End of year closes book on St. Patrick Parish School
ELKHORN It was a tearful goodbye Friday as students said their final farewells to the tight-knit community they helped build at St. Patrick Parish School.
Faced with declining enrollment, the private Catholic school closed its doors for the last time Friday. Just 58 students attended the school this year.
In a letter to St. Patrick Church parishioners, the Rev. Oriel Regales called the decision “very difficult and agonizing” and said it was made in the students’ best interest after consultation with the archbishop.
But the tone on the school’s last day before summer vacation was not one of mourning. Instead it was a celebration of students’ achievements and the faith-based community fostered during 55 years of educating students.
The connectedness of the group of parents, students, teachers and staff was palpable as Principal Ray Henderson recognized students during an end-of-year award ceremony. Children in kindergarten through eighth grade paused during the proceedings to hand out hugs to their teachers.
Many families present at the event had been involved with the school for years. Some were a part of multiple generations that graduated from St. Patrick, and still others had returned to the school years later as teachers.
Mary Jo Wales, the school’s physical education teacher and an alumna, said there was no doubt in her mind that her own children would attend St. Patrick because she wanted them to be “immersed in lessons of faith.”
Wales, whose mother also was a teacher at the school, said she regarded the students as her own kids.
“To all of you: I hope I changed your life, because I know you’ve changed mine,” she said.
Kris North said she and her husband have been involved with the school for 13 years as each of their three children attended St. Patrick. She said her family chose the school for its emphasis on Catholic education and service and that they felt surrounded by a sense of family from day one.
North said her kids were “shocked” by the news of the school’s closing and the process of saying goodbye has proved particularly difficult.
“It’s been horrible to say goodbye,” North said. “We knew the school was struggling, but we weren’t expecting it to (close) this year.”
Henderson also recognized Keith Cooper, a member of the school’s last seventh-grade class. Cooper was the only student in his grade when the year began, but a new student later joined him.
Henderson told attendees the school helps its students become better people while they learn and that the school has been “like a home” to him.
There also were emotional moments Friday. Henderson played a video of himself and the teachers reading the Dr. Seuss classic “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” as a send-off charge, a reminder the day also marks a new beginning for students. Some students will transfer to other Catholic schools in East Troy or Delavan while others will enter the public school system.
Henderson said the church parish has offered to pay full tuition for any St. Patrick students wishing to continue a Catholic education in the upcoming year, with 50 percent tuition paid in the second year.
While the decision to close the school’s doors has been “devastating,” he said he hopes the school’s legacy will be the effect it has had on the lives it touched.
He also hopes students draw on the lesson of embracing happiness instead of anger for the rest of their lives, a message that felt especially present Friday.
“With the closing, there’s been anger, too,” Henderson said. “But you’ll be much happier if you let anger go. We are very blessed, and I’m a firm believer in God’s plan. We’ll be OK.”