School community takes positive approach to disaster
GREEN BAY — For the past eight years, students at St. Anthony School in Oconto Falls have had a monthly Christian witness project where they helped others in need.
This year, their principal, Rosemary Marifke, told them they're "on the receiving end of that."
Bishop David Ricken visits with St. Anthony School students following Mass at St. Anthony Church April 4. In addition to celebrating Mass, Bishop Ricken visited the school building, which was gutted by a fire Feb. 21, and classrooms at Grace Lutheran Church, where St. Anthony students are attending classes. (Manu Junemann | For The Compass)
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On Feb. 21, the eve of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, a fire authorities say was intentionally set devastated St. Anthony School. On Wednesday, April 4, just as Lent was ending, Bishop David Ricken joined the 47 students for a Mass at St. Anthony Church, which had only received soot damage.
The bishop told the students that he was proud of them and of their plans to rebuild their school. He also stressed that they need to forgive the 16-year-old boy who is accused of arson.
"Our parents, teachers and the kids have talked about forgiveness many times" in the weeks since the fire, Marifke said.
The students are currently holding classes at Grace Lutheran Church, less than a mile away, which offered their facilities the night of the fire. It was only one of many offerings of money and supplies from the Oconto Falls community and beyond. Marifke said they have so many crayons and markers now that they won't even need to put them on a supply list for school next year — everyone will get them.
"It's just wonderful," Marifke said of all the schools, groups and parishes that have had fund-raisers and sent money and cards. "I was just filling out my thank you list and I have 110 names so far and I know that's not even half of them."
She added that the cards of encouragement and prayers received will be part of a display at the school's 29th annual auction, on Saturday, April 21, at the former CarQuest building, 125 N. Main St.
Bishop David Ricken and Fr. Joel Sember, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Oconto Falls, inspect the damaged interior of St. Anthony School April 4. (Manu Junemann | For The Compass)
Doors open at 4:30 p.m. and admission is $2. Among items up for bid will be an Aaron Rodgers canvas print and an autographed Greg Jennings photo and football. On display will be students' own ideas for the rebuilt school. Marifke gave the students a "If I Built the School" project and let their imaginations fly. She said that one boy even designed a teachers' lounge "with a chocolate fountain."
Costs to rebuild are still being determined, though estimates have reached $2 million. Meetings with diocesan and insurance officials are planned later in the month.
While he was at St. Anthony, Bishop Ricken toured the school's damage, which is not readily apparent from the outside, but reveals a blackened ruin inside.
"People look at it from outside and say, 'Oh, it's not bad,'" said Marifke. "But go inside and — what I imagine is a bombed out building. It's awful."
While the students continue to meet at Grace Lutheran, and will for the rest of the school year, Marifke said they plan to make other arrangements for next year — which will be the 100th anniversary year for St. Anthony. For now, for school Masses they will do what they did for the Mass with Bishop Ricken — return to St. Anthony.
Monetary donations may be made at the Associated Bank branch at 134 N. Main St., Oconto Falls, or mailed to P.O. Box 8, Oconto Falls, WI 54154.