By Eileen Persike
Nativity Catholic School has been an institution in Rhinelander for 115 years. Principal Shirley Heise has been at the helm for fifteen of those years, and counting. To say that Heise is extremely proud of the school and its students would be an understatement. National Catholic Schools Week, which begins Jan. 31, is a time Heise lets her pride show.
“To me it’s a celebration of students who attend our school, which is an awesome reason to celebrate, it’s recognition of the families who make the commitment, dedication and sacrifice to send their children here and it’s a celebration of Jesus,” Heise said. “We’re different from other schools in what we teach and how we teach the children. It’s all about the children and our faith.”
Like other schools, Nativity Catholic focuses on the students by making sure they are learning, becoming good citizens and are prepared for life after high school graduation. Academically, according to Heise, the standards are the same as public schools but Nativity has a component that public schools can’t give, which is prayer and faith.
“We’ve had a tough road,” the principal explained. “In the last three years we’ve lost three staff members and a pastor. We’ve lost parents, we’ve lost students and if it wasn’t for being able to come together and support one another and let those kids know how much they’re cared about, I don’t know that we would have made it.”
The state of Catholic education today, in some ways mirrors society. A lot of Catholic schools are closing, and Heise said it’s not about the education, but finances.
“Just as public schools need to go to referendum, we need to manage our budgets using tuition, fund raising and the parish subsidy,” she said. “It’s also societal; I don’t know if a lot of people are going to church as much as they used to.”
Nativity’s Catholic Schools Week celebration begins with a special Mass Sunday morning, continues with public open house events at both the north and the south buildings, various theme days for the students and special activities. As Principal Heise says, it’s all about the children.