By Casey Bassett
We’re at a pivotal moment in the history of the Church.
Future generations might well look back on this time and say, “Bold men and women with expectant faith raised their heads from the drumbeat of decline and began living their faith. Roused by their love for God, they became instruments of God’s will in the vibrant renewal of our diocese.”
For many, this might seem like wishful thinking—a nicety meant to instill some temporary hope. But the tell-tale signs of this renewal are happening right before our eyes if we only know where to look.
St. Thomas More Parish in Brookings is home to one of the only traditional private schools in the area and certainly the only Catholic one.
“We’re the only private option in Brookings that is traditional in the sense that we have a single teacher for each grade level,” said Meghan Kelly, principal of St. Thomas More Catholic School.
Meghan has been involved with the school since 2005, but it wasn’t until 2017 that a kindergarten class was finally added to the long-standing preschool. Then, every year after that, a grade was added up to grade three.
Prospects for students after completing grade three usually meant a transition to public school. Inevitably, this meant losing the rich experience of Catholic life during the school days that often included adoration and daily Mass.
In the midst of ideological conflict and disturbances to traditional classroom learning that have rocked school systems nationwide, Meghan began to sense a shift in parents’ priorities. “I think we’re seeing a lot of families … longing to have God as a part of their child’s education.”
Meghan didn’t have to go far to find one such parent.
Becoming the instrument of God’s will
Angela Bucholz works as an administrative assistant for St. Thomas More School, but her investment in the school goes beyond her professional role. In the fall of 2022, her daughter started third grade at the school. As soon as the year started, the thought of having to uproot her daughter from the rich Christ-centered education at St. Thomas More was constantly on Angela’s mind.
“I started panicking from day one,” said Angela. “I had a lot on my plate as a mom and just trying to figure out what was best for her.”
What seemed best was to keep her daughter at St. Thomas More beyond third grade. When the thought of trying to add a fourth grade in time for the 2023-2024 school year entered Angela’s thoughts, she knew it would take a miracle.
Adding grades to Catholic schools is no easy task. In fact, it typically takes years to raise the funds and acquire the necessary approvals for just a single grade to be added. And so, she turned to the only one who could help.
“During adoration, I was just begging God: ‘What do I do?’” said Angela. “I very clearly heard the Lord speak to me, ‘Why don’t you stop doing and let me do it. Let me show you the strength of my arm.’”
From that moment on, God took Angela’s panic and worry and replaced it with bold, expectant faith. She began openly praying for a miracle at staff prayer and sharing her vision of adding a fourth grade with nearly everyone she encountered.
At the urging of Father Terry Anderson, and with the full support of Evan Baumberger, the parish’s director of discipleship and evangelization, Angela began attending parish council and school advisory meetings.
“There was well-founded hesitation in all these groups,” said Angela. “I went in with a plan. I laid my heart out.”
One concern that quickly came up was whether or not the school had adequate facilities to support more grades.
“Luxury is not necessity,” said Angela. “We think we need luxury—we’ll have this beautiful luxurious thing laid out and then we can go in. These kids need Christ. Why would we send them away when we could make something work?”
When questions about funding an additional teacher came up, parishioners and donors answered at the annual gala.
“They blew fundraising out of the water,” Angela recalled. “Our parishioners and donors are extremely generous here.”
And then there was the question of finding a new teacher in time. Angela recalled meeting someone and being inspired by the Holy Spirit. “I’m going to offer Mass so that this person can be our fourth-grade teacher.”
Shortly thereafter, that very person accepted the position.
As the weeks passed and a once seemingly impossible feat began to look more likely, Meghan recalled seeing the miracle unfold.
“Every hurdle our humanness threw out in front of us was just gone,” Meghan said. “Every group that needed to approve it to go to the next level approved it.”
As the end of the 2022-2023 school year approached, the final approvals were secured and, with the blessing of Bishop DeGrood, a dream that began in March became a reality. The first fourth-grade class at St. Thomas More will begin in the fall of 2023. As soon as it was announced, the class was nearly full.
“The only person who could have done this was God,” said Angela. “Only the Holy Spirit can change hearts so drastically in such a short amount of time.”
As if this wasn’t enough of a miracle, a fifth-grade class will be added starting in the fall of 2024. This will provide an easier transition for the children into middle school elsewhere.
“Yes, pray for a miracle,” Angela explained, “but expect God to fulfill that in a bigger way than you could ever imagine.”
And Angela was not shy about the future.
“My goal,” said Angla confidently, “is K-12.”
Turning our heads
While the world works tirelessly to keep our attention on the gloom of decline, God is multiplying loaves and fishes in our midst. Whatsmore, he is transfiguring the supposed inevitable decline around us into a vibrant future.
The miracles we read about in Scripture are not abstractions, nor are they singular events. They still occur today. We do not see them if we remain chained to the world. But, for those who turn from the world and choose to live their faith fervently, God will make them instruments of his will in the great renewal of our diocese and the Church.