ST. FRANCIS — When students, parents, teachers, administrative staff and community supporters gather at Mount Mary University, Saturday, Oct. 15, for the fourth annual Soles for Catholic Education Walk there will be some participants who made an extra effort to be there.
The walk’s kickoff point in Milwaukee is about 60 miles from St. Katharine Drexel School, Beaver Dam, but that doesn’t deter Angela Davis and her family from making the drive every year.
“The staff at our school gets really excited about the walk, and they’re very supportive of it, and because of that we found it easy to get excited,” she said.
She and her husband John tell their three children, two of whom are students at St. Katharine Drexel, “we’re going to go be part of something bigger, diocese-wide – it’s not just a little walk here locally. For us, that’s exciting.”
The contagious enthusiasm of other walk participants reflects what Davis says she feels about Catholic education as a whole. She attended Catholic school through eighth grade in a suburban Detroit school. When the family moved to the Beaver Dam area five years ago, their son, then in kindergarten, was enrolled in public school, a decision with which the family was happy. But a visit to nearby St. Katharine Drexel impressed them.
“It was a Christ-centered environment,” she said.
That emphasis on Christ was something she had valued deeply in her own education.
“Once you get out and you go to a public high school or a public college, it’s nice to have that foundation (in Catholicism). You at least know Jesus in some way,” she said. “I hope that my kids will gain that for when they’re ready to go out into the world because who knows what it’s going to be like when it’s their time? When I look at where the world was when I went to school and where the world could possibly be when they get out, something that has at least stayed the same is (the importance of) having a faith in God.”
‘Kinder, gentler’ children
Elizabeth Lara of St. John XXIII Parish, Port Washington, said her three children are “gentler and kinder because of their Catholic education.” Therefore, it’s no big deal for Lara and her husband, Manny, and their kids, Madeline, Owen and Isabella, to make the 40-mile journey from their home in Belgium to Mount Mary for the walk.[su_pullquote align=”left”]If you go: For more information on the Saturday, Oct. 15 Soles for Catholic Education Walk or to pre-register, visit catholicschoolswalk.org. Day-of registration (with $10 registration fee) at Mount Mary University, 2900 N. Menomonee River Parkway, Milwaukee, will begin at 8:30 a.m. Walkers do not have to be associated with a specific school to join the walk. [/su_pullquote]
The Laras have been parishioners at St. John XXIII since moving to the area from Rochester, Minnesota, last year. The 2015 event was their first experience with the Soles for Catholic Education Walk, and Lara was so impressed that this year she became a captain for St. John XXIII School (formerly Port Catholic).
“We believe in Catholic education and figured this would be an awesome way to show our support,” she said. “We figured nothing’s more important to our family than faith and family and it made sense! And it was a great way for us to meet other school families.”
Lara and her husband are graduates of Marquette University, and her husband attended Catholic high school in Illinois. She said she loves that her children are encouraged to pray at school and that their teachers are specifically Christian role models for them.
“It’s easy in our culture for people to ask something of you – to pray, to be reverent, to be humanitarians, to live modestly, to give thanks, treat others as Jesus,” she said. “But our teachers model what they expect and the children believe them … when the teachers conference with me about our children, and they ask what our expectations are, our response is simple: we want help raising happy kids and we want the teachers’ help for our children to get to heaven some day.”
The St. John XXIII team has more than doubled its participation for the Soles Walk since last year, according to Lara.
“We don’t see it as a drive or a long distance,” she said. “We see it as an opportunity to celebrate our faith and passion for Catholic school with thousands of people who feel the same.”
Walk aims to be ‘annual parish festival for the archdiocese’
Soles Walk for Catholic Education organizer Marcy Stone said the “the support is really growing every year. It’s been a tremendous success.”
The walk’s major sponsors include Ascension Wisconsin, Catholic Financial Life, Cousins Subs and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as dozens of other supporting sponsors, including the Catholic Herald. Stone called these donors “a key aspect of the walk because they allow 100 percent of the donations that the schools raise to stay at that school.”
Each walker raises money for tuition assistance at his or her own school. Walk registrants have consistently raised close to $450,000 each year, said Stone. Each school sets its own fundraising goal, and many have multiple sub-teams registered from within their enrollment.
Overall, this year’s walk will host 104 schools, 342 registered teams and 7,549 registrants.
Since participants are also welcome to register on the day of the walk, Stone estimates they will match last year’s registration of 9,500 walkers.
The two-mile walk commences from a large tent set up along Menomonee River Parkway, near a bandshell where local classic rock band Hot Off the Grill performs. This is a change from the first year, said Stone, when the festivities were more spread out around the Mount Mary Campus, and gives the walk a more “interactive” feel.
“The archbishop likes to call it a parish festival for the archdiocese,” she said.
The Milwaukee Admirals, Milwaukee Wave, Pius XI High School and the local fire department will also be present to sponsor some family-friendly activities throughout the day.
Stone singled out the 15 Catholic high schools that participate in the walk every year, holding “tweet and treat” stops along the route. At those tents, walkers are encouraged to stop and help themselves to a treat, taking photos to share via social media with the hashtag #SolesWalk.
Friendly competitions staged
“I think they’re almost competing with one another to see who can have the most school spirit,” she said.
“The high schools make the walk a lot of fun,” agreed Davis. “Last year I stopped and taped one school who had a pep band there playing an Ozzy Osbourne song. I just thought that was so much fun. It kept it upbeat.”
Participants also like to keep school spirit soaring by competing for different honors, including the participation trophy.
“That one’s gotten really competitive,” said Stone.
Currently, the top five teams (in no particular order) are Christ King and St. Joseph, Wauwatosa; Divine Mercy, South Milwaukee; St. Joseph, Big Bend; and St. Matthias, Milwaukee, with St. John the Evangelist, Greenfield, and St. Gabriel, Hubertus, close behind.
“It’s really fun to see that it’s a very wide range of schools that are making our top five and top 10,” she said.
Schools also vie for the “craziest hat trophy” and overall school spirit award.
“The schools have fun with showing their own school identity while also wearing the Soles Walk shirt and celebrating Catholic education as a whole,” said Stone.
“On my hat last year I wrote that we were from Beaver Dam, and a lot of people could not believe that we had come that far just to participate in the walk,” said Davis. “I told our captain this year that we have to make sure to write where we’re from this year on the back of our hats, so people know we’re not just one of these local Milwaukee schools – we’ve come all the way down 33 to West Bend and all the way down to Milwaukee to hang out!”