Holy Rosary students planted a garden outside the Medford Catholic school in 2013. The school is restoring its seventh-grade program on the 125th anniversary of its founding. (Submitted photo)

Holy Rosary students planted a garden outside the Medford Catholic school in 2013. The school is restoring its seventh-grade program on the 125th anniversary of its founding. (Submitted photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald Staff

Approaching the 125th anniversary of its founding, Holy Rosary Catholic School, Medford, is reaching toward its roots.

Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, the K-6 elementary school will again be offering seventh-graders the opportunity to receive a Catholic education.

Principal Tim Havican has been with the school for 3-1/2 years.

When the new building was constructed a decade ago, Holy Rosary dropped its seventh and eighth grades. He’s not certain why — newspaper articles seem to indicate there might have been too many students for the facility — but parish and school officials have been considering the idea of expanding ever since.

“There’s always been that underlying hope it would come back,” he said.

Back then, rural depopulation and the economic downturn were dragging down enrollment, and no one wanted to take the risk.

“There was never enough of a groundswell to get it from A to B,” he explained.

Enrollment has since stabilized, and the school has regained its financial footing. Holy Rosary also added pre-school, bringing enrollment to175 students, pre-Kindergarten through sixth grade.

“Although the general demographics show a decline in students of many school districts, we have shown a steady or increasing enrollment here at Holy Rosary School,” added Fr. Gerard Willger, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish.

Medford is a growing community, according to Havican. Two window-manufacturing companies, the hospital and the former Tombstone Pizza factory, now owned by Nestle, continue to hire employees. Families whose children went to Catholic schools in other towns are moving to the Taylor County city, and the school has gained four to six pupils per year in the last couple of years just due to relocation.

Back in the classroom, 19 sixth-graders are learning the 4Rs — reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and religion — and as many as 16 of them could return to Holy Rosary in the fall.

They’ve surveyed parents, and at least 12 pupils will take advantage of the seventh-grade option. An additional four students are undecided.

“Enrollment is good, our finances are good and our parents really want that choice,” he added.

Which begs the question: Will those seventh-graders have an eighth grade the following year?

“As long as the seventh grade is successful, there’s going to be an eighth grade,” the principal promised.

Logistically, it means a little rearranging in a school built to accommodate grades K through six.

“Every Catholic school gets creative with their space,” he added.

Already they’ve used a couple of spare rooms for the new pre-school program. Seventh-grade students will be based in the science lab, because there’s no set space for them.

Havican sees it as a plus, “a way to break the walls of the classroom.”

Rather than being cooped up in one classroom, students will be rotating through a series of rooms – the social hall, a conference room, outdoor picnic tables and special classrooms — in the manner of traditional middle schools. They also plan to use more online tools.

“We have a beautiful building here; we’re just going to use it to its fullest extent,” he said.

The restoration of the seventh-grade program is timely, given that Holy Rosary’s 125th anniversary is in September.

The parish expects to hold three or four major celebrations to mark the occasion, and Havican hopes to take seventh-graders on an overnight retreat to see the Cathedral of Christ the King, visit other architecturally significant churches and study the history of the Catholic faith in the Diocese of Superior.

Havican credits the parish, school staff and parents with helping the school “grow forward.”

“We’ve gotten to this point, because everybody’s gotten on the same bandwagon. We’re pushing the same way,” he said. “We have a very supportive parish.”

Fr. Willger sees the growth through a missionary lens.

“We do not want to create something just to create it,” he said. “We want to support our families, parents and grandparents in choices they desire for their children’s future. When more parents are asking for a choice, we want to respond to their needs.
“This expansion comes with sacrifice, commitment and hard work,” the priest continued. “It will be a huge challenge for all involved. I want us to be positive as we move forward knowing that we can handle the challenge ahead. I continue to ask God to bless us as we ‘grow forward.’”