NEENAH — In 1993, Bishop Vojt?ch Cikrle of the Diocese of Brno in the Czech Republic visited northeast Wisconsin. Among his stops with host Fr. Milton Suess was the La Salle Center in Menasha (now Mount Tabor Center), where he met with Czech students from the Global Outreach Catholic Exchange Program. Bishop Cikrle played the guitar for the young people and encouraged the students to return to their home country as missionaries.
Even though 21 years have passed, the bishop’s visit laid the groundwork for a priest from his diocese to explore Catholic education in the United States. Fr. Roman Kubin, director of the Pastoral Center for the Diocese of Brno, recently spent two weeks in the Diocese of Green Bay. The Catholic schools in Brno are in a time of transition, so Fr. Kubin wanted to experience American Catholic schools to gather information to apply in his diocese.
“There are two points of change going on (in Brno schools),” explained Fr. Kubin. “One is personnel. Our teachers, the first generation of teachers, have now come to retirement age.”
Many of the teachers came out of the underground during communist times and began leading Catholic education 25 years ago following the revolution.
“The first generation was very zealous to make the schools strong,” said Fr. Kubin. “Now we have a new generation and we must prepare to continue at a high level and maybe better.”
He added that a renewed emphasis on the Catholic faith in the schools is necessary. The Catholic schools in Brno serve an increasing number of students, whom Fr. Kubin described as “non-practicing Christians.”
Among the schools toured by Fr. Kubin were St. Gabriel School, Neenah, with Fr. Larry Seidl, pastor, and St. Mary School, Greenville. Fr. Kubin, who was ordained to the priesthood in 1998, was impressed with how the schools are connected to the parish, especially the relationship between the pastor and the students. The two basic Catholic schools in Brno, comparable to elementary schools in the U.S., have large student populations and no parish affiliations. The Diocese of Brno also operates three kindergarten schools and six high schools.
Fr. Kubin visited St. Mary Central High School in Neenah and toured schools in Green Bay, including Notre Dame Academy. Norbertine Fr. Dane Radecki, president of GRACE (Green Bay Area Catholic Education), served as his host Dec. 10-11. One difference between the Catholic schools in the Czech Republic and the U.S. schools really stands out, said Fr. Kubin.
“I think the atmosphere at the American schools is more open if I compare it to the Czech schools,” he said. “The teachers and the students are together, they work together. Not in all schools in the Czech Republic, but in some it is ‘I’m the teacher and I will tell you what to do.’ I want to see our young teachers take a new approach of participation with students.”
Fr. Kubin added that he would like to see continued improvements in technology in the Brno Catholic schools.
The second change in the Czech schools involves financial support. The government is reducing its funding. Students commonly do not pay tuition or only a small amount. Fr. Kubin said it is necessary for the schools to prepare to operate independently from the government.
Fr. Kubin, 41, did not have the option to attend Catholic schools due to the communist regime. Following graduation from a public high school in 1990, he studied for the priesthood in Olomouc. He served in parishes for 10 years prior to a position in youth ministry. He became director of the Pastoral Center three years ago. In his position, he is not only responsible for schools, but also youth, catechesis, families and seniors in the diocese.
Last spring, Bishop Cikrle asked Fr. Kubin to visit the U.S. Through a connection with Michael Zelenka, a Czech Global Outreach student who attended Lourdes Academy in Oshkosh in 2012-2013, Fr. Kubin attended the program’s summer camp held in a village near Prague, where he met Fr. Seidl.
In addition to his school visits, Fr. Kubin attended Scripture study at St. Bernadette Parish in Appleton and a “That Man is You” presentation. Catholic men’s groups are scarce in the Czech Republic, he said.
“The man is often outside of the church,” he explained. “The women are more a part of the church and bring the family. Many of the men do not go to Mass. Here, you see the family at Mass together. The program (That Man is You) was very open. It was not just for Catholics. It was for all men about ‘how can I be a good man?’”
Much like Bishop Cikrle, Fr. Kubin hopes to call on Global Outreach alumni from the Czech Republic to bring new ideas back for the schools. The exchange program has served approximately 60 students from the Diocese of Brno during its 25 years.
Prior to his arrival in the Diocese of Green Bay, Fr. Kubin spent time at the Czech Mission of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Brookfield, Ill. He will return to the mission before departing for home in early January. His first visit to America started with a minor concern while visiting New York City.
“In New York, everywhere there are police. I thought, ‘Is there some problem with safety?’” he said with a laugh. “I asked my friend, ‘What’s the problem today? Why are there so many police?’ He said, ‘Because there are so many people.’”