Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Guardian Angel-St. Boniface School serves two parish communities
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the June 8, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
Singing practice at Guardian Angel-St. Boniface School: In the back row, from left, are Royce Grassl, Josh Straughan, and Joe Faerber; in the front row, Dustin Devorak, Sara Papendirk, Grace Druffel, Meaghan Heitstuman, and Zach Devorak. The teacher is Kathy Wolf. (IR photo)
Perhaps some Catholics in today’s generation of great-grandparents remember when it wasn’t unusual for parish schools to be tuition-free. The selfless generosity of parents, parishioners, and Religious women and men made this possible for many years, until the realities of modern economics rendered the tuition-free Catholic school largely a thing of the past.
Still, some Catholic schools remained tuition-free longer than others. As recently as three years ago, Guardian Angel-St. Boniface School, in Colton, Wash., was the only Catholic school in the Diocese of Spokane that still opened its doors each autumn with no need to collect tuition from the parents of its students.
Three years ago, however, parents and school administrators saw the writing on the wall and reluctantly announced that families would need to pay for their children’s Catholic school education – but not much. All the same, as with every Catholic school in the diocese, no child would be turned away for lack of ability to pay tuition.
Guardian Angel-St. Boniface’s 51 students, in grades one through eight, continue into the 21st century a Catholic school tradition in rural southeast Washington’s Colton and Uniontown area that goes back to 1886. That year, a Benedictine nun arrived in Uniontown. She came from Switzerland via St. Gertrude Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho, to staff a convent school at St. Boniface Parish. From here on, the story of today’s Guardian Angel-St. Boniface School is the story of two schools that later became one.
For two years, only boarding students attended the convent school at St. Boniface. The Catholic children of Uniontown attended the local public school, but the teacher was a Sister Rosalie. When a new pastor arrived at St. Boniface, he frowned on the idea of a nun teaching in a public school, so he directed all Catholic parents to send their children to the convent school attended previously only by boarding students. In 1892, increased enrollment led to the construction of an addition to the original convent school building.
In 1894, however, the Benedictine nuns moved from Uniontown to Colton, so the parish school closed temporarily. The pastor of Uniontown’s St. Boniface Parish, Father John Faust (d. 1932), invited the Sisters of the Divine Savior, based in Milwaukee, Wis., to staff St. Boniface School. That arrangement that continued until 1911, when a subsequent pastor, Father William Metz (d. 1938), welcomed the Sisters of St. Francis – which Franciscan community they were from is uncertain – to the school where 80 pupils were registered that September.
By 1928, St. Boniface School in Uniontown registered 130 students on both the elementary and high school levels. Another change in the staffing of the school occurred in 1932 when the Sisters of the Holy Names, from Marylhurst, Ore., took over and remained there through the construction of a new school in 1959, and many years thereafter.
Closely paralleling the saga of St. Boniface School in Uniontown was that of Guardian Angel School in Colton, just three miles from Uniontown, which was attached to St. Gall Parish there. In 1893, the school that would later become Guardian Angel School opened in a one-room brick building. A large three-story building was completed the following year. The new building included space for a convent, a chapel, a dormitory for girls, and several classrooms.
A second two-story frame building went up nearby, providing housing space for the pastor, Father James Frei (d. 1922), a boys’ dormitory, and more classrooms. In 1902, a high school program began, and 10 years later a four-year Catholic high school came into existence.
The final class from this school graduated in 1931, and at this time, too, the Benedictine Sisters from Cottonwood, Idaho, returned to their monastery, although some of the Sisters continued to teach in the school until 1937, when the Notre Dame Sisters purchased the school.
In 1948, the Notre Dame Sisters opened Notre Dame Academy, a secondary school for girls. This girls’ high school remained in existence until 1960, when it closed due to fire safety risks and the prohibitive cost of renovation or rebuilding.
In 1917, St. Gall Parish put up a new, two-story building for Guardian Angel School, with the old building being converted into a gym which served until the 1930s. The current brick school building, which now houses Guardian Angel-St. Boniface School, was constructed in 1961, along with a new convent. At that time the 1917 building was demolished. The School Sisters of Notre Dame taught at Guardian Angel School until 1994, when the last Sister left. After that the school was ably staffed by lay teachers and principals.
Due to rising costs and to utilize resources more efficiently, in 1968 Guardian Angel School in Colton and St. Boniface School in Uniontown consolidated. The new school would utilize the former Guardian Angel facilities in Colton.
Since 2004, the pastor for both St. Boniface and St. Gall parishes has been Father Edward Marier.
“With these parishes,” Father Marier says, “the school and the parishes are highly connected together. Catholic education has been in this area for more than 100 years, and the parishes and the schools go hand-in-hand. The people in the parishes are so involved in the school, and the people in the school are so involved in the parishes. It’s not like other places. It’s a unique situation.
“I’m here at the school about every school day,” Father Marier adds with a chuckle; “they probably get tired of me.”
The principal of Guardian Angel-St. Boniface School is Guy Pitzer, in his fourth year of what is, in fact, a part-time position. He also works part-time for Washington State University’s Education Department as a field placement and student teaching supervisor.
About seven years ago, he and his wife moved from the west side of Washington State after many years in public education. “We live in Colton,” Pitzer explains. “I said I’d do this for a year or two and now it’s going to be my fifth year.”
Pitzer has an extensive personal history in Catholic education. He attended Catholic schools on the state’s west side through grade school and high school.
“What makes this school uniquely special,” Pitzer observes, “is how fervent people are to the tradition of Catholic faith here. Other parishes may say that, too, but these communities really grasp onto their traditions. Since 1893 they’ve had Catholic schools here in this area, and they just won’t let go, which is good. So there is that level of commitment to Catholic education. Even though the population in both of these communities is decreasing, there is still a lot of commitment to the faith.”
Amy and Tony Chadwick’s two children attend Guardian Angel-St. Boniface. Amy herself graduated from the school in 1983. Her parents’ roots are in the school as well, one having attended the old Guardian Angel School in Colton, the other St. Boniface School in Uniontown.
Chadwick says that she and her husband send their two children a boy in 1st grade, a girl in 3rd grade – to Guardian Angel-St. Boniface because “it’s so individualized, and I just can’t believe how they challenge the students. The teachers look at what the kids should be learning, and what their learning ability is, and go from there. Also, the Catholic environment is absolutely important to us. My kids just love the weekly Mass on Friday. They come home talking about Friday Mass. It’s fun, it’s at their level, and Father Ed does a wonderful job. I think we have the best kept secret in the diocese because the school is small, and our tuition is so low. Spokane people would just die if they knew how little we pay.”
Veterinarian Liz Davies and her husband, Brian Davies, are also Guardian Angel-St. Boniface parents. They have one student in 8th grade, another in 2nd grade.
“We send our kids to Guardian Angel-St. Boniface,” Dr. Davies says, “because they get a very strong academic background; the teachers demand more of the children, and they get what they demand because they expect that.
“Also, they teach the whole child,” she said. “The kids can learn math, science, English, religion, all in one subject area because the teachers are capable of tying that all together. They go to Mass each Friday together, and there’s a mutual respect between the kids, and the teachers, and any volunteers or parents who happen to be there. If you go into the school, you will definitely feel that aura of respect and care, and I like my kids being in an environment where they are treated that way and they learn to treat others that way. You just have to bring your child there one day and it will make a believer out of you.”
A unique characteristic of the Colton-Uniontown school is what Pitzer describes as “the wonderful cooperative relationship we have with the public school. The Colton and Uniontown communities are so Catholic-oriented that the influence in the public school is unlike anything you see in any other public school – and trust me, after working in 30-plus years I know what I’m talking about.
“The things that go on in the public schools that are positive and cooperative and help kids, are noteworthy,” Pitzer said. “The people in the public schools here don’t worry, ‘Oh, that’s too much of a Catholic connection.’ We have a great relationship when it comes to transportation, cooperative programs, extracurriculars, special services, all kinds of things. Our 7th and 8th grades go over to the public school at 12:40 p.m., as part of their regular program, for science, P.E., and elective. Our 5th and 6th grades go over for band. They just walk over there. That’s why our school mascot name is ‘The Road Runners.’ The kids chose that because we’re often on the road, back and forth. That’s a unique connection, and I know Spokane doesn’t have that. And we have to have it to exist. The public schools superintendent and I are good professional colleagues, and we need them and they need us. So we work together.”
Guardian Angel-St. Boniface School includes grades one through eight. Since Pitzer came on board as principal, enrollment has increased from about 38 to its present 51 students. “We’ve grown a little bit,” he says, “and we have two grades in each classroom. We’re really fortunate, being so close to WSU, because we have highly qualified staff. We’re able to attract excellent teachers, from the universities here, whose spouses are either working or attending grad school. We have four fulltime teachers, and we have the music teacher who works part-time and the physical education teacher who works part-time.”
Above all, he says, he is grateful for all the many people who support Guardian Angel-St. Boniface School.