While the 2020 pandemic upended the daily life of schools across the nation, it struck particularly hard on a number of Catholic school systems. According to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), anywhere from 150 to 200 Catholic schools have closed since the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year.
But behind every dark cloud there is a silver lining. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has been without a Catholic high school since Holy Name High School in Escanaba closed in 1971. Fifty years later, however, the school has plans to reopen and will welcome a new freshman class this coming fall.
“High school students are at a critical age in their education — not just in knowledge, but in wisdom and faith,” said Bishop John Doerfler of Marquette, the diocese that encompasses the Upper Peninsula. “Catholic high school in the Upper Peninsula, with in-classroom as well as distance learning opportunities, will be able to form the young people of our diocese both academically and spiritually.”
According to Michelle Bink, Holy Name Elementary School’s development director, Bishop Doerfler has been the reopening campaign’s biggest supporter.
“He kicked off the capital campaign by giving $100,000 and offering a challenge match that resulted in $200,000 being raised,” she said. “Recently, the Diocese of Marquette received an unrestricted $100,000 gift, and the bishop gave $50,000 for initial general operating expenses for the first year of operating expenses. We could not have done this without him.”
Joe Carlson has been the principal of Holy Name Elementary for the past 13 years. He told Our Sunday Visitor that if he had a nickel for every time someone asked him when the high school was going to reopen, he’d be a rich man.
“It wasn’t just parents in our parish but families across the U.P.,” he said. “So we decided to launch a feasibility study in early 2019. We talked to alumni (of Holy Name), as well as leaders of the five Catholic grade schools in the diocese. Through that we found that the resurrection of Holy Name could be a reality.”
Bink said the outpouring of financial support has been outstanding. “It has been incredible, especially in light of the pandemic. People have been so positive and supportive. God cannot be outdone in generosity.”
Bishop Doerfler gave his blessing for the school’s reopening in a Nov. 4, 2020, press release, stating: “It is truly good news to have a Catholic high school in our diocese very soon. Holy Name’s pre-K through eighth grade school is noted not only for its academics, but for developing its students into people of character and faith. I trust the high school will continue that tradition of educating and forming young people.”
When the first bell rings at Holy Name next fall, the school is hoping to start with freshman class of at least 10 students. The school will add an incoming class each year and looks to offer a classical curriculum. Given the large geographical makeup of the Upper Peninsula, Carlson said the high school is looking for ways to make Catholic secondary education available to all U.P. students.
“Students will be offered a host program where students will stay with a host family for the week and go home on the weekends,” Bink said. “Others may go strictly online, and some may do a hybrid approach.”
Two former Holy Name Crusaders who are particularly excited about the school’s reopening are Laurie Stupak and Father Francis DeGroot. Both were students there when the school closed in 1971.
“I was a sophomore when I heard the news,” Stupak said. “I was devastated, as were my classmates, that we would have to go to the local public school and finish there. It was a totally different environment than the close-knit family of Holy Name.”
She and her husband, former Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), have set up a memorial fund in honor of their son, B.J., who tragically died at age 17, to help with scholarships.
“When we heard the good news, Bart and I wanted to do whatever we could to help make this a reality,” Laurie Stupak said.
Father DeGroot, who serves as pastor at St. Anne Catholic Church in Escanaba, was a junior in 1971. He, too, has fond memories of being taught by the Christian Brothers and a number of laity at the time.
“I was sad, because I knew that I wouldn’t have a chance to graduate from Holy Name as did my six older siblings did,” said Father DeGroot, who was ordained in 1993 and attributes his years at Holy Name as influential in his discernment to become a priest.
“I liked the structure that Catholic education provided me,” he noted. “There was discipline there and higher expectations than that which I found in the public schools.”
The original Holy Name High School was open for just 18 years, from 1953-71. Bishop Doerfler hopes this time around it will last for many generations to come.
“I hope to see Holy Name High School thriving and serve as a model of excellence in Catholic education,” he said.
Eddie O’Neill writes from Michigan.