Getting on "the Energy Bus"
By Jay Nies
“Open wide the doors to Christ!”
Adult volunteers at St. Martin School in St. Martins are putting St. John Paul II’s words into practice, opening doors and greeting the students with a smile each morning.
“The kids — you can see their excitement every day,” said Father Edwin A. Schmidt, pastor of St. Martin parish. “They’re looking forward to seeing who’s opening the doors and who’s saying good morning to them.”
It’s one of many ways St. Martin parishioners acknowledge the living, active presence of Christ in their school and its students.
“What we’re after is three smiles for every child before they reach the classroom,” stated Eddie Mulholland, the school’s new principal.
Research has shown that if a child gets three sincere smiles before entering his first class, the day in all likelihood will be successful, said Mr. Mulholland.
“I think it’s working,” he stated. “It’s been a beautiful experience so far.”
Parishioner Jeff Brondel organizes and schedules the volunteers, which on the first day included a cow from the local Chick-fil-A restaurant.
Students see other volunteers in the lunchroom each day, distributing meals and pouring water at the tables.
“The parish as a whole embraces and takes ownership of the school,” observed parish council president Brian Francka, a St. Martin School alumn and father of two St. Martin students and of two graduates.
“210 young disciples”
Building on decades of leadership and accomplishments of Fr. Schmidt and recently retired principal Cathy Wolters, St. Martin School is bursting with faith-filled enthusiasm.
These are happy people.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said Mr. Francka. “I think Catholic education should be one of our top priorities, and it should start at an early age.
“We have that here,” he said.
Mr. Mulholland refers to faculty members as educators and to students as disciples.
“We have 210 young disciples here!” he said. “Our educators aren’t just teachers, because they work together with other educators to bring about an educated response.”
That is to say, students demonstrate what they have learned by putting it into practice.
“Look at one of God’s greatest creations!” proclaims a sign in a hallway near the school entrance.
The sign is above a mirror.
The Energy Bus
“Mr. Mulholland has us all taking a ride on the Energy Bus,” stated school board vice president Karen Ehmke, mother of two St. Martin students and of one graduate.
The principal has been passing around copies of The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy, by Jon Gordon.
The book encourages readers to draw on their own positive energy in order to recognize what’s possible and accomplish good things.
“When you bring out the best in others, you can’t help but bring out the best in yourself,” the author states.
Parish council and school board members, faculty, staff and parents have been reading the book and passing it around.
“Eddie highlighted the sections he wanted me to pay particularly close attention to,” Fr. Schmidt noted.
The students discussed a children’s edition of the book near the beginning of the school year.
“It’s contagious,” said Mrs. Ehmke. “And now my kids are talking about it.”
“I’ll take care of that”
When runoff from a misplaced downspout threatened structural damage to the school building, St. Martin parishioners stepped up to fix the problem.
Tons of concrete were removed, trenches were dug, pipes were installed, new concrete was poured and a classroom was restored in time for the first day of school.
“That’s part of the power of this place: There’s always someone standing up to say, ‘I’ll take care of that.’” said Mr. Mulholland.
Similarly, the principal’s concerns about the computer lab’s lack of functionality helped mobilize another team of can-do communicants.
With help from local businesses, individual donors and the Knights of Columbus, parish property manager Travis Hoskins and volunteers spent hundreds of hours this summer converting the technological hodgepodge into an organized, state-of-the-art learning space.
“These are folks in the parish who appreciate what the school does for the community,” said Mr. Mulholland. “They love what we have and want to help us keep making it better.”
Room to grow
The St. Martin all-day pre-kindergarten program, which follows a Catholic-school curriculum, is now in its second year.
The school board has taken keen interest in the program, because it draws families into the school and allows children’s formal religious training to start at a younger age.
Six years ago, the parish invested $2.4 million in additions and renovations to the school.
The 4,800-square-foot addition meant seven new classrooms, offices, and dedicated rooms for a science lab, library, computer lab, music room, and teachers’ work space.
Other areas, including the gym, were made like new.
Since then, the school has built up its art program, started a band program, and invested in the fastest-growing grade-school sport: archery.
“You know, the expense to operate a school like this is tremendous,” noted Mr. Francka. “But the rewards we get out of it are priceless.”
St. Martin Home and School Association president and parish finance council chairwoman Janet Roling, who has three children at St. Martin, believes Catholic schools could be the Church’s greatest hope.
“We’re working with families to build a strong Catholic faith and encourage and promote and continue that faith throughout these children’s lives,” she said. “And having it right here in our community only enhances and strengthens that.”
She was amazed this past spring to see how many parishioners — adults who have children in the school, and many who do not — helped out with the Home and School Lenten fish fries.
Proceeds benefitted the school.
“It all works together,” said Mrs. Roling. “We can’t run this school without all of our parishioners.”
“I think the parish and school are stronger because of each other,” Mrs. Ehmke asserted. “The school helps build up the parish, and the parish keeps the school going. They feed off of each other.”
Mr. Francka noted that Fr. Schmidt spends a lot of time in the school.
“He knows all of the kids’ names because he’s there from the day they walk into school to the day they graduate.”
“I tell people, ‘Fr. Ed’ is the man who wears Jesus’ sandals, and we’re some of the luckiest people around,” said Mr. Mulholland.
St. Martin School board president Jason Thompson came into the Church through the Rite of Christian Imitation of Adults four years ago.
His son, Sam, was in second grade and getting ready to receive his First Holy Communion.
“He made me promise that we’d be able to go to Communion together,” Mr. Thompson recalled.
His involvement at school started with coaching his daughter’s basketball team.
Before long, he was helping repair the gym floor.
“There are people here who are very good at helping you volunteer!” said Mr. Thompson. “I don’t really know how to explain it, but you come over to do one thing, and the next thing you know, you’re chairman of a committee.”
Mrs. Ehmke marvels at the faith of her daughter, who’s now a sophomore at Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City.
“We taught her at home, but she also got to pray here at school every day,” said Mrs. Ehmke. “She got to talk about God every day.”
Mrs. Roling said it’s amazing to have her children come home and sing songs about Jesus.
“That’s part of their life every day because they’re hearing about it at school,” she said.
Mr. Mulholland believes the school’s music program is “evangelized and energized.”
Students down the hall could be heard practicing “Sanctuary,” which they now sing before Communion at Mass: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.”
Reaping the benefits
Mr. Francka and his wife Cathy met each other as students at St. Martin School.
He believes the commitment to educating and instilling the faith in young people has solidified over time.
So has the level of enthusiasm.
“It’s phenomenal,” he said. “It’s just through the roof.
“You can see it in the kids,” he stated. “They’re excited to get up and go to school in the morning. They’re excited to come home and tell you what they learned at school.
“And it’s all centered on Jesus,” he said. “That’s something I hope never changes.”
He talked about the excellent educators, some who were there when he was a student.
“They could all be making more money teaching somewhere else,” he noted. “But they’ve chosen to make sacrifices to stay here, and we’re reaping the benefits.”
“I’m very excited,” said Mr. Mulholland. “I think we’re all on the same bus!”