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SS. Andrew-Thomas School in Potosi observes 175 years Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Apr. 26, 2018 -- 12:00 AM
potosi school
On June 5, 2017, the Little Saints Daycare was opened at SS. Andrew-Thomas School in Potosi. It currently serves 62 children from six weeks to 12 years old, Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Here Jessica Welch, assistant director and lead preschool teacher, works with some of the children. (Contributed photo)

POTOSI -- SS. Andrew-Thomas School in Potosi -- the oldest Catholic school in the Diocese of Madison and in Wisconsin -- is celebrating 175 years of continuous Catholic school education in Potosi and Tennyson.

A special anniversary celebration will be held on Sunday, May 6, starting with a 10 a.m. Mass followed by a performance of an original SS. Andrew-Thomas play written by one of the parishioners.

Following the performance will be a free dinner for the public.

“We are excited,” said Principal Deb Pfab of the plans for the 175th anniversary celebration.

“A Catholic school has existed in this area continuously since 1843,” noted Michael Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Madison. “2018 marks 175 years of continuous Catholic school education in the Tennyson/Potosi area (even though the school names and locations have changed over that time). That means that Catholic schools have been in the area longer than they have been anywhere else in the state.”

History of school

In sharing the school’s history, Pfab noted that although Venerable Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, OP, founded the parish of St. Thomas in Potosi, it was his successor, Fr. James Causse, who established the first school in 1843.

It was called the St. Mathias Female Academy in honor of Dubuque Bishop Mathias Loras, who sent three Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary to teach there.

In 1845, a male academy was also opened in Potosi.

The following year, when St. Andrew Parish was begun in the neighboring town of Tennyson, its pastor, Fr. Andrew Tusch, built a combination residence and school.

Tragedy struck in 1849, when cholera wiped out a quarter of the population of Potosi. Most of the remaining miners left to seek their fortunes in gold in California. St. Thomas soon became a mission parish of Dutch Hollow (now Tennyson).

Established high school

St. Andrew had a grade school for many years, but in 1922, Fr. Joseph Scheffer, the pastor, came up with the idea to establish a high school.

In September of 1922, St. Andrew High School opened with 17 students. Sr. M. Hortense of Holy Family Convent and Father Scheffer were the teachers.

In 1924, Sister Mary Beth and Sister M. Rosanna were added to the staff. At that time, there were three seniors, three juniors, six sophomores, and 12 freshmen.

In June of 1925, the first high school graduation was held. The last graduation was held in May of 1962, after which the high school closed.

Joint education program

Interest in a joint education program between St. Andrew and St. Thomas Parishes was reported as early as 1895, but it wasn’t until 1964 that the parishes broke ground for construction of the present SS. Andrew-Thomas School.

The dream of a combined school began in 1962, when Bishop William P. O’Connor of the Diocese of Madison met with the pastors and trustees of the two parishes at the chancery office in Madison.

After reviewing the religious and educational needs of the grade and high school students as well as a parish facility for adult activities, Bishop O’Connor directed a letter to the parishioners of both parishes which read in part, “. . . it is my judgement that the two parishes should cooperate on the construction of a new school unit to be located on property adjacent to the present Potosi High School.”

The Building Committee consisted of Richard Markus, Peter Oyen, Glen Pink, Karl Reinecke, Marcellus Ulbrich, and Donald Walsh. On September 22, 1963, plans for the new school were presented at a joint meeting of parishioners.

Eight classrooms, an all-purpose room, dining and kitchen facilities, and storage space would comprise most of the new building. Use of folding panels was intended to provide greater flexibility.

Ground-breaking was held in April of 1964. An open house was held on January 3, 1965, attended by about 800 parishioners and visitors.

First classes were held on January 4, 1965. At that time, classes averaged 30 to 35 students per grade, and there was a waiting list for enrollment.

In 1971, the two parishes were combined into SS. Andrew-Thomas Parish with a single pastor. Fr. Richard Leffler is the current pastor.

 
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