Catholic Memorial High School (CMH) celebrated its 65th anniversary last October with an all-school reunion where alumni, current and alumni parents, past and present faculty and staff, and friends were invited to commemorate the school’s history.
In the early 1920s, parishioners of St. Joseph Parish in Waukesha recognized a need for Catholic education in the area. They raised money for the effort and collected $10,000 to build a high school.
The church protected the money through World War I, but after World War II, the parishioners were divided as to how the money should be spent. More than 100 Waukesha County residents died in the war, and many members of the parish wanted to build a war memorial in their honor.
Milwaukee Archbishop Moses E. Kiley intervened. After listening to both sides, he decided to build the high school as a living memorial to the 23 parishioners of St. Joseph who lost their lives fighting in World War II.
The school opened in 1949 with 97 freshmen. By the time it became an archdiocesan Catholic high school for Waukesha County parishes in 1959, the number of students had grown to more than 500. Today, enrollment is 664.
For over 50 years, Franciscan sisters taught students with the values CMH stands for. In 2002, the last of the sisters left the school to today’s board of directors.
“In the last few years, we sought to emphasize the memorial to fallen servicemen,” said Fr. Paul Hartmann, CMH president. “For a long time, the school was blessed with Franciscan priests and sisters. They were our inspiring stories. So now we look at what can inspire action and focus on our founding principles – the willingness to be a good citizen and impact members of the community.”
The school continues to stand as a memorial in honor of all those at St. Joseph Parish as well as all CMH alumni who have died in service.
“It is something vivid that kids can latch onto quickly,” said Fr. Hartmann. “There is also a depth that you can learn more about and study. We tell the stories.”
After a former sports editor of the Waukesha Freeman used the name “Crusaders” for Catholic Memorial students, the Crusaders became the school’s mascot for sports teams as a reminder of the school’s part as a living memorial.
One of the missions Catholic Memorial has maintained throughout the years is education of the whole person, guiding students with strong educational practices and a solid Catholic foundation, according to principal Robert Hall.
“CMH believes that spiritual, intellectual and faith formation of our students is essential for all students so they can fully serve the world and church,” said Hall. “With a commitment to growth in academics, social engagement, leadership and service, all students grow in their understanding of disciples of Jesus Christ so our students are good stewards of God’s gifts.”
In the classroom, Catholic Memorial teaches the values of faith, trust, respect, inclusiveness, professionalism, excellence, and “caritas in omnibus” (charity in all things), among others.
“Plenty of schools do plenty of things,” said Fr. Hartmann. “We add the level of academic and spiritual reflection. There is their own encouragement to develop the project. I think when we press them, it’s not just the few ‘feel good’ moments, it’s actually developing it and following through, learning. They bring it with them to college, their parish, the community; it fits in the greater picture. It’s not just checking off hours on a form.”
In participating in these spiritual reflections and acts of service, Fr. Hartmann described a CMH student mindset called the “Memorial Way.” The Memorial Way is all about living out the school’s motto, “caritas in omnibus.”
Six years ago, the board of directors discussed the possibility of issuing a service requirement in the school’s curriculum. However, they decided not to impose a service requirement or delineate a certain number of hours the students must accomplish.
Even so, more than 95 percent of the students participate in service activities, demonstrating the essence of the Memorial Way.
“To our students, offering hours of service to the community is an everyday thing,” said Fr. Hartmann. “And that is the Memorial Way.”
Every school team and club partakes in a service project. The football team, for example, participates in Coats for Kids, providing new winter coats to children in need, and the basketball team hosts a Special Olympics basketball tournament.
“We want service hours to be an educational, formative and leadership experience,” said Fr. Hartmann.
Students are encouraged to live out the school motto on a daily basis.
“Our students are tremendous examples of Caritas in Omnibus in so many ways, but my absolute favorite day this (school) year was the day before Thanksgiving,” said Monica Fleming, director of alumni relations. “We had our first ‘Crusader Day of Service.’“
On Nov. 27, 2014, more than 550 students and faculty joined to offer their time to the community. Students participated in a range of service projects, including baking pies and cooking turkeys for the annual Thanksgiving dinner CMH hosts for the Waukesha community, writing letters to veterans, making rosaries, making blankets for patients at Children’s Hospital, and collecting for Teens for Jeans.
“It was a day that encompassed all of our values and we see this day in and day out with the many service activities our students participate in,” said Fleming.
Former students play a major role in upholding and modeling the mission of Catholic Memorial, through their financial support and through their dedication to the current students.
The staff consists of 12 alumni, including Fr. Hartmann (Class of ‘84). Ten members of the board of directors are alumni, including board chair William West (‘79). These alumni serve as models of the character for the students.
“The alumni continue to share the traditions and values that were present during their time at CMH while contributing to many of our new ones,” said Fleming.
Many other alumni serve as coaches and moderators for the students, offering their time to helping students develop professional portfolios, conducting online interviews and more.
“More recently, our alumni have been coming back into the building to share with our students how Catholic Memorial has laid the foundation for their current career paths,” said Fleming.
Today, CMH is highly commended as an International Baccalaureate program (IB) school, where juniors and seniors earn college credits after passing IB exams.Furthermore, the school was recognized by the Catholic Education Honor Roll as one of 2014’s Schools of Excellence. Less than 5 percent of Catholic high schools in the United States receive this honor.
“When we look at our competition — public schools, private schools and other Catholic high schools — we think our tradition, values and geography are unique,” said Fr. Hartmann. “We offer a combination of programs and we believe deeply that those are what set us apart and make us unique.”