Students return to new school name, longstanding traditions
by Jessica Langdon
ATCHISON — Principal Diane Liebsch admits it took some getting used to —answering the phone “St. Benedict Catholic School” after many years of operating as Atchison Catholic Elementary School — or ACES, for short.
“We are St. Benedict Catholic School,” Liebsch reminded students as she welcomed them on Aug. 14 — the first day of school.
For some, said Liebsch at the opening assembly, “this is the same building many of you attended last year.”
But things officially changed July 5 when four parishes — St. Benedict’s, St. Joseph, and Sacred Heart, all of Atchison; and St. Patrick in Atchison County — consolidated into one new parish: St. Benedict Parish.
ACES has long educated students from all four parishes, but with the decree, it became a parochial school associated with St. Benedict and changed its name to reflect the new era.
“Same school, same awesome traditions, same Benedictine legacy,” said Liebsch, with visible pride.
If anything, she feels the new school name will more deeply connect people with the Benedictine tradition that has long been the bedrock of Atchison’s identity.
Atchison is home to Benedictine College, St. Benedict’s Abbey and the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica.
Continuing a time-honored tradition at the school, middle-school students linked hands on the first day, creating an archway for the younger students — and faculty — to run through as they entered the assembly.
“It looked like there was a lot of excitement,” Liebsch told the students. “I didn’t see any sad faces coming through that tunnel. That means you are ready for the 2013-2014 academic year.”
Liebsch then proceeded to introduce the students to some of the new things that will accompany their school’s their new name.
Already, the students had started a service project. Cans and boxes of food donations spelled out the new initials — SBCS — on the gymnasium floor.
Liebsch also pointed to the giant raven mascot painted on the wall behind her.
“This summer, he got a brand new T-shirt, and instead of sporting an ‘A’ on his T-shirt, he is sporting a nice big ‘B,’” she said.
Even the youngest kids had no doubt what the new “B” stood for.
“Benedict!” they all yelled
“I hope you like him,” said Liebsch. “He’s still holding a cross that reminds us of our Catholic faith in all that we say and do.”
The Benedictine connection really hit home for Amy Funk, who is beginning her 13th year of teaching kindergarten at the school.
“We feel like we’re a part of that,” she said.
There are a lot of firsts. Her kindergartners will be the first kindergarten class of St. Benedict Catholic School. The eighth-graders will be its first graduating class.
The Benedictine and Catholic roots extend from pre-kindergartners through college in this community, she said.
She’s also excited about the new parish.
“We’re all one,” said Funk.
Liebsch pointed the students’ attention to an image of the Benedictine cross, which she feels really describes who they are at this school.
That image will appear on every envelope sent from St. Benedict School, she said.
Then she told the students a little about St. Benedict himself.
“He taught his monks lots of important things, but here are the three things that he taught that are very important for us,” said Liebsch. “He taught his monks to pray. He taught his monks to work really hard. And he taught his monks to be humble.”
Those are things everyone can do, she explained.
“Focusing on St. Benedict’s values, I don’t think you can start too early,” said Funk.
She and Liebsch were thrilled that all members of the new St. Benedict Parish — no matter which of the four churches they considered home before — received fliers about a dinner at St. Joseph Church.
“And I thought, ‘Oh, this is good,’” said Liebsch. “This is how it’s supposed to be.
The road to one
Catholics in Atchison have been working toward unifying into one parish family for several years.
The pastoral plan for the Atchison Pastoral Region was finalized in 2010.
It called for St. Benedict’s Parish, St. Joseph Parish and Sacred Heart Parish in Atchison as well as St. Patrick Parish in Atchison County to be suppressed, and one new parish to be formed.
Early in the process, a consolidation committee was formed and its first task was to reduce the number of weekend Masses, which had been 11, said Rose Hammes, archdiocesan director of communications and planning.
The committee was made up of two representatives of each of the parishes; the Catholic school principal; Father Gerard Senecal, OSB, pastor of Sacred Heart and St. Benedict’s; and Father Gabriel Landis, OSB, pastor of St. Joseph and St. Patrick.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann evaluated the situation in Atchison this year as priest assignments were made and determined it was time to finish the process, said Hammes.
Although a new name is usually selected for a new parish, in this case, the committee and the Atchison community overwhelmingly supported the use of the name St. Benedict.
“It’s been the spirit of the city forever, from a Catholic perspective,” said Hammes.
All four church buildings will remain open.
Father Gabriel serves as pastor of St. Benedict Parish, while Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB, serves as parochial vicar. The abbot gave the blessing on the first day of school.
Although there were heated discussions at times, the committee came together, people respected and listened to one another, and they crafted a plan that would meet the needs, said Hammes.
“It’s a good example of how pastoral planning should work,” she said.