Parents bring to light challenges, rewards of Catholic education

Categories: Around the Diocese,Catholic Schools Week 2015

Proposed legislation aims to give families more options

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Each weekday morning, Stephanie Heinze of Bertha packs up the family vehicle and drives the 34-mile round trip to bring her daughter Evelyn, 6, to kindergarten at Christ the King School in Browerville, while her husband Loren stays with their two sons, Mathias, 4, and Ambrose, 2.

Then, each afternoon, as Loren sets off for Alexandria for his job as a shift worker, Stephanie loads up the boys and again drives through three towns to pick up Evelyn.

Though they have the option of sending their daughter for free to public school in Bertha, they say they make the daily trek because they believe in the value of a Catholic education.

The Heinzes are one of many families that make significant sacrifices to send their children to a Catholic school.

“We chose Catholic education because we want our Catholic faith to be integrated into all parts of our lives,” Loren said. “The Catholic school can do that. The public school drives home the mentality that it is OK to be Catholic one hour a week, on our own time, but we believe we need to be Catholic 24/7.”

The cost of tuition along with the commute are challenges the Heinzes are still working through. Despite this, Loren said, the material cost is “insignificant in the greater scheme of things.”

“We like the fact that Mass and the Gospel are a regular part of their school day. It isn’t separate from school. It is important to us that Scripture and stories from the Bible are integrated into the classroom as examples for life, as well as stories of the saints and other Catholic teachings and traditions,” he said.

Though it isn’t a choice everyone can make, the Heinzes feel, for them, it is worth the sacrifice.

Benefits outweigh sacrifice


Gerardo and Katie Ortega send their children — Maria, left, fifth grade, Melanie, third grade, and Charlie, preschool — to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in St. Cloud. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

For Gerardo and Katie Ortega, choosing a Catholic school was especially difficult for Katie, who was concerned about where to send their oldest daughter, Maria, to preschool.

Katie first learned about the preschool program at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in St. Cloud at a chance meeting with another mom, who is a teacher at the school, during their children’s swimming lessons.

The two mothers discussed the program, and that fall the Ortegas enrolled Maria at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

They have never regretted their decision.

“We knew we’d need to make a lot of sacrifices to send our kids to Catholic school,” said Katie, who is unable to work outside the home due to a disability. “We have to tighten our budget and go without some of the extra things that some families might have or get to do. But the benefits of having a Catholic education far outweigh the sacrifices we have had to make.”

The Ortegas now have three children at the school: Maria in fifth grade, Melanie in third grade and Charlie in preschool.

“We really believe that it takes a village to raise a child,” Katie said. “Being able to have the kids in a faith-based environment where the same values that are taught at home are taught at school is a great blessing. Our faith is an important part of our lives and so is having a strong foundation for our children.”

‘Where they need to be’

When it came time for Carrie and Loren Goebel of Freeport to send their oldest child, Gabrielle, to kindergarten, Carrie didn’t see the need to “pay” for school when her tax dollars were already supporting the local public school. Loren, on the other hand, attended Catholic elementary school in New Munich and was more familiar with the benefits of a Catholic education.

So Carrie began her own “homework” on the subject.

“Other parents I knew told me I would never regret sending Gabrielle to Catholic school,” she explained. “They said the values and lessons they will learn will outweigh the check you are writing out.”

Carrie still wasn’t completely convinced, but for the sake of convenience opted to enroll Gabrielle in kindergarten at Sacred Heart School in Freeport.
Four years later, Carrie is certain she made the right decision for Gabrielle and her other child.

“There is no question in my mind that my kids are where they need to be,” she said. “The things they learn and the opportunities they have to attend church each week, to pray for the sick and suffering, to know it is OK to pray and do good things for others amaze me daily.”

Their son, Noah, entered kindergarten this fall. Because of developmental delays, he has an Individualized Education Program, a written plan outlining special education services he receives.

“The public school believes its programs would be more beneficial to Noah, but we believe that it is equally important that he learns his faith and the values that we share as a family,” Carrie said.

Recently, the Goebels had a meeting with special education representatives from the local school district along with Sacred Heart School staff to discuss Noah’s IEP.

“It can be very overwhelming for a parent who isn’t familiar with the IEP process,” said Carrie. “But Noah’s teacher and principal were not afraid to speak up and ask the difficult questions. Over and over, Sacred Heart School has shown that they have Noah’s best interest in mind, not just what is easiest for the teacher or the school.”

Despite Noah’s struggles, the Goebels say that the staff is always open to communication and willing to try new things.

“There are days when his teacher is honest and says he might not have had a good day but then tells me what he did well that day,” Carrie said. “They are always looking for the positive in others. Those are the values that our kids are learning there, not only about the Catholic faith but also what it means to live that out by being a good Christian.”

Hope on the horizon

The Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the state’s bishops, is currently advocating on behalf of two education initiatives during the 2015 legislative session to give parents more choices in where they send their children to school.

The initiatives include a tax credit bill that would allow individuals, organizations and corporations to contribute to scholarship-granting organizations and receive a tax credit for the contribution. Families up to a certain income level would be eligible to then apply for scholarships that would offset tuition expenses at the schools of their choice.

The second is a proposed educational savings account for children with special needs. This proposal would allow parents to use state dollars designated for their child for educational opportunities that best serve him or her. A student would need an IEP to qualify.

“Right now, we have parish support, parent support and we have fundraisers,” said Linda Kaiser, diocesan director of Catholic Education Ministries. “We need another source of funding and that could come in the form of scholarships.

“Our parishes and parents can’t do this anymore,” she added. “It’s a win-win — businesses would get a tax write-off and families would get the help they need.”

For more information about education-related legislation and other initiatives of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, visit