By Bill Van Loh
As Catholics, our history is one of sacrifice and service. Specifically, we have a great legacy of providing Catholic education in our diocese.
For example, St. Michael’s parish, in Duluth, began in 1914 when 45 families met for Mass in a fire hall on Dodge Street and 51st Avenue East. The basement for the school and the parish chapel were constructed that same year.
In 1915, Lakeside Catholic Church was incorporated and named St. Michael’s Catholic Church. Father Thomas Hennebry was named the first pastor, and the school’s construction was soon begun.
The school facility, connected with the church building, was finished in 1923 and opened in September with an enrollment of 72 students. Dominican sisters came from Springfield, Ill., to staff both St. Michael’s and Our Lady of the Rosary’s schools.
The first teachers were Sister Clementine and Sister Eleanor. Lay faculty enriched the education ministry when the sister could no longer staff the entire faculty. The Dominican sisters last served St. Michael’s School in January 1982.
In the spring of 1993, a neighboring public school became available for bids. After much deliberation and study, a blue ribbon committee began drafting a plan for purchasing Lakeside School, two blocks west of the church. This much larger school became known as St. Michael’s Lakeside School.
St. Michael’s School has served Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood since 1923. That is 92 years. We are proud of our history, and we continue to keep our methods, materials and learning techniques up to date.
In our Catholic schools, learning is always taking place. And it happens in a variety of ways. The people in the 1920s would not have envisioned iPads, Powerpoint presentations and Chromebooks. Yet this is the world in which we are preparing our youngsters to live their lives.
Traditional “book learning” is still an important skill, in addition to performing research on the Internet. Today, parents and students can expect both approaches in our Catholic schools. Getting along with classmates and working with others continue to be very important skills. An image of Jesus, the greatest peacemaker, is present in every classroom. Students still learn how to share, how to work together, and how to pray.
The greatest changes in our schools are connected to the fact that technology is more available to assist and engage students today than it has been in the past. These tools help us in gaining more understanding of God’s world. Primary students can see baby eaglets in their mother’s nest and watch them grow over a period of weeks. In the recent past, kindergarten students witnessed this process on YouTube and named their favorite eaglet “Larry.”
Even our preschool students share access to an iPad “center” in their classroom about twice each week. The curriculum materials we use today typically include a textbook or a magazine but also include features to display on an interactive whiteboard.
No chalk dust
These whiteboards can display anything that can be shown on a computer screen but make it large enough for the whole class to see. Students are invited up to the “board” to demonstrate their knowledge with these interactive lessons, without any of the chalk dust of our memories. Students still love to show what they know and help their classmates solve a problem or complete a story.
With all these changes, what is the constant? We continue to strive to learn more about God and the world God has created. Of greatest importance, for us, is the need to learn how to serve God in our daily lives and to help others who are in need.
The following quote from Pope Francis seems fitting: “Jesus wanted to show us his heart as the heart that loved so deeply. . . . God loved us, he loved us with such great love. I am thinking of what St. Ignatius told us. . . . He pointed out two criteria of love. The first: Love is expressed more clearly in actions than in words. The second: There is greater love in giving than in receiving.”
Thank you to all parents and benefactors of the Catholic schools in our diocese, for the love and giving you have demonstrated, for your work, your prayers and your financial support. Through your help, students in our schools certainly learn about God’s world, but we also learn to find God and share his love with others. That is the important difference our Catholic schools make in the lives of young people today and tomorrow.
Bill Van Loh is principal of St. Michael’s Lakeside School in Duluth.