HALES CORNERS — There was no question in the minds of Lisa and her husband, the late Jim Ryan, about where their four children would attend elementary school. They both attended Catholic schools in Chicago, eventually meeting at Marquette University where they both were students.

Ana Ryan, front row, left to right, Lauren Ryan, Avery Ryan, Lorenzo Pluer and John Ryan, and back row, Sarah and Joe Pfeifer, are among the second generations of students attending St. Mary School, Hales Corners. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)

“We believe in a strong, Christian, Catholic foundation and we really felt it was important to develop, especially when younger, and to have that connection to church and community,” said Lisa. “We believed in Catholic education to give them a good moral compass, to help them cope with whatever life hands them and since we were both involved in social justice, we wanted our kids to understand the opportunities for volunteering.”

Jim and Lisa’s four children, Jim, Kristin, John and Katie attended St. Mary Parish School, in Hales Corners and through their education, the school and the parish became an extension of their family symbolically and literally.

As the Ryan children grew, married and had their own children, each of them made the decision to move back to Hales Corners and send them to St. Mary Parish School.

“We have 10 grandkids, ages 14 to 3 and we have one, Leo, who moved to the Greendale District, but he attended St. Mary for K3 to K5. Two of our grandchildren are now in Georgia, but seven of them attend St. Mary’s,” said Lisa.

Kristen Pfeifer graduated from St. Mary in 1985. Her eldest daughter, Emma, graduated last June; Sarah is in seventh grade and Joseph in fifth. She believes in St. Mary Parish School, because of the supportive community and the teaching staff.

“The teachers are wonderful. They care and encourage each and every student,” she said. “A Catholic education is important, because to me, it teaches my child the importance of faith and community. My children have been involved in service projects that help them understand the importance of giving of yourself and helping others.”

Immersing her children in a Catholic education is also important to Kristin because her children learn about faith and community.

“The friendship and support of the community which we have been part of, has gotten us through difficult times and celebrated joyful times. We pray every day about how thankful we are to be part of St. Mary’s. In enriches our lives daily,” said Kristen.

While Catholic education is more expensive than sending children through the public-school system, they are dollars well spent, she said.

“We spend the money to send our kids to Catholic school, not only for academics, but to help them make good choices in life,” she explained. “It’s amazing that my fifth grader is collecting items for a women’s shelter and that he understands the importance of that.”

At St. Mary, each of the grades, K3 through eighth, partner with a community service organization and work together throughout the year, giving back.

Kristin’s older brother Jim, attended St. Mary from 1975 through 1983. The friendships he made have spanned the decades and he remains best friends today with many of his grade school classmates.

“I loved the school and had great teachers,” he said. “I feel it is important to have faith and a guiding principle to live your life by.”

Jim and his wife, Jenny, a K3 assistant teacher at St. Mary, send their children, Ana and Avery, to St. Mary for the sense of community, a connection to their school and for the great education.

“Their education will be the foundation for high school and college,” he said. It is great to have my nieces and nephews attending the same school as I did. It is great for my kids too – they love seeing their cousins in the hallways and at recess.”

Jim added that St. Mary has given his family, an increased sense of community.

“We have built great friendships with other families who share our same values,” he said. “I love coaching both of my daughters’ soccer teams. It gives me a chance to know the kids in their classes and teach them about sportsmanship and how to be a good teammate.”

According to Mary Pat Rick, St. Mary marketing committee volunteer, there are several families enrolled where adult siblings are sending their children to the school they attended as children. She has begun work on a case study on the generational commitment to Catholic education.

“I think this is a testament to how important a Catholic education is to the entire extended family,” she said.

While eighth grade teacher, Mary Wackman has only taught one generation at St. Mary, she has worked with three generations in the school community.

“During my 12 years as a teacher and 10 before that as a parent, I have seen the positive impact of multi-generational school and parish involvement,” she said. “Grandparents and parents whose eighth grade graduation pictures hang in our hallway continue to be a part of our school community. They are volunteers in athletics, classroom centers, the lunchroom, the playground and more. I have had many cousins in the same grade and even in the same class. There is a commitment to St. Mary, among many of our families, that spans the generations,” said Wackman.

When she moved to the area in 1996, she and her husband were impressed with the generational loyalty to St. Mary Parish and the school.

“My sons graduated from St. Mary and now I teach full time here,” she said, adding, “I would be proud and delighted to have any future grandchildren attend St. Mary’s as well.”

The annual school open house has presented fifth grade literature, language arts and religion teacher, Mariterese LaBissoniere with many surprises over the past six years.

“I see parents whom I taught and meet their children who will spend the school year with me,” she said. “It is a joy and a blessing to reconnect with former students, catch up on their lives and learn about their new chapter of being parents. This community of generations is very faith filled and they want their children to experience the high quality of education that they received in the warm and caring environment that St. Mary’s can offer. They are very devoted to the school and parish and volunteer often. It is a privilege to pass on my faith again to their children.”

When Lisa Ryan is not volunteering at the school or the parish in a variety of ministerial capacities, she babysits some of her grandchildren and is often in front of the school, dropping off or picking up one of the children.

“It is amazing go there and see the number of parents that graduated from the school dropping off or picking up their children,” she said, laughing, “Here I am waiting with the very parents who used to be classmates of my children.”