St. Mary Parish making plans for next 100 years of Catholic education
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
NEVADA - St. Mary School has been around for 100 years, and if the parish and its pastor can do anything about it, it will be around for another 100 years.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Father Anthony Pileggi, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Nevada, holds future student Laura Kimmell during a Feb. 20 celebration of the 100th anniversary of St. Mary School.
"It serves a purpose," said Father Anthony Pileggi, pastor of St. Mary Parish, the southernmost parish in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
"The school continues a Catholic presence in an area that isn't very heavily Catholic," he said. "That's a major reason why it should be here for another 100 years."
St. Mary School celebrated its 100th year of education at a parish reception Feb. 20. Though it has an enrollment of 19 students from kindergarten to fifth grade, and a faculty of three teachers (kindergarten teacher Angela Hedges, first and second grade teacher Nuala Sperry, and principal/fourth and fifth grade teacher Nancy Coffer), it is no less important to the diocese than any school, said Diocesan School Superintendent Judy Warren.
In fact, St. Mary is a pioneer in "multi-age" classrooms, where students are grouped according to ability and receive intense individual attention, Warren said.
"It's an approach to education that looks at the skills and abilities that a child brings into the classroom, rather than at the child's age," she said. "We appreciate the work of the parents, principal and teachers at St. Mary and look forward to many more years of working with them."
Nearly everyone involved in the school would like to see the school grow larger. Just not too much larger.
"It's fun having a small school with small classes," said fifth grader Elizabeth Quinto. "You get a better education because the teachers can focus more on one person."
The quality of education at St. Mary is not in doubt, Father Pileggi said. That becomes apparent every year when the public Nevada High School announces its top graduates. Every year, every child who once attended St. Mary ranks in the top 10 percent of the public high school graduation class.
One year recently, he said, St. Mary grads were the valedictorian and the salutatorian of the Nevada High School class.
That's why the parish community is putting up a heck of a fight to keep the school going, said Julie Mader, school board president.
"Our problem is the same as any other Catholic school - financing," she said. "We went to tuition two years ago because there was a significant amount of money going from the parish to support the school. We needed to make the parents responsible for the school, not just the parish."
To blunt the high cost of tuition, Mader said, the school community has established both a scholarship fund to assist families who cannot afford full tuition, and a Legacy Committee to build an endowment fund to provide a permanent source of financing.
Parents sacrifice in more ways than one to provide a St. Mary education for their children. Norma Kreiensiecik sent five children to St. Mary, even though the family lived 13 miles in the countryside. She is now looking forward to the day when her grandchildren, Jeremiah Murphy, 4, and Madison Murphy, 1, attend St. Mary.
"It was over 25 miles a day in all kinds of weather to drive them to school," she said. "Ruth (neighbor Ruth Kimmell) and I would trade off. She would take her kids and mine one week, and I would take them the next. We did that for 10 years.
"It was definitely a sacrifice," Kreiensieck said. "But it was well worth it."
Joseph Kimmell, Ruth Kimmell's nephew who is set to graduate from Nevada High School this spring, said he appreciated the religious education he received as a student at St. Mary.
"I learned a lot about God and my religion here," said Joseph, who has consistently been on his high school's honor roll. "They put a lot of that right into the classes here."
And that is a primary reason that the parish community is proud of its school, Father Pileggi said.
"100 years is a long time for a parish school to stay," he said. "It can be built up again. It has been in the past and can be in the future."