Confessions of a New Catholic Schools Family

Two summers ago, Jodi and I and our youngest daughter Lily arrived at a New Family Social at St. Michael Catholic School (StMCS) to learn the ropes at a new school. We’ve been members of this parish for nearly 20 years now, and I’ve been on staff in two different roles—but when our oldest son, Brendan, was heading to kindergarten, we never made it off the waiting list for StMCS. We wound up enrolling him at Albertville Primary, and we never looked back.

That first year…

We are blessed with great schools in this community, including some of the most faith-friendly public schools around. But when COVID derailed our older daughter Emma’s senior year and graduation, cancelled our youngest son Trevor’s theater performance of The Three Musketeers, and confined Lily to interacting with her classmates through a Kindle screen, we began to rethink our approach to educating our children. Two things seemed clear to us at the time:

  • Once the state gets involved in the day-to-day operations of public schools, it seems unlikely that they will pull back very much.
  • The best chance for Trevor and Lily to have a somewhat normal school experience during the 2020-21 school year would be in a Catholic school.
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Laughs and Life Lessons at Moonshine Abbey

In case you missed the news, we’ve a playwright in the priesthood: Fr. Kyle Kowalczyk, pastor of the Church of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Delano, has also written, directed, produced, and acted in theatrical productions since high school. This week and next, his Catholic community theater company, Missed the Boat Theatre, is performing Moonshine Abbey, an original musical by Fr. Kyle and composer Sam Backman. It tells the story of a community of monks trying to preserve its rule, identity, and livelihood of brewing beer and distilling spirits during Prohibition.

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Blessed to Live in ‘God’s Country’

This post appeared in the September 12, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

One of the smaller blessings of the pandemic was that it forced me to find topics to write about for our parish newsletter beyond our typically active ministries. As a result, the May 2020 issue of DISCIPLE (online at stmcatholicchurch.org/disciple) provides an overview of our parish history. From the beginning, the faithfulness and self-reliance of this community was evident: German Catholic families literally carved their farms out of the wilderness along the Crow River; in the early days, the paths to get here were so poor that visiting priests came on foot rather than risking a ride on horseback.

Jodi and I moved here from Michigan in 2003. I took a job in Minneapolis and came out a month earlier than the rest of our family, shopping for a house and a parish on the weekends. The home we ultimately purchased was the first one I looked at, a mid-‘80s split-level near Four Seasons Park in Albertville. The church we chose was the first I visited too: the historic Catholic church in downtown St. Michael.

I think what drew me there first was the Old-World charm—I’m a sucker for old buildings, and old churches in particular. I arrived early that first Sunday and watched the narrow wooden pews fill and fill and fill. Old folks and young families, with toddlers tumbling into the aisles. Singing mixed with the squeals of infants. The church was overflowing with life. I checked out a couple other parishes in the area, then called Jodi and said, “We don’t have a house yet, but I think I found a church.”

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Home Away From Home and the Gift of Disillusionment

On Labor Day weekend, we took Emma to Bismarck for her first year at the University of Mary. The six-hour trek to Mary Hill is becoming more and more familiar: the wide open spaces, green hills and big skies, the sun and the wind…and that one stretch with the bugs splattering like rain on the windshield. The speed zone through Moorehead and Fargo. The bluffs by the James River.

It’s an easy six hour of driving, and it’s getting easier.

When we took Brendan for his first year, I likened the sensation to a taut wire from the back of my mind to him, constantly aware of his absence. When we took Gabe to NET, the feeling was a bit different: First he was just down the freeway in St. Paul, but then he was who-knows-where, living out of a van and crisscrossing state lines and time-zones.

Subsequent years it was better—easier—because they knew people. Faces unfamiliar to us spoke in smiling shorthand to them, and it was clear they were at home (a perception with its own bittersweetness).

But Emma is my daughter, my first girl-baby. And media and internet insist there is so much to be afraid of. And I was a freshman guy once.

Should I be worried?

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Labor Day Book Break: The Long Loneliness

“He who says he has done enough has already perished.” – St. Augustine

One of the great, geeky pleasures of having college-age offspring is that my older sons are making great book recommendations from their own reading. I finished one such book this weekend: Servant of God Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness. My oldest son, Brendan, recommended it to me, and numerous times during the past few months, as I was sharing what was on my mind and in my heart, he asked me if I’d finished it yet.

I now know why: Day’s journey is very different from my own, but my desire to work and to serve appears to have a similar destination.

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