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175 Years: Keep Ringing the Bells!

To Teach as Jesus Did:

Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee

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"175 Years:  Keep Ringing the Bells!"

From Burlington to Port Washington, New Berlin to Fond du Lac, Elm Grove to Eden, Dousman to Whitefish Bay, Greenfield to Kenosha, and the north to the south sides of Milwaukee, Catholic school students rang bells, prayed, and celebrated at exactly 10:00 a.m. on November 28 to begin the yearlong celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  It was an amazing experience of solidarity throughout our 107 schools. 

An especially touching experience that morning was the ringing of the tower bells at Mount Mary University on Milwaukee’s west side.  Mount Mary is sponsored by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, one of the first and most influential of the German sisterhoods to found schools in Wisconsin in the mid-19th century.  The SSND’s began their extensive service to Catholic schools in 1851 (Milwaukee), Port Washington (1857), Kenosha (1858), Burlington, 1860, Beaver Dam (1862) and St. Kilian (1867).  Their very lives, along with those of countless other religious women and men over the past 175 years, laid the foundation for today’s Catholic schools.

The official opening of the 175th anniversary occurred over the Thanksgiving weekend and coincided with the Solemnity of Christ the King.   On Thanksgiving morning, Bishop Jeff Haines shared with those gathered at Mass his personal “List of Blessings” for the year.  Three days later, at the opening Mass for the 175th anniversary, Archbishop Listecki reminded the congregation that the reason for the founding of the archdiocese was the same as the reason for its future:  building the Kingdom of Jesus.

Those homilies, together with the November 28 bell ringing, stirred me to construct my own “List of Blessings” and to start with several archdiocesan leaders from the past who helped pave the way for us to continue building the Kingdom of God in our Catholic schools today.  The first few examples on my list include:

  • Father Martin Kundig who established the first Catholic school for girls and the first school for boys in Milwaukee (1842).

  • The notable foundresses and founders of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, including Mother Antonia Zimmer, OSF; Mother Caroline Friess, SSND; Mother Benedicta Bauer, OP; Father Samuel Mazzuchelli and Mother Emily Power, OP; and Father Caspar Rehrl and Mother Agnes Hazotte, CSA.

  • Milwaukee Archbishop Michael Heiss who promulgated the decree of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore that every parish was to have a school and that parents were obliged to send their children to these schools unless exempted by their pastor (1884).

  • Father Joseph Barbian, appointed by Archbishop Sebastian Messmer as the first superintendent of schools for the archdiocese (1921).

  • Msgr. Edmund Goebel, appointed by Archbishop Samuel Stritch as Milwaukee’s second superintendent in 1937.  A number of us may remember that his tenure, which lasted until 1970, included the expansion of central office staff, his personal authoring of a series of Catholic textbooks, archdiocesan standardized tests in every content area administered semi-annually to all grade school students, required teacher certification, an archdiocesan television network, and an annual teachers’ convention.

  • Father John Hanley, appointed by Archbishop William Cousins, who served as superintendent of schools from 1971 until 1984.  During his tenure, the school accreditation process (SPA) began, school boards started to take hold in both elementary and secondary schools, and legislation allowed government aid to benefit Catholic schools through programs such as Project Head Start, bus transportation, books, materials, and hot lunches.

  • The over two hundred elementary and secondary school principals and presidents I’ve been privileged to know and work with in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee since 2010 during my own tenure as superintendent of schools.  These women and men have inspired me by their faithful commitment, sacrificial service, and genuine love for Catholic education.  I remember them by name often.

As this anniversary year begins, I encourage you to begin your own “List of Blessings” and to appreciate anew the legacy we’ve received.  Please keep the bells of gratitude and joy, which produce music for the soul, ringing in your hearts.

A blessed 175th anniversary year to all!

Kathleen A. Cepelka, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools

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