Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spokane's Cataldo School: Three parishes, one community

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 5, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

A little cold and snow couldn’t stop the youthful enthusiam of the 40 or so Cataldo Catholic School students in their lively game of “snow soccer” one recent January day. They saw no disadvantage in their icy playing field, and greatly enjoyed the lunch break from their classes.

Currently there are 340 students in grades K-8 at Cataldo, a school which draws from three parishes: the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, Sacred Heart and St. Augustine.

As a school with combined parishes, its history dates back to 1888. That was the year the school at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral (built two years before) opened. Both buildings were miraculously spared in the fire of 1889 which destroyed most of downtown Spokane.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church was built in 1911 and construction of the parish’s school soon followed. Catholic students attended classes in the church basement until the school was completed.

St. Augustine, in the vicinity of Cannon Park on the South Hill, was the first parish formed by the new Spokane Diocese’s first bishop, Augustine Schinner, who gave it his saint’s name. The diocese was formed in 1913. The original part of the building that is now Cataldo was designed by noted Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter and built in 1915 as a combination church-school-convent.

When the school opened in 1915 there were 40 students. Their teachers were three Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration who made their home on the fourth floor of Cutter’s imposing brick structure. The first pastor, Father W.V. Fitzgerald, lived in the basement. Later on, homes in the area were purchased for the Sisters and for the pastor, too.

One item in the diocesan archives from the school’s early years told how the first and second graders, whose classrooms were located right behind the church, were bribed to be quiet when there was a funeral Mass or other important prayer service. They also learned that the bigger the event, the bigger the bribe!

The building’s formal entrance was on the west side with the double entry doors located at the top of a series of a steps. When people entered, they were on the second floor where the church proper was situated. These doors are kept locked now and entry to the school is on the north side of the building.

The school building has undergone a couple of renovations. The first was in 1923 when it was enlarged under the late Father (later Bishop) John Condon. In 1972, the three parishes combined their schools, with grades K-4 attending at Sacred Heart and grades 5-8 at St. Augustine. That’s when the schools were named for Father Cataldo, the Jesuit pioneer in the area.

In 1984, the school populations were again joined, with everyone attending classes at the St. Augustine site. The school continued to be called Cataldo in honor of the Jesuit who so faithfully promoted education a century earlier.

Like any modern school, Cataldo is a lively, colorful place. At the moment, a huge poster with cut-outs of children’s hands adorns the bulletin board at the west entry, promoting peace in the world, along with peace in families and in the school. Because of Catholic Schools Week, students had decorated various areas of the school’s hallways with depictions of the 10 Commandments, the seven virtues, the sacraments and saints.

Dick Pelkie has been principal at Cataldo for nine years. “It’s fun to be here,” he said, but recognized that his staff, teachers and parents work very hard. One of his joys is how the parents support the school. “If I say I need something, it magically shows up,” he said.

Another fun thing is his daily welcome. Pelkie stands outside the school each morning directing traffic and greeting everyone as they come to school.

But there’s more. “We’ve been blessed with very supportive pastors,” Pelkie said. Pastors of the school’s three parishes, Msgr. Robert Pearson at St. Augustine, Msgr. James Ribble at the Cathedral and Father Mark Pautler at Sacred Heart, have a list of subjects that they can teach to students, choosing dates from a sign-up sheet to come to school. “They like to visit the kids,” he said. Further, he said, “They’re there when we need them.”

Parents show their support for the school in many ways, but fund-raising is at the top of the list. There are three major fund-raising events for the school. One is a gala auction, the second is the magazine sale, and the third is the annual giving campaign. An additional program, Scrip, also brings in financial assistance. A fourth event is being added this year when Cataldo dads put on a family auction in May.

One of those Cataldo dads is Bob Schmidlkofer, who graduated from the school himself in 1978. His son, Kyle, will graduate this year. A younger son, Shane, is in the fifth grade. Schmidlkofer is one of the school’s biggest boosters: “I like everything about it. I’m proud of Cataldo. It’s a very positive thing.”

What makes the school positive for Schmidlkofer is, first of all, “having great parents” there. It’s a good environment in which people share the same values, he said, and have the “same goal in mind.”

Eileen Ayersman, another parent, sees strength in both the religious and academic areas of Cataldo. “The number one priority for our family is faith formation and Cataldo has certainly done that for our children.”

Ayersman also likes the “very strong, very solid, academic foundation” at the school. She praised the integrated math program, in which math is incorporated into classes across the curriculum. For instance, students have to write out math problems and explain their answers, adding an element of language skills.

Cataldo math students take part in the annual “Math is Cool” competition held at Lewis and Clark High School in downtown Spokane. Last year the seventh grade team competed on the state level.

“The wonderful community of teachers” is another pillar of the school’s academic strength, said Ayersman. “They like to work together. They are a solid foundation for the school.”

In another area, the school’s parents put together a six-week art enrichment program each year in which the different grade levels study different artists. At the end of the six weeks, there is a huge art display which, last year, was shown at River Park Square. “It’s outstanding,” Ayersman said.

But Ayersman also finds valuable the way the school “respects the parent as the primary educator. They have a very respectful way of dealing with that,” she said. “We’ve been really happy with Cataldo.”

Nancy Brophy’s youngest child will graduate from eighth grade this year. She sees the school as “a building block for high school and to be ready for college.” Also, she said, teachers not only provide a “rigorous academic program, they also pay attention to faith and service to others.”

She said her family looked at many choices for educating their children and when they investigated Cataldo, “I felt at home right away. It’s such a wonderful, warm caring environment. It’s been a good match.”

(Some information for this article came from Nostalgia Magazine, April 2001.)

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