Bishop James P. Powers presents a carnation to Delores Sorenson, who served the school for a combined 38 years teaching and volunteering. (Photo by Larry Samson, Washburn County Register)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

The 60th anniversary celebration for St. Francis de Sales School in Spooner took place Sept. 15, also the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. In his homily, Bishop James P. Powers noted it was not a coincidence, given that the Servite Sisters, who have maintained a presence at St. Francis since the school’s 1958 opening, celebrate the day as their patronal feast.

A dunk tank was a highlight of the afternoon. Fr. Bala Showry took two rounds on the schedule, which included other men from the parish. Servite Sr. Dominica Effertz, who lives in Spooner and serves the parish cluster, entertained onlookers by being the first to dunk the smiling priest.

School tours were available and various items were on display in the dual purpose school cafeteria-parish hall. Midway through the hot and humid afternoon, people were invited inside the air-conditioned church for musical performances by the students. Bishop Powers began his homily underscoring the importance of the day’s celebration.

“Today we gather to honor not a building, not brick and mortar, not books, not computers or Chromebooks; we honor the lives of those who have made St. Francis de Sales school possible, who make it possible and who will continue to make it possible.”

He asked the two Servants of Mary present to stand. Sr. Virginia was one of the first teachers at St. Francis and Sr. Dominica the last.

He thanked the priests and parishioners, both past and present, for the “faith, strength and courage to make the sacrifices necessary to bring to fruition” the dreams of providing Catholic education in the Spooner area.

“To anyone past or present who has played a role in the life and the legacy of St. Francis de Sales School, the love, the care, the commitment and investment of your time, talent and treasure have fulfilled Jesus’ command to bring the little ones to Him.”

The bishop continued: “I don’t think that there’s ever been a time in history where the importance of handing on that gift of our faith is more important, more serious of an obligation than it is today.

“Not only because of the scandals that have riddled our church in recent weeks, but the many ways in which our basic humanity is under attack. How important it is that we have that truth of our faith, that understanding that God created us in his own image and likeness, that God set us over creation as stewards. The truth that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, that we are called to produce those good works, that we are to pass on that faith of ours to the next generation.”

Bishop Powers shared his first experience with St. Francis de Sales school students. It was a school day in 1991, and he’d been asked to fill in for a funeral Mass.
Admitting he was shocked to see students singing for the celebration, he asked one of the sisters afterwards if it was common practice at the school. She told him how important they thought it was that the children see, understand and know the beauty and joy of death.

The bishop reflected, “I couldn’t help but think back to how beautiful that was – at a time where so many are trying to shelter and protect their children in almost a fairy tale type way of denying suffering or death – the faculty, the staff, the priests here at SFdS had the courage to teach the truth of death as part of our life. I hope and I pray that that message is still taught; and I hope and I pray that it is taught many places throughout our diocese.”

Connecting past, present and future, the bishop said, “How important it is that we don’t just pick and choose what truth of our God we want to follow, that we don’t just pick and choose ones that we may think are easy or fun…that we see and that we understand the beauty of that total truth, that total gift of our God’s love for each and every one of us from that moment of our conception to that moment of our natural death; and that hurt and pain in going to be part of that but in the midst of that, if we allow Him to, our God will give us that strength and that grace and courage that we need to get through those times, that healing will come, that peace can come.”

After communion, principal Sarah Darwin – herself a St. Francis graduate – invited students forward to present handmade cards for each of the priests sharing in the celebration. Current and former staff and teachers were then asked to come forward and receive a carnation from the bishop in recognition.

A moment of special significance was when Delores Sorenson came forward assisted by her daughter. Sorenson was the first lay teacher hired at St. Francis. She taught for 25 years and volunteered for many more.

Fr. Bala Showry shared words of thanksgiving. Mentioned by name were parents “who place your trust in us in the Lord Jesus;” Sr. Dominica Effertz, “an angel among us;” and former pastor Fr. Ed Anderson “who journeyed through the difficult times with your cooperation.”

Under Fr. Anderson’s guidance the school avoided closure through astute financial measures, strong support from parishioners and efforts to increase the school’s presence in the community and market its offerings. The school then experienced an uptick in enrollment, minor construction in the building to facilitate the increased number of students which has been stably maintained in recent years.

Fr. Bala concluded, “This day is the day of alumni – both of the staff and students … we always pray for you, that you are strong witness to the love of God that you have learned through this school, that you continuously spread the love of Christ to everyone.”