For parents, choosing a high school for their children is a big decision. While there are 13 Catholic high schools within southeastern Wisconsin from which to choose, some parents of young sons choose a more extensive option: the residential St. Lawrence Seminary High School, Mount Calvary.

Founded in 1860 by Capuchin Franciscans, St. Lawrence Seminary is a community and institution that exists to promote, foster and live principles proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and articulated in the Roman Catholic Church.

While the school is what was traditionally termed a “minor” seminary – meaning that its mission is to provide an opportunity for young Catholic men in high school to lay a foundation on which they can build a life of ministry in the Catholic Church – not all of the men who attend become priests or brothers. Many choose other ways of serving within the church as lay people.

School is family tradition

Andy Sprosty, a retired accountant who belongs to Holy Spirit Parish, Kimberly, in the Green Bay Diocese, is the father of eight grown children and 21 grandchildren, and was introduced to the school when his son Tim was in grade school. One of the priests serving in the school visited Tim’s 8th grade Sheboygan classroom during the early 1970s, and made an impression on Tim and his family when he visited them later that day.

“He came to the house and invited us to go over to look (at St. Lawrence), and so we did,” he explained. “We got to know the Capuchins, and the rest, they say, is history.” After visiting the campus and meeting teachers, his son Tim was more than excited to attend the school for his freshman year. While Tim was convinced it was a good choice, Sprosty and his wife, Avis, weren’t as convinced.

“He said, ‘I have a paper route, I’m going to pay half,’” Sprosty laughed about his son’s eagerness to attend the school. While they were hesitant to send their son to school away from home, “We felt that we were very fortunate in that it was only 32 miles from Sheboygan. At least it wasn’t something on the other side of the country.”

While they missed Tim, they also understood how formative those years would be for him, so they made it a point not to take him home every Sunday as the school generally allows. This allowed him to blaze his own trail at the school academically and socially, Sprosty explained.

“Before his first semester was out, we decided that it was a very good choice,” he said. “That there were a very fine bunch of educators out there, and we always maintained that. Those guys really kept the boys’ whole lives at heart.”

The experience was so good to both son and parents that Tim’s younger brother Mark followed in his footsteps eight years later.

“We see them grow from little boys – eighth graders – to young men at the school,” Sprosty said when asked the ways in which his sons matured during that time. “With all of them, we were very pleased with their social development and the way that, to this day, it’s amazing” how well they all get along together, he said.

Family boasts two St. Lawrence grads

Sam Lucero is the news and information manager at The Compass, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, as well as the father of three children, two of whom graduated from St. Lawrence in 2001 and 2009. For him, it was easy to send his two sons there for high school because of the school’s rich history and tradition. Lucero is the son-in-law of Sprosty, and was familiar with life at St. Lawrence from the stories he heard from his wife’s family.

Although the high cost of attending the school can be a deterrent for some families, Lucero and his wife, Laurie, knew that it would be worth it.

“When you consider the room and board, (and) all those other expenses that people who attend day school don’t incur, the benefactors help pay a lot for the extra costs,” he explained about the many scholarships and financial aid available for students. “It’s comparable to attending a Catholic high school.”

The long distances between parent and child can also be a factor for those who attend St. Lawrence. According to Lucero, however, new technology has helped lessen the distance gap.

“With Dominic, we were able to e-mail him,” he explained about his second son. “They still have you contact the switchboard first, and then they page the student.”

His older son, Joe, was a little harder to get a hold of during his years there, but they still managed to see him often, even though the family was living in Superior when he was a student at St. Lawrence.

“They have parent/teacher conferences, and for sporting activities families are encouraged to attend the sporting events, whether they be basketball or track or baseball,” he explained.

Scandal doesn’t deter family

St. Lawrence Seminary did experience a turbulent time. In 1992 the Milwaukee Journal (now the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) published a series of articles alleging the sexual abuse of students by members of the Capuchin Order. The worst abuse was reported to have been committed by Fr. Gale Leifeld, rector of St. Lawrence from 1977 until 1982.

While Lucero was concerned about the scandal that had taken place years before his sons were enrolled, a number of factors contributed to their ultimate decision to enroll.

“We were comfortable with the way the school handled the situation,” he explained. “We knew that my wife’s (brothers) never had any problems at St. Lawrence. Of course, parents are always concerned about things happening, but we were very comfortable that our boys were in good hands at St. Lawrence.”

“One of the things they really encourage for boys entering St. Lawrence is to act like a young Christian man,” he said. “They have a class for freshmen where they remind them how to be a young Christian man, and that includes showing manners to elders, just simple things that young people nowadays forget to do.”

These simple acts include assisting the elderly, holding doors, and helping their parents at home when they come home on designated weekends.

“There are subtle things that you pick up when your son returns home for breaks,” he said. “You notice the little things that they’re doing to help out around the house … they really instill service to community at St. Lawrence.”

Both Lucero boys attended the University of Notre Dame following graduation from St. Lawrence. Joe completed his bachelor’s degree in 2005 and earned his master’s in education degree from Notre Dame in 2007 and Dominic is finishing his freshman year.

‘This is where my son needs to be’

Joyce and James Sundstrom belong to St. Mark Parish, Kenosha, and their son Andrew is a junior at St. Lawrence. Ever since he was born, they wanted to give him a Catholic education, she said.

“I knew that I couldn’t afford the one here in Kenosha, and Andrew wasn’t so crazy about the school (either), so we were going to settle on a public school,” Joyce explained. All that changed when a recruiter from St. Lawrence visited Andrew’s eighth grade class at St. Mary School, and they attended a parents’ weekend for prospective students.

“We got out of the car at St. Lawrence for our parents’ weekend, and I don’t think we were there a half hour, and my husband looks at me and says, ‘This is where my son needs to be.’”

While being away from him is hard, Joyce is adamant that it is more than worth it.

“People look at you really funny when you say you send your son to boarding school, and they always ask ‘What did he do? Was he naughty or bad?’ and I think they just don’t realize the opportunity.

“It’s so peaceful, and everybody is so nice,” she described the campus. “The boys – and I’m sure they don’t all behave like that at home or all the time – but they know how to behave, which is something so different. It’s values, it’s respect and it’s a sense of community that you don’t get all the time. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I call him every day and I know he doesn’t like it,” she laughed. “It’s a much different life than I had at that age, because he’s on Facebook. I know everything he does before he does it,” she joked. “It’s really not so hard. You don’t know the everyday things like what color socks he’s wearing today. You miss some of the stuff, but I think you’re there for the important stuff.”

St. Lawrence is sons’ choice

Rodger and Nora Brannan live in Duluth, Minn., and their son Michael is a junior at St. Lawrence, and another son, Stephen, graduated from the school in 2007. While it was difficult to send both of them to a residential school that takes seven hours to reach by car, Nora is certain that it was the best choice.

“We did not ‘send’ our sons to St. Lawrence,” she wrote through e-mail with your Catholic Herald. “Rather, we allowed them to choose to go. Each son had his own reasons for wanting to attend.

“Distance magnifies the general concerns and fears parents have for their teens,” she added. “Will my son be physically and morally safe? Will he be bullied by other boys? How will his interests and behavior be influenced by his peers? Will the shadow of the sex abuse scandal in the church touch him in any way?”

While they admit that allowing their first son to enroll there was a “giant leap of faith,” the school’s administration was the ultimate factor in keeping him there.

“(St. Lawrence Seminary) earned our trust throughout the first year. They have a very realistic understanding of boys in the high school years and address their needs in healthy, age-appropriate ways,” she wrote. “All of the years following (Stephen) have been filled with thanksgiving for the wonderful opportunities and experiences our sons have had at (St. Lawrence Seminary).”