BY JOY MARQUARDT
With a balance of fun, faith, and service, St. Francis Catholic School in Merrill celebrates National Catholic Schools Week Jan. 30 – Feb. 5 with a full slate of activities.
“We will be doing activities relating to the theme of ‘Faith, Excellence, and Service’ during Catholic Schools Week,” said Co-Principal Kate Shimmel. “It’s a week to celebrate our students and staff for working hard and to give them some fun activities to do along with showcasing our faith.”
The celebration begins the week Saturday, Jan. 29, with a student-led mass at 4:00 p.m. at the church. Students will join three other Catholic schools Thursday, Feb. 3, for a live stream of a mass conducted by Bishop James Powers of the Diocese of Superior from Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Medford.
“We are very fortunate to be able to share our faith with others,” said Co-Principal Stephanie Vanstrydonk.
As a tradition of Catholic Schools Week, students will be participating in several service projects during the week to benefit the church and community. Students are planning to write thank you notes to the parishioners at St. Francis for supporting their school and are organizing what will be called a Souper Bowl to collect canned goods for the Merrill Food Pantry.
Outdoor activities will include building snowmen outside of the windows at Pine Crest Nursing Home for the residents to enjoy. Throughout the school year students have made holiday decorations for Pine Crest and Bell Tower and connected with residents through a Pen Pal Program.
“The students look forward to doing the service projects,” Vanstrydonk said. “They are learning to always be mindful of others and to realize how fortunate they are.”
In addition to the traditional dress-up days, snow shoeing, sledding, and other games and activities, students will be participating in an All-School Religious Retreat along with making gifts for their grandparents.
“We want them to have a balance between fun, faith, and service during Catholic Schools Week,” said religion instructor Kay Berg. “Everything revolves around those three things.”
Berg, who teaches weekly religion classes in each grade level, is busy planning projects, worship opportunities, and devotions to round out the week.
“We’ll be doing things like First Friday Devotions and the kids like to sing the Divine Mercy Chaplet, that’s like one of their favorite things to do, so we will probably be doing that as well,” she said.
Deacon Jim Arndt, who serves as Parish Life Coordinator and administrator of the school, uses Catholic Schools Week as an opportunity to connect with the students.
“It’s a good time to celebrate our great academics, and it’s a time for a little bit of relaxation and to take a step back and have a little bit of fun,” he said. “We want the students to realize how fortunate they are to have a Catholic school in Merrill and how blessed they are.”
A faith-based education is incorporated throughout the school day at St. Francis along with regular religion classes. Each student has the opportunity to attend mid-week mass and to participate in morning and end-of-the-day prayer.
“We have Morning Prayer and we just introduced End-of-the-day Prayer this year to give thanks to God for the work that has been done in our school each day,” Arndt said. “Our faith isn’t something reserved for Sunday; it should permeate into the week and into everything we do.”
Parent Amanda Hoeft chose to send her son and daughter to St. Francis because of the small class sizes and the religious aspects of the school.
“We love St. Francis,” Hoeft said. “On a daily basis they have Morning Prayer and they attend mass on Wednesdays. I want my kids to be able to grow closer to God.”
Hoeft appreciates the tight-knit family atmosphere of the school and the caring support of the teachers and staff.
“Everyone is so supportive,” she said. “The teachers are wonderful. They care a lot for the students and want them to excel to be the best they can be.”
Hoeft has been a volunteer with the Home and School Committee for several years with activities and fundraising events at the church and school, such as assisting with the annual Christmas Bazaar and Doughnuts for Dad.
“I’m part of a group of parents that helps with fundraising ideas and things like that,” she said. “I enjoy being involved with my children’s school.”
The annual St. Francis Friday Fish Fries and Cash Raffle, a major fundraiser for the church and school, will make a return Feb. 25 and will run through Apr. 8, for dine-in, carry outs, and delivery. The annual Spring Gala is tentatively planned for later in the school year.
St. Francis is currently taking enrollment for the 2022-2023 school year. For more information about the school, phone 715.536.6083.