Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



St. Joseph School to close

RED LAKE FALLS, Minn. -- The science lesson for the St. Joseph School first-graders was about the life cycle. Teacher Jodi Douville went through life's stages with the four rapt youngsters.

St. Joseph School
Geraldine Cyr, principal at St. Joseph School, teaches elementary students how to find the volume of a cube. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

RED LAKE FALLS, Minn. -- The science lesson for the St. Joseph School first-graders was about the life cycle. Teacher Jodi Douville went through life's stages with the four rapt youngsters.

"What happens when we get as big as we can?" she asked.

"We die," they answered in unison.

"What happens after that?" the teacher inquired.

"We go to Heaven," they replied.


It was just one of numerous examples that day about how faith is woven into all subjects, even math, at the Catholic grade school.

But the lessons will be different next school year, as the K-6 elementary closes on May 27 after 108 years of providing an education option for this largely French-Catholic town of about 1,500 residents.

The reasons for closing are familiar, whether it's the end for a public or private school: declining enrollment, leading to money woes.

St. Joseph has 20 students in its seven grades. In the 1950s and 1960s, it had 10 times that many. It's similar to across town, where the public school elementary averages 27 a grade, less than half of its peak.

"Back when our school was full, you could hardly fit all the kids in the hallways," said the Rev. Chuck Huck, the parish priest.

"The parish did a remarkable job for many years, dedicated to having a Catholic entity. There were a lot of tears when we made the decision."

Steve Philion, a retired public schoolteacher, is a member of a family that had four generations attend the school.

"It's very, very sad," he said. "It's been a big part of our community for more than 100 years.


"It's just a sign of the times. There aren't enough people around here anymore, so they can't afford to keep it going."

Benchmarks not met

More than a year ago, three benchmarks were set for keeping the school open for 2010-11. The requirements set by three parish councils were: 1) At least 30 students; 2) A subsidy of less than 60 percent from the Sunday collections; and 3) More volunteer involvement from parents.

"The decision came from the people," Huck said.

Neither of the first two requirements was met. Twenty-four students enrolled for next year and the tuition -- which is computed as 3 percent of a household's adjusted gross income -- wasn't enough to prevent making a bigger dent in the collection plate.

"It was projected we would need to make $55,000 in fundraisers," Huck said. "That's tough to do in a small town, especially when you have only 14 families doing it."

Parish membership includes only 77 school-age children. "That's indicative of the population decrease as large families in the parish are no longer the norm," Huck said.

He said a slow economy is not a factor in the closing because "Sunday collections have not dropped off."


Concerned for students

Geraldine Cyr, a teacher and principal at St. Joseph for 30 years, is melancholy about the school's last few weeks. A smile escapes while watching Huck and the children play "Father Says," a twist to the popular "Simon Says," after lunch.

But her face and voice convey worry. It's for the students, not her future employment.

"Several kids have expressed concern of not being able to pray in school next year," she said.

"It's been automatic for them."

Students pray a minimum of four times a day at St. Joseph. And with five teachers for 20 students, they receive a lot of attention.

"I'm worried about some of our children falling through the cracks because they won't get the one-on-one attention we're able to give them," Cyr said. "I feel bad for young families that don't have a choice anymore.

"I see the value of the school."


A summer sendoff

The sendoff for St. Joseph will come in the summer, when one final all-school reunion is held. Alumni will revisit memories in the classrooms -- each of which is named after a Red Lake County parish that has closed -- that stretch down one short hallway.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

What To Read Next
Get Local