By Jean Doran Matua, Editor
The fact that Holy Cross School has stood in Marty/Pearl Lake for 116 years is testament to the tenacity and sacrifice of a small group of faithful Catholics – faithful Christians – who made sure the school would endure long into the future.
One of these individuals, mentioned to us several times, is Elmer Haus. When the new school building was constructed in 1962, each parishioner was asked to pay a portion of the cost. Newly married and broke, Haus instead spent six weeks hauling and laying the bricks that now form the school building. For 73 of the past 116 years, a Haus has attended Holy Cross School.
Generations of dedication, faith and sacrifice was betrayed by a surprise decree April 6 by Bishop Donald Kettler of the Diocese of St. Cloud announcing closure of Holy Cross School at the end of this school year. The decree came just days after the February and then the March 18 parish meetings at which parishioners and teachers were assured that the school would continue beyond this school year, and that teachers would indeed have contracts for next year.
“We were shocked. We just got a letter, and that’s done,” said music teacher Julene Faber-Andrusick. “They tried to appeal it, but the bishop’s word is the bishop’s word.”
“We were more shocked when Fr. Matthew showed up at school that day,” said kindergarten teacher Katy Calhoun, “because he said we would be open, in February.” She said one of the teachers directly asked him at that February parish meeting, “You’re not going to come in April and tell us we’re closing, right?” and Fr. Matthew’s response was a clear, “No.”
Mrs. Calhoun has taught at Holy Cross for 27 years and was hoping to retire from Holy Cross in three years. In addition to preparing her students for the end of the year, she also had to quickly find a new job for fall.
“The education here was superb. … It’s a little goldmine for education. Do you know how much one-on-one your students get?” asked Mrs. Calhoun. As teachers, she explained, we can teach best practices; no need to buy $20K curricula. We use what works, from PhD.s and experts around the world.
“It was a total shock to the community,” Al Haus told Boyd Huppert of KARE11 who was at Friday’s ceremony. “It got dropped on us pretty hard.” Haus is one of two trustees of the parish, and Elmer is his uncle.
The big question
“The biggest question is why,” said Haus in Huppert’s story that aired Friday evening. That’s exactly what everyone is asking.
But no clear answer has come.
The decree cites changing demographics and long-standing challenges (none of which have been specifically outlined).
Enrollment is down this year, as it is in all schools this year, at least in part because of the pandemic. Other schools in the Diocese with low enrollment have not been closed.
One would first suspect financial reasons. But the school has always been self-sufficient, never asking for or taking a penny from the Diocese. The school building is owned free and clear by the parish. And there is a healthy endowment in place for future education in the parish. (That endowment stays in the parish, and may be used to help offset the cost of parish students to attend other Catholic schools in the area, next year and beyond.)
On April 14, a small group was allowed to meet with the bishop in St. Cloud. They had prepared and presented a petition to keep the school open as a positive resource and a gift to the diocesan community. Dozens of parishioners had added their names to it.
The petition was rejected on its face because it was not written in the specific wording required to counter a canon law decree. (The person who could have explained that required wording is the parish priest, one of only two canon lawyers for the Diocese, but he did not explain it.)
This group asked the bishop why the school is being closed. Finances weren’t the problem. Enrollment is picking up. Why closure, and why now?
“Because I got involved,” is the reported response from the bishop. That’s akin to a parent saying, “Because I said so.” End of discussion.
Some theorize that the school closure comes as retaliation against the parish. When the Diocese reorganized under bankruptcy in December 2020, each of its 131 parishes was asked to contribute $15,000 toward the trust established to pay victims of clergy sexual abuse. Holy Cross parish was one of the few in the Diocese who declined to pay it. There also may be jealousy, some feel, because Holy Cross School and Parish have been self-sustaining, and always excel at fundraising; whenever there is a need, the community has always answered the call to meet it.
The official word from the Diocese on the future of the school building is contained in a May 27 email to us from their communications office: “No decisions have been made yet regarding the conversion of Holy Cross School into a new ministry. The pastor will be working over the next few months with members of the parish community, and perhaps in collaboration with the other parishes of the Area Catholic Community to which Holy Cross belongs, to discern the best way forward. The hope is that the new endeavor, whatever it ends up being, would be decided upon by this fall.”
“They want our opinion on how to use the school now going forward,” said Faber-Andrusick. “They didn’t ask for our opinion when they were closing it.” She added her suggestion: “How about a Catholic school?”
Beyond all of the bitterness and betrayal, there remains a sense of blessing among the students, staff, and friends of the school. Feeling blessed to have been a part of this mission, providing a high-quality and individualized education to young students while also teaching Christian values.
No word has been given yet what will become of the school building, fully owned by the parish and thus by the Diocese. Perhaps it could be leased to any type of business or enterprise. Or it could be used for something by the Diocese itself. There are a few rumors of what may come, but none worth reporting yet.
While the school has been dissolved, the building itself has become over the years the de facto community center. When there is nearly any community event, it is held there in the school gym/cafeteria. A prime example of this is when the BlackHawk helicopter crashed nearby in December 2019. Even as rescue crews discovered the crash site, neighbors were gathering in the cafeteria kitchen to assemble food and drink for the rescuers and, later, for the press conference held there that night. Likewise, the dedication celebration of the monument to the three men killed in that crash carried over into the cafeteria where there was abundant food and drink for all who came, again provided by the community.
Pearl Lake is a serving, welcoming community, and the school building and grounds are the frequent site and focus of their service.
What will become the new heart of the community? Time will tell. One thing is certain, though: this tight-knit community, people who have sacrificed so much to establish and maintain the school, will find a way to continue to serve others, even if it means finding a new physical location.
There will be no Holy Cross Parish Festival this year; no one in Pearl Lake is feeling festive these days. But there will be a “Parish Party” from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, June 17, as a “thank you” to the parish and community for their tremendous support of the parish and Holy Cross School. The party will be held on the school grounds, with food trucks providing food.
In 2019, the Diocese reorganized its parishes into Area Catholic Communities. The Holy Cross parish in Pearl Lake is now one of five parishes (with three schools) in the Holy Saints Area Catholic Community along with St. Anne’s in Kimball, St. Mary Help of Christians in St. Augusta, St. Nicholas, and St. Wendelin’s in Luxemburg. The five parishes are split between two priests, Fr. James Statz at St. Anne’s and St. Nicholas, and Fr. Matthew Crane at Holy Cross, St. Wendelin’s, and St. Mary Help of Christians.
The Diocese of St. Cloud includes 131 parishes spread across 16 counties in central Minnesota, and includes more than 133,000 registered Catholics. The Diocese also includes 31 parochial schools, the largest of which are St. John’s Prep and St. Cloud Cathedral High School.
On Dec. 4, 2020, the Minnesota Bankruptcy Court approved a plan for reorganization jointly submitted by the Diocese of St. Cloud and the creditors’ committee of clergy abuse survivors; the filing was made June 15, 2020. This established a $22.5 million trust to compensate survivors of clergy sexual abuse, the funds coming from insurance ($14 million), property sales ($5.25 million), contributions from parishes ($15,000 from each), and a $3.25 million line of credit.
First one-room school opened in 1905, on the current site of the softball field (next to the rectory and church)
New school building ~1962
New addition ~2005
New bishop installed in 2013; he is now awaiting permission to retire
CCS formed 6-7 years ago; only 9 of the Diocese’s 31 schools belong, and Holy Cross was not given a choice
New priest installed July 2020
COVID restrictions 2020-2021
March 18 parish meeting with assurances of no school closure
Decree April 7 closing the school at end of 2020-21 school year
Futile meeting with bishop April 14
May 1 public announcement of school closure
May 28 last day of school, end-of-school ceremony
June 17 “Parish Party” on school grounds, 5-7 p.m.
Decision on future use of school building expected by Fall 2021