The inaugural Soles for Catholic Education Walk provided a unique fundraising opportunity for thousands of staff members, students and families from across the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to offset tuition costs at their schools. 
But the walk, held Saturday, Nov. 2 at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, was about more than just dollars and cents. It was about celebration, pride and – fittingly – soul.

“Anything we can do to celebrate who we are, to celebrate our identity, has a really positive effect on all of us,” Archbishop Jerome Listecki told your Catholic Herald. “It really makes a statement about who we are as Catholics; it makes a statement about our contribution; and it makes a statement about our willingness to continue being present in a really significant way.”

Though the early morning was unsurprisingly chilly and occasionally rainy, enthusiasm was high as more than 7,000 people poured onto the Mount Mary campus, many arriving in groups shepherded by banner-wielding principals.  

The Soles for Catholic Education Walk has been in the planning for more than a year and began as a way to increase buzz about archdiocesan schools, in which more than 30,000 students are enrolled for the 2013-2014 school year.

“We’re just so grateful that everyone’s come together. We’re very pleased by the turnout,” said Julie Wolf, communications director for the archdiocese and through whose office the event was marketed. “This truly will be a celebration of that and hopefully it will raise awareness to the broader community about the impact of Catholic education here in our community.”
She added that she “has her fingers crossed” the event will be held again next year.

More than $322,000 was raised by participants, who had the option of placing funds raised from the walk back into their own tuition assistance accounts or using it for marketing. All money raised by a school through the walk remains with that school.

The walk was chaired by the Stollenwerk family, which includes former Allen Edmonds CEO John Sr. and his wife Jo Ellen, as well as the couple’s son, John Jr., his wife Mary and their five young sons Johnny, Edward, James, Peter and Paul.

“I’m quite amazed by it; the amount of support is spectacular – just look at all the people walking in – and it’s all for one purpose: Catholic schools. It’s great to see that,” said John Stollenwerk Jr.

He continued, “It’s good to be able to lend your voice. I am – along with Mary, my wife – we’ve attended Catholic schools, we’ve got kids in the Catholic schools, so we want to just be able to tell other people about the good work that Catholic schools do. We’re honored to be a part of it.”

The event drew a few local celebrities: Gene Mueller of 620 WTMJ was the emcee, and mascots from the Milwaukee Wave and the Milwaukee Admirals were in attendance, along with the Brewers Racing Sausages.

“Archbishop Listecki told me that he knew where he was in the pecking order, because everyone wanted his picture … until the Racing Sausages showed up,” said Mueller.  

John Stollenwerk Sr. got a big laugh when he reassured the crowd that the event was well-sponsored.  

“We’re all covered – if you feel hungry, we’ve got Cousins Subs over here. If you feel weak, Wheaton Franciscan. And if you feel like you’re dying, Catholic (Financial) Life!”

Archbishop Listecki came ready to walk with red Chuck Taylor high-tops and a special cheesehead zucchetto. He said the event was a great way to emphasize the “holistic” approach of Catholic education.

“It looks at embodying education within the sense of virtue. Knowledge only takes root if it’s formulated and given as a tool in a person who basically is good, with a vision to serve the common good,” he said. “So when you have a holistic approach, whether you’re in English or math or religion or science, it all serves one particular purpose.”

Melodie Wyttenbach, interim president of Nativity Jesuit Middle School, agreed. Nativity raised $44,335, more than any other participating school, and Wyttenbach said it was due to donors’ strong belief in the mission of the school.

“Catholic education is really about more than just academics,” she said. “It’s about character development and really integrates the faith element into our schools.”

She felt the walk “just really promotes us in a different light.”

“I think that there is just so much conversation today about educational reform and Catholic schools have kind of been very foundational to quality education, so I think that just really promotes the place that we have in the larger conversation here in Milwaukee,” Wyttenbach said.

Nativity’s Jesuit roots and largely Latino student body, she said, help to “highlight all the good things that are happening in our Catholic world.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Jackie Lichter, principal at Kenosha’s All Saints Catholic School.

“I think good things are happening in our schools,” she said. “People are going back to that Catholic mission, wanting the values that are so foundational to who we are. I think a lot of what’s happening in our world – some of the unrest and the violence has been unsettling, and people want their children in a place where they feel they’re safe, they’re learning.”

All Saints opened in 2011 with 450 students;  this year ‘s enrollment is 580. The walk’s mission, said Lichter, underscored the success seen by All Saints.

“In our case, there’s a real sense of ‘we’re one, we’re a community together, we’re a family,’ and there’s pride in being part of All Saints Catholic School. It’s almost like a little fever in Kenosha – there’s All Saints stickers everywhere and people are wearing their spirit wear,” she said.

All Saints brought a contingent of approximately 100 walkers, despite having to compete with the Seton Volleyball Tournament and the Women of Christ Conference.

Christ King School, Wauwatosa, with 636 participants, was awarded the traveling trophy and a plaque for having the highest percentage of participation.

For Patti Keller, second-grade teacher at Northwest Catholic, Milwaukee, Soles for Catholic Education was about more than just the good work being done at present; it was also a day to commemorate Catholic schools’ rich heritage. Keller and friend Karen Zitelow walked with a large banner memorializing the life of Mary Lorusso, principal at Northwest Catholic (formerly St. Bernadette’s) for 40 years before she died on Nov. 2, 2009.

“I had Mary as a principal when I was a kid,” said Zitelow, who now teaches at St. Thomas Aquinas Academy. “I went to St. Bernadette’s and she was my teacher, and then my principal.”

“It’s so nice that we’re doing this on the anniversary of her death because she was with St. Bernadette’s for 40 years. It was a very unexpected death and it hit everyone really hard,” said Keller.

The archdiocese’s 14 Catholic high schools sponsored “tweet & treat” stops along the two-mile walk. Walkers picked up refreshments and tweeted photos of themselves – often posing with Archbishop Listecki – tagged with the hashtag #catholicschoolswalk. Marquette alum Jim Love (@jim_m_love) summed up the day with this tweet: “I think I just gave 7,000 high fives.” Colleen Jurkiewicz