St. Mary’s celebrates 125th anniversary
In a small, untamed corner of Wisconsin during the late 19th century, a group of settlers chose to come and scratch a life from the wilderness.
They called their new home Colby, and over the years they built it into a quietly prosperous place.
Their success in Wisconsin was a testament to the hard-working, stubborn nature of their German and Scandinavian heritage.
But it took more than just work. They nurtured the dream that they would thrive, with a hope that was fed from a clear spring called faith.
In 1886 those first settlers organized under a parish called St. Kilians, but as their parish grew to include over 250 families, the parishioners realized they needed a school to educate their children.
By 1894 a two-story brick building was erected, and thus the first Catholic education came to Colby, with the school holding 50 students taught by three nuns.
As the years went by, and families grew, the school expanded once more to its present building and location in 1937.
While brick and mortar keeps the physical edifice standing, each generation ensured that its spiritual foundation is always renewed. 125 years later, that faith, and this school, endures.
St. Mary’s history teacher Scott Hudack has taught at the school for over 30 years, and as a historian, has a great appreciation for the school, and its success in the area.
“I think people, whether they know it or not, need some stability in their lives,” said Hudack. “It’s been there before they’ve been there, and it will be there after they’re gone. There has to be something to depend on — the school and the church is the physical representation of their faith.”
Steve Kunze, whose family has long, deep ties to St. Mary’s, spoke about the enduring power of the parish and the challenges it has overcome.
“It’s been a great experience to be a part of something special like St. Mary’s,” Kunze began. “I’ve been a member of the parish most of my life. My parents were, I have been, all of my children have gone here. It’s nice to be with people that have a great love of God.”
The school and parish have thrived throughout the years, but challenges — both financial and cultural — are omnipresent, says Kudack, and it will take renewed commitment to see both flourish.
“You don’t find that much anymore, that commitment and sacrifice that is needed,” Hudack said. “We are a throw- away society, and sometimes we throw away things that are very valuable. You have to integrate new ideas without destroying foundations.”
The school has overcome great challenges before, and families like he Kunzes continue to send children and grandchildren to St. Mary’s, and to extend and reach out to others.
“This is a very welcoming place, and a welcoming school,” said Kunze, who graduated from St. Mary’s in 1972. “The faith, and the school, take in everyone. I have two grandchildren coming here, and I hope it’s still here for them. I hope it continues to expand, and I hope it is here for another 125 years.”
New problems and new ideas will certainly come to St. Mary’s, and while challenges are many, those within the parish are confident the school will continue to be here though the coming years for future generations.
“You can’t pretend change isn’t happening,” Hudack said.“You have to adapt. I think we’ve done that. We’ve added, but we’ve kept our core values and core curriculum. Some of what we do might seem old-fashioned, but the faith survives. You can see that in the students — they take on the roles and are propelling us forward.”