Oconto Falls Catholic school holds open house

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | August 14, 2013

After 2012 fire displaces students, renovated building ready to open

OCONTO FALLS — Very few school open houses have stirred more energy and excitement than the one held Aug. 10 at St. Anthony School. Nearly one and one-half years after the school was destroyed by an arson fire, the building on Franklin Street opened its doors to the community.

Tucker Moynihan, left, 11, and Paige Applebee, 9, students at St. Anthony School in Oconto Falls, sit inside the fourth and fifth grade classroom. Standing are Pam Beschta, their teacher, and Rosemary Marifke, teacher and principal. The school held an open house on Aug. 10. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Tucker Moynihan, left, 11, and Paige Applebee, 9, students at St. Anthony School in Oconto Falls, sit inside the fourth and fifth grade classroom. Standing are Pam Beschta, their teacher, and Rosemary Marifke, teacher and principal. The school held an open house on Aug. 10. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

A welcome board greeted guests at the open house. The message, written by Principal Rosemary Marifke, expressed gratitude to everyone who provided assistance to the school.

“’Thank you’ does not seem adequate to express the extreme gratitude we feel towards all the wonderful people who came to our aid.”

Sitting in her new office, which previously was part of the school’s front hallway, Marifke recalled all of the changes that took place at St. Anthony School since Feb. 21, 2012, when fire was set to the school.

One week after the fire, students returned to classes held for the remainder of the year at nearby Grace Lutheran Church. Last school year, students moved to “St. Anthony West,” a portable building set up on the vacant Jefferson School site.

While students were attending school at the St. Anthony West site, plans were being made to reconstruct the school.

“Last fall we put on a new roof and removed all of the asbestos and lead paint, anything that was hazardous,” said Fr. Joel Sember, pastor of St. Anthony Parish. “Then we finalized the (rebuilding) project in December and we started construction in January.”

“We are starting over from scratch,” said Marifke. “Basically, what they did was gut our building. And then we had a blank canvas.”

Rosemary Marifke, principal of St. Anthony School in Oconto Falls, stands near a framed sign that was recovered from the school following its destruction by fire in February 2012. The sign is mounted with its original plastic frame that was melted by the fire. The school was rebuilt and will open its doors to students this fall. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Rosemary Marifke, principal of St. Anthony School in Oconto Falls, stands near a framed sign that was recovered from the school following its destruction by fire in February 2012. The sign is mounted with its original plastic frame that was melted by the fire. The school was rebuilt and will open its doors to students this fall. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

The school and parish offices are accessible to guests. The classrooms, however, are behind secured doors. “To get into the school area, you will need your key code or you will need to be buzzed in,” said Marifke. “You can come into the lobby, but you can’t come into the school without the code.”

All classrooms in the K4 to fifth grade school are located on the first floor. The second floor houses meeting rooms used by the parish. The basement was also renovated and serves as the school cafeteria and gym. It doubles as a place for the parish to hold social events and meals.

An elevator, making the multi-level building handicap accessible, and a sprinkler system were installed.

“We have work to do yet,” said Marifke. “I’m sure there will be some furniture purchases. The big one for us right now will be the library and the computer room.”

She said many items were donated to the school and donations from around the diocese and the state also helped to purchase school items.

Marifke held back tears as she recounted the generosity of community members and strangers alike, who stepped forward and offered everything from books, computers, greeting cards, donations and prayers.

“We kept getting cards saying, ‘We are praying for you.’ There were donations of money, but there were donations of time and talent of the people, too,” she said.

Fr. Sember said that the experience proved to him that the value of a parish school reaches far beyond the church walls.

“I have always felt that Catholic education contributes something to the broader community, not just to our Catholic population,” he explained. “You could definitely see, as a result of the fire, that was true. The community itself felt like special stewards of this building. They felt that this held value for Oconto Falls and the wider area.

“We were very impressed with how the Lutheran church and the other churches in the area were supportive — and the community at large,” he continued. “I think it’s helped us see that what we are doing here is not just something that’s strengthening our parish community, but it’s about strengthening the broader community as well. It helped me to see how valuable this education is for people and it also helped me to see the wonderful community we have: the great teachers, the great volunteers, very supportive parents and families.

“The tragedy was terrible, but it brought out the best in everyone. As tough as this situation was really the outcomes have been very positive,” he added.

Marifke said that while the reconstructed school is a blessing, it’s the faculty and children who spend time inside of it that makes up St. Anthony School.

“So we have beautiful new surroundings, but it’s what goes on in those surroundings that makes the difference and that’s still the same,” she said. “We’re going to be celebrating our 100th anniversary in October and I think that legacy is what we want to carry on. The beautiful building is here, but it’s the beautiful people that make us who were are.”

St. Anthony School will celebrate its centennial on Oct. 5. Bishop David Ricken will be on hand to celebrate Mass and will also bless the new school.

“We are people of the resurrection and we believe that good comes out of evil,” said Fr. Sember. “We’ve seen it in our own lives and we’ve seen it now in the history of our school.”

Related Posts

Scroll to Top