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At a bittersweet milestone, parent praises value of Catholic education

Mike Mullen Sr., drives his youngest son Max (known by his friends as “Maxito”) to Ascension School in Overland Park for one of the last times. Mike and his wife Mary have sent all four of their sons to Ascension. So with Max graduating from the eighth grade this year, Mike is completing a journey 24 years in the making. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven

OVERLAND PARK — Over the past 24 years, Mike and Mary Mullen have transported one or more of their four sons to and from classes at Ascension School here. Their oldest son Michael Jr. began first grade at Ascension in 1997. Patrick and Tim followed.

Taking their youngest son Max (called “Maxito” by his friends) to school in the days leading up to his May 14 graduation marked the end of a chapter in the Mullens’ lives. Proud as they are of their youngest son’s accomplishments, it was undeniably bittersweet having their last child complete eighth grade.

It was offset, fortunately, by the Mullens’ passionate belief in the value of Catholic education and their deep appreciation for the administration and staff of Ascension School. Plus, Max is continuing the family tradition of attending Catholic high school with his enrollment at St. Thomas Aquinas in Overland Park.

Mike Mullen Sr., drops his youngest son Max off at Ascension School in Overland Park for one of the last times. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Mike can’t say enough good things about Catholic education and about the administration, faculty and staff at Ascension.

“Their dedication is incredible; they love what they do,” he said.

He acknowledged the extraordinary efforts that went into keeping the school open during the pandemic. He referenced a Christmas program two years ago that he found touching and beautiful as the students reenacted the Nativity. He alluded to a recent event during which each student compared a historic saint with someone they consider saintly in their lives today. Max chose to discuss his oldest brother Michael and St. Juan Diego.

“Where better for youth to learn about God and our faith than in Catholic schools and through their parents?” Mike asked. “So many things meld into one in the context of Catholic schools: faith, family and education. It becomes a mindset, a way of doing things, a community.”

Max Mullen chats with a friend at Ascension. For the Mullens, watching Max graduate and move on from the grade school is bittersweet. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Mike speaks from personal experience. His ancestors were among the original members of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. It was his father’s dream that his children receive a Catholic education. Mike and his five siblings went to St. Joseph for grade school and graduated from various Catholic high schools. He recalled that all of his mother’s friends were parents of children with whom the Mullens attended school.

Still today, Mike counts grade school classmates among his own best friends. In the construction business for 40 years, he said that most of the people he works with and for are people he knows through his involvement with the Catholic Church and Catholic schools. His wife Mary is a product of Catholic education from elementary school through college.

Max Mullen talks with friends at Ascension. After graduating from eighth grade, he’ll head to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in the fall. The Mullens can’t say enough about the value of Catholic education. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

There was no question that the Mullens would send their children to Catholic schools. Mike admitted that it wasn’t always easy. It involved sacrifice; tuition is expensive. He encouraged parents to ask for help if they need it. Catholic schools often offer different forms of financial aid.

Mike believes that Catholic education is worth the sacrifice.

 “You can’t afford not to send your children to Catholic schools,” he said. “The whole atmosphere helps create well-rounded students; they learn values and morals.”

And they make lifelong friends and forge lasting ties, as attested by Mike  and his three older sons who have returned to Ascension as young men to assist with events at the school.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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