There was a time when students in urban Catholic elementary schools, especially prior to 1950, got to school by walking. School buses were rare, and “carpool” wasn’t part of the vernacular. One walked for his or her Catholic education.

Students in Catholic schools, as well as those who support Catholic education and those who have received and benefited from a Catholic education, are being invited to walk for Catholic education again as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Catholic Schools Office sponsors its first “Soles for Catholic Education” walk, Saturday, Nov. 2, at Mount Mary College.

An idea under consideration for two years, according to Julie Wolf, archdiocesan communications director, the two-mile walk is seen as another way to market Catholic schools.

 “We wanted to raise awareness of Catholic education and its impact on the community, beyond each individual student and their families, to communities and society at large,” she said.

According to Wolf, when “Soles for Catholic Education” was presented earlier this month to principals, the response was “phenomenal.”

Acknowledging that some schools already sponsor walks, she said the archdiocesan walk will not impinge upon what individual schools are already doing.

“Our goal in this event is still 100 percent participation,” she said. “Schools that have them in place are still going to want to participate as they realize the benefit of all of us coming together in celebration of Catholic education.”

Kathleen Cepelka, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, said “bringing together all areas of the archdiocese” and “experiencing community” are key aspects of the event.  

“I liken it to the days of the old musical festival at the old (Milwaukee) auditorium where children came from everywhere. Expansiveness of it was a message in itself, and that’s what I compare it to,” she said. “It’s as much about the coming together as it is what people take away from it.”

While most organizations schedule their walks during spring and summer, the committee planning the schools’ walk specifically chose Nov. 2.

“We wanted it to be outside the normal summer buzz and rush of walks, but also at a time that would be meaningful to us as Catholics,” Cepelka said. “For us, it’s about Catholic education, but it’s also a celebration of us as a church.”

That meaningful time is linked to Nov. 2, All Souls Day, and within the Year of Faith, which ends Nov. 24.  

“We are revitalizing Catholic education in this archdiocese,” Cepelka said. “It is very appropriate to concentrate on the successes and the upward movement, the elevation of it as a priority at this time.”

Promotional materials have been distributed to schools, encouraging them to secure pledges from individuals and businesses, and a website has been launched to provide updates and to facilitate contributions from those who wish to donate online. Online contributions are subject to fees charged by credit card companies.

Cepelka noted that all of the money raised through the walk will stay with the schools.

“Every dollar schools raise in pledges or local sponsorships goes right back to the school,” she said. “It is a direct benefit to the school for tuition assistance.”

Corporate sponsors are being sought to help defray costs, estimated by Wolf to be $100,000, of staging the event. Besides monetary contributions, sponsors can also provide in-kind services for “Soles for Catholic Education.”

Calling it “a very strategic decision,” she said the walk’s planning committee decided not to charge a registration fee, usually $25 or more.

“We know that our school families are strapped already just trying to meet the tuition payments so we’re not charging that,” Wolf said. “We’re looking to sponsors in the community to help us fund this event, to help us pay for the expenses related to it, including the T-shirts you usually get out of that registration fee.”

Cepelka noted that the planners have made the event affordable and accessible so that all can participate.

“The walk is particularly attractive and appropriate because it is non-elitist,” she said. “It really has universal understanding, and there’s no one from any corner of the archdiocese, any socio-economic level, any interest group that could not be a participant – from pre-school through high school.”

John and JoEllen Stollenwerk and John Jr. and Mary Stollenwerk have volunteered to serve as co-chairs of the walk. Gene Mueller, morning announcer at WTMJ radio, will emcee the event.

Using her family as an example, Wolf noted that Catholic school alumni are urged to participate.

“My mom, 83, my aunt, 88, and two of my cousins in their 50s were here all last week helping us count out 350,000 pieces that we have to disseminate,” she said. “They’re Messmer grads. Those are the kind of people who are stepping up.”

Wolf said that even if people do not have children or grandchildren in a Catholic school, they are invited to be involved.

“If you’re a product of Catholic education, if you hire Catholic school grads, if your mother-in-law went to a Catholic school, you know the impact that these schools have on people, and we need to ensure that these schools are around for generations to come,” she said. “This walk is just a baby step toward that goal, but it’s a baby step nonetheless.”