"GRAFF FAMILY - Five of the seven Graff children attend St. Patrick School in McCook: Erik, Alex (holding Eli), Ethan, Anna (holding Emma) and Andrew. Their father John was the last of 11 siblings to be enrolled in the school; his parents had at least one child attending St. Patrick School for 29 years straight. (Courtesy photo)
SNR) - Catholic schools all over the nation will celebrate Catholic Schools Week Jan. 31 through Feb. 6. In the Diocese of Lincoln, the observance will include special Masses, service projects, dress-up days, movie showings, fundraisers and other events.
For example, the students of St. Joseph School in York will start their festivities with special opportunities to celebrate Catholic education in unique ways, from decorating classroom doors to performing skits, or enjoying a picnic lunch in the cafeteria. Special prayer intentions and lesson plans focused on “What Would Jesus Do?” will add a spiritual depth to their celebration.
“Every year is different, and there are so many things to do set up by the teachers,” said eighth-grader Callie Rathjen.
Catholic Schools Week is a joint project of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This, year the theme is “Catholic Schools - Dividends for Life.” The theme promotes Catholic education as an investment in building a strong foundation for faith, knowledge, morals and discipline.
“There is no better way to invest in a child’s future — or the future of our world,” said Karen Ristau, NCEA president.
Families throughout the diocese agree.
The Graff family of St. Patrick Parish in McCook has five children currently enrolled in the parish school: Anna, 13; Alex, 12; Andrew, 9; Erik, 8; and Ethan, 6. Emma, 3, and Eli, 18 months, will be enrolled when their turns come.
Their dad, John Graff, graduated from St. Patrick School himself back in 1986. His was the first class to graduate from the new school building... and he was the last of 11 siblings to be enrolled in the school. His parents had at least one child attending St. Patrick’s for 29 years straight.
For Mr. Graff, there was no question that his children would attend St. Patrick School.
“I felt that we had a better education than the kids at public school, for a variety of reasons,” Mr. Graff said. “We had smaller class sizes, maybe not better instructors, but good instructors, and they have a good approach to discipline problems.”
Another important reason was religious education.
St. Patrick School, Mr. Graff said, “gives the kids a good grounding in the faith and a good understanding of their religion.”
Knowing first-hand the benefits of daily Mass and daily religious instruction, this was the legacy that he wished to pass on to his own seven children.
His wife, Ronda, agrees. She makes it a point to go to the daily school Mass as often as she can.
“I feel it gets the day off on the right foot,” she said.
Having attended public schools herself, Mrs. Graff is happy that her children also have the same extra-curricular opportunities that she had.
“All our older kids play in the band. They all play sports,” she said.
St. Patrick School even has a few unique sports opportunities for students, including hunting, fishing and trap shooting. The school also now has a cooperative arrangement that allows boys enrolled at St. Patrick to play on the public school’s football team.
With seven children to put through school, the Graffs are grateful that the bishop, parish priests and school administrators are all committed to keeping Catholic education affordable in the Diocese of Lincoln.
“We’ve heard the numbers from other schools,” Mrs. Graff said. “It can get very expensive... But our school is well supported by the parish, the community and benefactors.”
The same sentiments were expressed by the Buschkoetter-Kucera family, which now has its fourth generation in Catholic schools in Lawrence.
“Our tuition is so affordable,” said Judy Kucera, who has five children with her husband, Jim. “And the benefits are very good.”
Their son Riley, the youngest at age 9, is currently a fourth-grader at Sacred Heart School, the same school his older siblings attended.
Mrs. Kucera graduated from Sacred Heart herself, as did her six siblings. Her father, LeRoy Buschkoetter graduated from the same school, and her mother, Eileen, graduated from nearby St. Stephen School, which was later consolidated with Sacred Heart.
All four of Mrs. Kucera’s grandparents attended Catholic schools, one graduating from St. Stephen, one in Germany and two in Texas.
Mrs. Kucera said she’s confident that her children are learning the academics they need for success in life – including up-to-date computer training – as well as instruction in discipline and morals.
“The teachers they have are wonderful, and they all have great faith,” she said.
Faith is one of the most important things that Mrs. Kucera hopes her children will take away from their Catholic education.
“I think it sets a good foundation for them, along with what we teach them. Everything is reinforced every day,” she said.
Her parents agreed that knowing and understanding the Catholic faith was the primary benefit of Catholic education, and the main reason why they chose to send their own children to Catholic school.
“We just thought that was the best place for them to go,” Mrs. Buschkoetter said.
“I think it’s a better upbringing,” added Mr. Buschkoetter. “If they don’t go to Catholic school, sometimes they fall away from the Catholic religion.”
The Buschkoetters now live in Hastings and are members of St. Michael Parish. They now have seven (and counting) great-grandchildren, with the addition of Jim and Judy Kucera’s first grandchild. Little Kara was born to their oldest daughter, Cherie, and her husband, Tony Peters, just four months ago.
The Peters live in rural Lawrence, and Mrs. Kucera already has visions of Kara being part of the next generation to attend Sacred Heart School.
“What I was taught there, along with what my folks taught me, kept me strong,” Mrs. Kucera said. “That’s what we want to pass on to our kids, and hopefully, my kids will pass it on to theirs.”