What fun it has been to celebrate the city of Norwalk bicentennial this year. To explore the ancestors who established our city and all those who made it grow into the beautiful community we all share. How generously these ancestors planted trees, whose shade we now enjoy – literally and symbolically.
Though we, at Norwalk Catholic School, are not quite at our 200 birthday, we have been reflecting on our own history. As we look to set out direction for our future, we have been reflecting on the amazing legacy of Catholic schools we have been given. Truly — many generations of people planting trees “in whose shade they do not expect to sit.”
• In 1833, because of a broken wagon wheel, Catholic immigrants established the area’s first Catholic school and church in Peru, Ohio. St. John Neumann served at Peru St. Alphonsus in 1841 and would later become the Bishop of Philadelphia, and be called the Father of Catholic Schools.
• In 1843, St. Peter’s, the first Catholic church and school in Norwalk, was built on West Main Street (where the shrine sits today) for German-speaking immigrants. In 1876, St. Peter relocated to East Main Street, where it is today and was renamed St. Paul Church.
• In 1865, Irish immigrants built St. Mary’s church and school, for English-speaking Catholics, on St. Mary’s Street. (Ever wonder why it is St. Mary’s Street?) In 1878, St. Mary moved to State Street to accommodate their need to grow. Pastor Thomas Reynolds grew the parish and school to today’s size in the 1950-70s.
• In 1921, the Fisher brothers (famous for Detroit’s Body by Fisher) built today’s St. Paul High School as a state-of-the-art school for grades first through 12th. Sister Mary Anthony had added a two-year business school in 1906 and under the visionary leadership of the Rev. George Forst, St. Paul High School was chartered officially by the state of Ohio as a four-year high school in 1923.
• In the last 25 years, we have built the St. Paul Convocation Center and expanded many facilities. We have established FCEDO and our endowment funds and consolidated to become Norwalk Catholic School. We have earned the distinction as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.
This is our legacy – the tremendous commitment of our ancestors to excellence in education and the faith formation of their children. From the very beginning, wherever there was a Catholic church, there was a Catholic school. Nearly 200 years of history — of people – poor immigrant, faithful people — taking pennies out of empty pockets to give us the strong schools we have today. We want to ensure that our students and their families know and honor this legacy. It is an awesome legacy, with each generation picking up the mantle and planting the trees.
During this month of Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the legacy of Norwalk and the legacy of Norwalk Catholic School. Our ancestors understood: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
Local columnist Sue Lesch is the chief advancement officer for Norwalk Catholic School.