COLUMBIA — Students at the new Father Tolton Regional Catholic High School will have their first day of classes Monday. The building at 1305 E. Gans Road is not quite done, so they will start classes at Columbia College.
Active talk of bringing a Catholic high school to Columbia has gone on for more than 10 years. Through the work of community volunteers who saw the importance of such a school, their goals are being realized.
The beliefs that drive this dream tap into parents' deep hopes for their children's education.
"Parents have a very small window of time in which they can help build their children into the kind of human beings they want those children to be," said Kristie Wolfe, Tolton's first principal.
The Missourian asked parents of Tolton students and Catholic educators to share their thoughts on the importance of a Catholic education. Here are the people we interviewed:
Laura Jolley: Jolley’s daughter, Sarah, will be a freshman at Tolton this fall. Jolley let her daughter make the decision whether to make the transition.
Jeff Guinn: Guinn’s children are Kate, who will enter first grade this year; Luke, who will enter fifth; and John, who will enter 10th. Guinn said that after John switched from public school to Catholic school, his confidence and grades went up.
Sherry Hockman: Her son, Alex, will attend Tolton in the fall, and her younger daughter, Paige, will attend in the future.
Kate Trauth: Trauth is the chairwoman of Tolton’s executive committee and has a daughter, Martha Gahl, who will be a freshman at the school this fall. She has an older daughter, Ginny Trauth, who will be a senior at Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City this year and will not be able to attend Tolton because it's taking only ninth- and 10th-graders this first year.
Renee Hulshof: Hulshof’s daughter Casey will be a freshman at Tolton in three years. Daughter Hanna will be a third-grader but will attend Tolton down the road.
Catherine DiPietre: DiPietre is the director of religious education at St. Thomas More Parish and Newman Center. DiPietre attended Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School (formerly Columbia Catholic School), Helias High and Loyola University Chicago, a Jesuit university.
Kristie Wolfe: Wolfe, the principal at Tolton, has six children. Her oldest are twins Alex and Andrew, both of whom are out of high school. Alex just graduated from a Catholic college and got a job teaching religion in a Catholic high school. Andrew is at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Madison, will be a junior at Helias. Abby will be in seventh grade at Our Lady of Lourdes and will attend Tolton. Her youngest children, Maggie and Henry, are both in grade school but will attend Tolton, too.
Here's what they have to say:
On ethics, morals and discipline
“(In a Catholic education), you get a lot more than just X's and O's. You get ethics; you get things that you’re not going to get in a public school.” Jeff Guinn
“I want my children to have, through those very formative teen years, that close-knit community and that support for how you live and how you make good decisions and how you express your faith in the world. That is not something you have, or should have, in public schools.” Renee Hulshof
“I think the world would be a better place if more people in positions of authority had strong values and ethics. So it’s my goal that our students are those kinds of people in the world of the future. It will make things better for all of us.” Kristie Wolfe
On freedom to discuss religion
"It's important to be able to always be able to talk about what your faith means and how it impacts everyday decisions that you make. For a high school student, especially. Adolescents go through that time where there is a lot of questioning and wondering. It's important to have that option where students can talk about it and ask questions in an environment that allows that to happen." Kate Trauth
“When you have a fear of if you talk about (religion), then you won’t be accepted — I’ll be a Jesus freak, I’ll be put down upon — it can really hinder your faith and can be a discouragement. I think it is important to have teachers who are an encouragement to them.” Sherry Hockman
On a sense of community
“The teachers have all been there for years. They know the families, they go to Mass with them on Sundays. It's like a small town. They see each other pretty much six days a week — in church and in school. You can’t get that in a public school.” Jeff Guinn
“We really shared something unique which made it really easy to relate to the people in the different activities. Not that you don’t necessarily get that in public schools. You just shared a fundamental foundation that really made the classes connect at so much higher a level.” Catherine DiPietre
On parent involvement
“You have to stay checked in. I want her to know we’re a part of it, we support her and we care about who’s wining football and seeing her play a sport and what’s going on in the school. I think that is important to kids. They may not verbally say that they care, but they do." Laura Jolley
On having choices
“Columbia is blessed in that we have a great education system, period, and we are blessed to have choices in that education. We have chosen for our family one that has a focus on spirituality.” Renee Hulshof
On benefits to the community
“There is support from the Catholic community for having this option, support from families who are not a part of the Catholic community but would like to send their children to a faith-based school, and even support in the general community. As Columbia is growing and trying to recruit and retain people in Columbia, it’s important that we have that option. I think it helps the community all throughout.” Kate Trauth
“I think when a school like ours opens here in Columbia with high expectations across the board, that culture filters out and nudges other schools to look at their own expectations. We all look at what each other is doing, and I think it makes the whole community better. It doesn’t just benefit our students; it benefits the educational landscape of the entire city.” Kristie Wolfe