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July 29, 2009
School shaping future on Eastern Plains
By Elizabeth M. DeLine & Jeanette DeMelo
Every morning from August to June, Father Robert Wedow, the pastor at St. Anthony Church in Sterling, walks over to the parish school to join the teachers, staff and children in prayer. After the prayer is said Father Wedow swings some of the kids, plays kickball, or just watches the bustling school children before the bell rings and they hurry into the red brick building to begin their day of studying.
Charles Lengfelder, a parent of two children who attend the school, says Father Wedow is fond of saying, “If you start your day out with prayer, your day will go that much better.”
And Lengfelder doesn’t hesitate to go a step further, applying the same motto to the entire school.
“If you have prayer in school,” he said, “the education is that much better.”
For Lengfelder, a convert to Catholicism and husband to Jill Lengfelder, a graduate of the school, St. Anthony’s embodies a legacy of Catholic tradition and academic excellence that is an integral part of the rural community and an undeniable source of formation for the future generations of Sterling as well as for all of Colorado.
St. Anthony’s is the only Catholic school on the Eastern Plains. The total population of Sterling ranges from about 10,000 to 12,000 inhabitants.
Since 1908, when Bishop Nicholas Matz first designated St. Anthony’s as an independent parish and sent German native Father Peter U. Sasse to be the first pastor of the internationally diverse farming community, the parish grew substantially and finally opened school doors in 1918.
The first school was comprised of three small houses, one of which was made into a convent, accommodating the nine Franciscan sisters from Milwaukee, Wis., who were the school’s first teachers. As the parish and community grew, the school soon surged with 400-plus students. The large amount of students was inspiration for the religious sisters to begin a high school in the adjacent house.
Although the high school closed in 1970, the grade school has continued, even though enrollment is not what it used to be. With an enrollment of 100 students, the school’s goal is to increase that to 120 this year, according to school principal Joe Skerjanec.
For Skerjanec, the goal is attainable, particularly given the school’s endurance and legacy of excellence in education, which is attested to by the many years of service and tireless effort of the teachers.
When describing his colleagues, Skerjanec said: “They are more than a team. They’re a family that reinforces the children’s family at home.”
Kristin Nichols, a parent of two children who attend St. Anthony’s, couldn’t agree more. Not only is her personal history lined with graduates from St. Anthony’s, including her grandmother, father, herself and now her children, she feels strongly that the school wouldn’t have the generations of families that it does, if the academics and nurturing atmosphere were not at the caliber that they are.
“It’s the only Catholic school in Sterling,” affirmed Nichols, “so St. Anthony’s has become a second home to all the children and families that attend and support it.”
Also, as the only private school in the community it naturally shares competition with the neighboring public schools, in all aspects ranging from academics to sporting events.
Raised on the plain, with sometimes harsh and unpredictable weather and circumstances, the Bobcats—St. Anthony’s mascot—never seem to be intimidated, whether it be for an intramural basketball game or a weekend of educational problem-solving Odyssey of the Mind competitions on the Front Range.
Recently, Father Wedow has started a stewardship campaign that has generated many new volunteers and ideas for fundraising. Father Wedow is enthusiastic about the new ministries that are being formed as well as old ones that are being revived.
Stewardship, he said echoing a pastoral letter by the U.S. bishops on the topic, should be seen as, “a disciple’s response to God’s love.”
“It’s not about the money,” Father Wedow emphasized, “but about our response to God with our whole lives.”
That is precisely the unique attribute the school instills in her students and parishioners: praying to God in order to know how to respond to his will. For Father Wedow, prayer, in all hours of the day, is the best way to start discerning what that will is. After 91 years of ministry, the old adage definitely rings true for St. Anthony School: “the family that prays together, stays together.”