Catholic school is Heart of community
ADAMS — Zach Stratton grew up near here but didn't realize how close-knit Sacred Heart School was until he began teaching eighth-graders at the school three years ago.
With many rural communities losing population, Sacred Heart with its 91 students — one of the smallest Catholic schools in the Winona Diocese — manages to survive. It's the community of Adams, population 800, and a handful of family traditions that keeps the private school alive.
107 years and still going
Formed in 1903 by the Rev. Fred Reichl of the Sacred Heart Parish, the school struggled through the Great Depression and then flourished in the years after World War II, when four of its classrooms and its gymnasium were built to accommodate growing class sizes. Four more classrooms were added a few years later. Enrollment was about 190 students in those days.
Ten years later, Catholic schools in Johnsburg and Rose Creek closed, bringing more people into Sacred Heart. Area public schools in Adams, Elkton and Rose Creek also consolidated into the Southland school district, where now an estimated 99 percent of Sacred Heart children transfer after they finish eighth grade, the final grade taught at Sacred Heart.
Most of its alumni go on to Southland Middle School and high school, which are also in Adams, and a small percentage enroll in Pacelli High School in Austin, Stratton said.
Many of the people who live in Adams make their living through farming. Many of them either belong to Sacred Heart or to Little Cedar Lutheran Church. Most of Sacred Heart's support comes from Catholic Aid, tuition as well as the school's annual bicycle marathon and its auction. Both events get widespread local responses. The marathon raised $2,500 and the auction raised about $50,000, according to Stratton.
"It's a lot of regeneration — families coming up on two, three generations," he said. "It's a lot of the same names coming back."
He can list some of them: Schmidt, Mullenbach, Heimer, Reinartz and Kirtz. Some of the people who belong to those families, like Kathy Heimer, have come back to Sacred Heart to teach.
"We get strong support from the community and parents," Heimer said. "Parents see what can happen with a faith-based education as well as the community. We get along very well. There's a camaraderie that you can see at the morning meeting and I think that spreads to the students."
Stratton said that local tradition took on extra meaning last week during Catholic Schools Week, a time meant for acknowledgment and celebration of Catholic schools and values across the country.
"I think the size adds extra meaning because parents remember what it's like," Stratton said. "We get good turnout with Mass because we get people who don't even have kids at Sacred Heart anymore."