For the Teofilo family, raising their kids to be successful adults and mindful Christians is based upon two things: trust and faith.
“We don’t have a magic potion and we’re not rocket scientists,” said Bob Teofilo. “We just trust God.”
Bob and his wife, Kathy Teofilo, are the parents of nine children, all of whom attend or have graduated from St. Mary’s Springs Academy, Fond du Lac. The Teofilos are a blended family with an unusual history – in fact, one could argue that it was Catholic education that brought them together.
Or, as Bob says: “God nudged us together.”
It was September 1996 when Bob and his late first wife Mary were moving their family from Kewaskum back to their native Fond du Lac area. Their youngest daughter Valentina was set to begin kindergarten the next week at St. Mary School, Eden – in the same class as Justin Nett, the son of then-single mom Kathy.
It just so happened Justin was celebrating his birthday on the day of the move, and Kathy wanted to make sure the new girl in class was included in the party.
“From that day forward, those two became best friends forever,” said Bob of Valentina and Justin.
Another close friendship blossomed as well, between Mary Teofilo and Kathy. And when Mary died of breast cancer in January 2002, Kathy promised her friend that Valentina would always be taken care of. Her word was good – several years later, in October 2004, Kathy became stepmother to Valentina and her four siblings when Bob and Kathy married at St. Michael Church, Mitchell.
Sacrifices worth making
Bob and Mary Teofilo were graduates of St. Mary’s Springs School — Bob in 1969 and Mary in 1972 — and had long before made the decision to send their children there as well. Kathy Teofilo, a 1987 graduate of SMS, had also made that commitment to her children – though as a single mom of four, it certainly wasn’t easy.
“I couldn’t afford to send the kids there at all,” she said. But again, it all came down to trusting God. “You have to just trust. If you make that commitment, you go forward, and you can’t look back … have to have the faith. Faith is the biggest thing that gets you through.”
Through family assistance and financial aid, Kathy sent her oldest son Joshua, now 28, to SMS. But even after her marriage to Bob, it wasn’t easy to pay the tuition. With Bob’s five children (Trisha, 38; Corina, 33; Bridget, 32; Robert, Jr., 31; and Valentina, 24) and Kathy’s four (Joshua Nett, 28; Justin Nett; Jasmyn Nett, 21; and Julianna Nett, 17), it happened three times that the couple had four children in the school at once. “We were writing out $15,000 checks at a time – that’s where the faith comes in,” said Kathy.
But the financial commitment speaks “so clearly” to their children, said Bob.
“You’re looking your own child right in the eye and saying your education, your future, is more important than that new boat,” he said.
Around 30 percent of families at the school receive some form of financial aid and, according to the school’s website, smsacademy.org, the financial aid awarded to qualified participants ranks between $250 and more than $3,000. The school also participates in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.
“Certainly the faith was really important, and there’s no doubt about that, but I think that the values that my parents hoped we would learn in Catholic education were equally important,” said the Teofilos’ daughter, Corina. “Absolutely we knew that it was a financial sacrifice, and that was something that was a part of the conversation – that there are certain things that are worth sacrificing for.”
It’s a sacrifice that Bob was not unfamiliar with. Now an investment broker and financial advisor at Annex Wealth Management in Milwaukee, he came from a family of 12 children born to Italian immigrants who had “very strong feelings about Catholic education.”
“Growing up, we all looked forward to going to St. Mary’s Springs, but the reality was we knew we had to pay our own way,” he said.
Bob had a paper route starting at the age of 7 and later worked as a caddy at a local country club, an ice rink supervisor and a busboy – “whatever it took. I always had the positive outlook that I knew this was going to be for the best.”
The Teofilos say that they are most pleased with the holistic education SMS offers, as well as the encouragement of volunteerism and the staff’s personal investment in their students.
“We have a dear friend, who actually happens to be atheist, who sent his children to St. Mary’s Springs,” said Bob. “Simply because, in his words, ‘Catholic education made them better people.’”
It is precisely that reason that the Corina Teofilo Mattson has chosen to send her three children to Catholic school. Now a marriage and family therapist in Chicago, the graduate of the University of Minnesota says she decided on a local Catholic school for her children because “it has a system of values I can really get behind … treating people well, and being kind to others.”
‘Proof is in the pudding’
Involvement in their children’s education was always important to the Teofilos. Bob calls it “the single key element that I think is crucial to the success of Catholic schools.”
Now that most of their children are adults, with seven having graduated from college (six from Catholic universities), Kathy said that as far as Catholic education goes, “the proof is in the pudding.”
“It just goes to show you that you invest in your children and your children take their life seriously,” she said. “You want to raise successful adults someday, and investing in their lives makes that happen.”