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Betsy Kneepkens: A tribute to Holy Rosary School as a last child graduates

Thirty-plus years ago my husband and I made the decision to plant our roots in northern Minnesota. We knew that came with some benefits, but this decision also came with some challenges. My husband was mostly raised in the Green Bay area, and I grew up outside Chicago. At that time, the closest family member was eight hours away with a difficult drive at best. Thankfully the highways have improved since then.

The disadvantages of living so far away from our extended family meant that a great effort was needed to maintain our family ties and connect our children with their relatives. It was tough, at times, to hear about the parties or special events that other family members attended nearby, while distance prevented us from participating. Nieces and nephews were born, and it would sometimes be months and too often years before we met them in person.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Our parents’ aging was made most apparent to us because we had the least amount of contact with them. Invitations to family events dwindled, and updates on sibling’s children become less and less frequent. Extraordinary events like weddings and funerals now appear to be the reasons we connect, and those now seem infrequent, as well.

Every February since I began writing for The Northern Cross, I have dedicated my column to Catholic education, and this year is a special tribute. In 1994, my first son stepped into the halls of Holy Rosary School, and we have had at least one child and as many as four at a time in attendance since then. This June, my youngest will be graduating from Holy Rosary School, and she is our last.

I knew this would come someday, and it feels more bitter than sweet: bitter in the sense that I feel a fair amount of grieving about this transition for our family and sweet because of the many blessings our family can attribute to our time at Holy Rosary.

As I reflect back on what our family will be missing with the absence of this daily connection with our Holy Rosary School, I am struck by what is bothering me. Although I know that my children will no longer be at a school that is in walking distance and that we will not have the benefit of always knowing the parents our children spend time with, I am reconciling with these issues. And although the days of having the overall expectation for Christ-like behavior in the classroom have ended, and the comfort of knowing the care my children received during learning was born out of Christ-like love instead of a group of state standards, I am working to get over this unexpected additional loss.

More directly and honestly, I am grieving the ease with which I have been able to grow my personal faith as a member of the Holy Rosary school community. When choosing to send our children to Holy Rosary, I looked at the school environment as a way to supplement the Catholic formation we were providing our children at home. As I look back, I realized that I grew as much if not more than my kids did through this relationship.

As a parent with a child at Holy Rosary, the expectation and my experience is that you walk with your child through the formation, not separate from them. I didn’t realize this when we initially enrolled our oldest son. I now know that the assumption is that the whole family becomes a partner in faith formation. The school is not an institution obligated to the child only.

I will miss those times when I dropped off a forgotten lunch and was able to join the entire school for morning prayer. I will yearn for the lessons learned when I waited to pick up one of my kids and in that time enjoyed the walls that bustled with children’s artwork and writings about saints, popes and truths of our faith. I am already grieving for those student retreats that I will no longer be able to chaperon or those May crownings that may get missed.

I can only surmise what All Saints Day will be like without seeing those beautiful second-graders dressed as their patron saints. I will need to work hard to keep up those regular activities that brought issues of social justice and profound theological discovery into our home.

As I grieve this transition, I think of the decision and the consequences of moving away from family and juxtapose that with the ending of our time at Holy Rosary. The school community has made it easy for me to develop my faith. The culture was right there, and a constant presence in my life.

I may be away from a daily systematic integration of my faith through the Holy Rosary environment, but I know from moving away from my family, that difference of keeping in a relationship has everything thing to do with my willingness to make an effort. All those wonderful pieces of formation still exist in the ministry of Catholic education within the church, just blocks away.

I will need to make the decision to remain involved, if not directly, then indirectly, and to be just as supportive of their work for the generations to come — perhaps even generations like my grandchildren.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.