Your Catholic Neighbor
A sweet tooth for Catholic education
Xavier High School principal bakes cookies to help fund programs
By Amanda Lauer
APPLETON -- What do chocolate chip cookies and Catholic education have in common? For Matt Reynebeau, principal of Xavier High School, the answer would be "A lot."
Reynebeau's nearly world-famous chocolate chip cookies help him work towards a goal that is near to his heart: allowing as many students as possible to receive a Catholic education.
A native of Little Chute, Reynebeau said his faith was developed by his parents and family and reinforced by the Racine Dominican Sisters at St. John Grade School and St. John High School. "I felt we really had good teachers and they and my parents made a difference in my life," he said. "My mom in particular is very faith-filled and has been an influence on my life and my faith."
Reynebeau was a member of the final senior graduating class from St. John High School in 1973. He then attended Illinois Benedictine College. After two years he transferred to the University of Notre Dame, where he earned an undergraduate degree in math. He obtained his teaching license from St. Mary's College because, at that time, Notre Dame didn't offer
education classes. In 1977 he began his teaching career as a math and physics teacher at Xavier High School.
He took a year's leave of absence in 1983 to earn his master's degree in the University of San Francisco's Institute of Catholic Educational Leadership Program. That was where the chocolate chip cookies entered the picture.
"When I was in San Francisco, that was the first time I had Mrs. Field's Cookies. I just loved Mrs. Field's Cookies. If there was a store anywhere nearby, I made sure I could get to it," recalled Reynebeau. "I saw in the paper some food editor had written a column and she was trying to duplicate Mrs. Field's cookies. So I tried the recipe and that's the recipe I've been using."
Reynebeau found the key ingredient for delicious, oversized cookies: "Lots of chocolate chips - probably double what most people would put in."
During the 1984 spring semester, Reynebeau had an internship in school administration in Hawaii. He returned to Xavier the next fall and taught for a couple more years. In 1989 he became the principal of Xavier when Bill O'Brien took over as head of the newly-formed ACES school system.
The birth of ACES was also the start of Reynebeau's cookie tradition.
"When the ACES Auction was first started they asked me if I would put my cookies out to bid on," said Reynebeau. "They went for $5,000. The next year there were teams that were formed and they bid against each other. The final total that they went for was $11,111. Then it got to be part of the Food Fair silent auction.
"(Each year) I make about 150 batches of cookies. We get together on a Saturday usually and it takes about four hours. We make 10 batches at a time. I enjoy working with staff and students in making all the cookie dough. The last couple of years I've sold it as frozen dough as part of the Frozen Tundra booth at Food Fair."
As the goodwill ambassador for Xavier, Reynebeau bakes his cookies at each of the schools in the Appleton Catholic Education System - plus St. John's in Little Chute, Holy Cross in Kaukauna, St. Nicholas' in Freedom, St. Edward's in Mackville and St. Mary's in Greenville during Catholic Schools Week.
Reynebeau delivers fresh, warm cookies by hand, along with associate principal Donna Fahrenkrug, to each and every student in those schools. Leftovers are sold at Xavier basketball games.
The word of his baking prowess is spreading and now Reynebeau gets requests to provide cookies for local churches and other organizations that are holding fund-raisers.
While Reynebeau is a member of the Knights of Columbus, he spends the majority of his time at Xavier High School or at events Xavier students are participating in. He said he always intended to work in a Catholic school but when he first started, he thought he'd only teach for five years or so before going into business.
"That obviously never happened, although there's a lot of operating as a business. As a school, that's part of the administration," he said. "I can't see myself anywhere other than a Catholic school. I just believe in it so strongly."
Xavier is a thriving Catholic high school with Reynebeau at its helm. "I think the success of Xavier (can be attributed to) a couple of things. One of my most important duties is selecting and hiring the right people. I think we have great teachers and that's what makes education. You have to have all of the other things - the facilities and all of that, but you have to have the right teachers in the classrooms."
The other factor is setting the right culture in the school. "That's part of why I'm supervising the lunchroom every day - because that's my contact with kids. Knowing the kids, I have more influence with them. ... I want to influence the culture at Xavier - how we act and what our sportsmanship is like. I try to support the kids. They like seeing that support from me and the other faculty and staff members."
Life is definitely sweet for Reynebeau. "These days, my faith is strengthened in the numerous God-given moments I am able to experience with our student body and faculty," he said.