet a term used in my world, a world in which convents were filled with women who were on a mission to serve God by teaching His children. I had just learned something new, and was about to realize that there were probably a few more things to learn about life. (Ya think?)

Flash forward 67 years. My parish school, St. Joseph in Fort Atkinson, Wis., is about to celebrate its centennial.

Catholic education is alive and well, having survived the terrible near-extinction of Catholic Sisters in education.

We will commemorate those noble nuns as we thank the Lord for the rise of a special class of lay teachers, both men and women, who have carried the ball and guaranteed that the following generations would grow spiritually as well as intellectually.

When my husband, Bob, was hired by a textbook publisher back in 1958, they required him to move his family of eight to southern Wisconsin.

They recommended Whitewater for the proximity of higher education of the kids.

Well, we checked out Whitewater, but we wanted something higher: a Catholic education.

We found that in Fort Atkinson, and immediately registered our three oldest boys in St. Joseph School, where the classes were already bulging with 35 to 45 children in each room.

Neither Bob nor I had ever experienced anything but Catholic education in grade school, high school, or college, so why would we settle for anything less for our children?

Eventually five more of our children would follow their older brothers through St. Joe’s, and I would teach there myself for a couple of years.

In the years following Vatican II we adjusted to losing more Sisters and finding new dedicated lay teachers to replace them.

It would change the face of Catholic education for generations to come.

We had to meet the standards of teacher certification (a minimum of bachelor’s degree with equivalent of a minor in education courses) and we had to pay them a living wage (a big leap from the wholesale price of teachers from a convent motherhouse).

Class size had to be restricted and the pressure to add science labs, better textbooks, and computer labs resulted in mounting expenses. Here we are with a brand new church and school, complete with all of the above, plus a gymnasium/auditorium. How did we do it? How did St. Joseph School survive for 100 years?

I thought about that miracle this morning in Mass as I watched the classes pour into church, led by their lay teachers.

Of course I was craning my neck to see my seven-year-old grandson, Gregory, coming in with his second grade class on my left, while trying not to miss my five-year-old grandson Robert arriving with his kindergarten class on my right.

It is so comforting to know they are getting the “best” education possible, a Catholic education.

I waited in my pew near the back for Gregory. As I gave him a big hug, he whispered, “Grandma, did you know you were my teacher’s teacher too?”

Yes, I knew. God is looking out for us, isn’t He? There’s so much to thank Him for, including the gift of aging.


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