Many Southwest Wisconsin communities have Catholic grade schools.
Southwest Wisconsin has not had a Catholic high school since Campion Jesuit High School in Prairie du Chien closed in 1975. Southwest Wisconsin has not had a parochial high school since Martin Luther Prep School in Prairie du Chien, which used the former Campion facilities, merged with another Lutheran school and left the area in 1995.
That will change when Holy Family High School opens this fall, first in a Catholic school in Ridgeway, and eventually at a site to be determined in the Dodgeville area.
“Our diocese is historically underserved by Catholic education,” said Del Carey, a UW–Platteville professor and member of the Holy Family School board.
Carey said the Diocese of La Crosse has 11 Catholic high schools, the Diocese of Green Bay has 13 high schools, and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has more than 30 high schools. The Diocese of Madison has just Edgewood High School, run by the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, and St. Ambrose Academy, both in Madison.
“If you’ve had a Catholic education you know it’s different from a public education, and you’ve not constrained by formulas — it offers you a little more freedom in what you teach,” said Carey, a Mineral Point native who discovered the difference when he attended Marquette University in Milwaukee. Getting a Marquette degree “changed everything,” he said.
The genesis of Holy Family came from a group of parents who wanted their children educated in Catholic schools until high school graduation at least.
“The core of the group all had children in fourth, fifth, sixth grade, and they all hoped they could get this thing going by the time their kids were in high school,” said Carey. “Our hope is that our best strategy for enrollment is to recruit kids directly out of Catholic schools, and public schools within our footprint. If parents are already sending kids to Catholic elementary and middle schools, they already appreciate what Catholic education means.”
The school plans to set tuition at $3,600 per student, with a $300 book fee. That would be the second lowest tuition for a Wisconsin Catholic high school, behind only Assumption High School in Wisconsin Rapids.
Carey said Holy Family will be “college prep, not employment prep,” emphasizing critical thinking. In addition to the four major subject areas of English, math, science and social science, Holy Family’s curriculum will focus on religion and theology.
“Studies have shown for close to 40 years — the average person who graduates from a public school has a 44 percent chance of graduating from college,” said Carey. “The average for a Catholic-educated person is 90 percent.”
Carey said four years at Holy Family would mean “$14,400 for a high school education, which is roughly the same as one year of a college education. Is that 90 percent chance at a college degree worth $14,400? Because once you get that degree your average income is double than if you don’t. You’ll make that $14,400 in a larger salary your first year.”
The school is likely to have no seniors, probably no juniors, and few sophomores at first.
“The first year is always going to be the toughest,” said Carey. “Convincing people to send their kids to a school that hasn’t opened yet is tough. It’s entirely possible we’ll only have five or six kids the first year. But we do know there are a lot of kids coming — fifth and sixth grades.”
The first year won’t have high school athletics, and probably not music either. The school will have two unique scheduling touches — a “zero hour” for students who can get to the school before its 8:15 a.m. starting time, and no core classes after 2:45 p.m., allowing students to get independent help before the school day ends.
Both are “really important to us because as a Catholic school we’re requiring 25 credits for graduation,” said Carey. “Any kid who transfers in is already behind.”
Holy Family’s eventual enrollment goal is 100 to 140, smaller than the typical La Crosse diocese high school of 150 to 200 enrollment, but “still double than some of the schools around here,” said Carey.
The school’s anticipated enrollment boundary is bordered by Monroe on the south, Richland Center on the north, the River Valley School District to the east, and the Mississippi River — 20 to 40 miles from Dodgeville. Within that area, Catholic grade schools, some up to eighth grade, are in Dickeyville (Holy Ghost/Immaculate Conception), Potosi (Sts. Andrew–Thomas), Bloomington (St. Mary), Cassville (St. Charles Borromeo), Cuba City (St. Rose of Lima), Darlington (Holy Rosary), Hazel Green (St. Joseph), Lancaster (St. Clement), Monroe, Plain and Spring Green.
“If you’ve got five or six kids out of those areas, you’re up to 40, and you’re already halfway to what you need,” said Carey.
Holy Family is also targeting the Platteville area, even though Platteville doesn’t have a Catholic school since the closing of St. Mary School last year.
“I don’t think that affects the appeal of a Catholic high school,” said Carey, since parents were sending their children to St. Mary’s before it closed. Many former St. Mary students now go to St. Rose in Cuba City.
“We’re not going to politicize things,” he said. “We’re not going to be the new left wing of the church or the new right wing of the church.”
Carey’s model for Holy Family is Catholic Central High School in Burlington, which serves several smaller southeast Wisconsin communities. “It’s a much smaller community than having Eau Claire with 50,000 or Wisconsin Rapids with 20,000,” he said. “It’s more a regional school than a small urban school.”
The biggest challenge beyond getting children to a school that exists only on paper at the moment is transportation. Carey said getting children to Holy Family will be “pretty much up to the parents” for the first couple of years. Carey said Burlington Catholic Central has a shuttle bus system in the communities it serves.
A handful of southwest Wisconsin students attend Walhert Catholic High School in Dubuque.
“In starting a new school, you don’t want to come up against the tradition of 50, 60, 70 years,” said Carey. “We’re going to try to appeal to anybody that’s Catholic. I don’t know how many people know this, but ‘catholic’ means ‘universal.’ We are going to be open to anyone. Our emphasis is college prep, and morality and faith in classes. You can’t offer these things in a public school.”
Classes this fall will be held in the former St. Bridget School in Ridgeway. “It’s a temporary solution,” said Carey. “We want to be in the Dodgeville/Mineral Point area.”
The school will not be accredited as a Catholic school until “four or five years down the line,” said Carey.