by Laurence Rossi
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — “Our schools often succeed where others do not,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann told a gathering of local Catholic school students on the occasion of a special Catholic Schools Week Mass at St. Benedict’s Abbey here Jan. 30.
“Our primary mission is to help students, whether in preschool or grad school, to know Jesus — the man who lives,” he said.
Students of St. Benedict School, Maur Hill-Mount Academy and Benedictine College listened attentively.
Many readers might not have caught the significance of that last statement.
You see, in Atchison, a quaint town of roughly 10,000 people, a child can attend a Catholic grade school, a Catholic high school and a Catholic college.
“This is certainly the only town in my archdiocese where that is possible, and I don’t know of anywhere outside the archdiocese either,” said the archbishop.
“I have a child in grammar school taught by a monk, a child in high school taught by a monk and a child in college taught by a monk. Where else in the world can you do that?” asked Dr. Edward Mulholland.
Mulholland, a professor at Benedictine, is grateful for the unique opportunity his family enjoys.
“For my kids, it gives them a firm base from which to launch themselves and evangelize the world,” he added.
Mulholland attributes the strength and longevity of Atchison’s Catholic educational system to the vowed stability of the local Benedictine Brothers and Sisters at St. Benedict’s Abbey and Mount St. Scholastica.
“It allows for a singular continuity of vision,” he said. “People have moved to Atchison just because of that.”
Diane Liebsch, principal of St. Benedict Grade School, has always recognized the unique impact of the Catholic education available in Atchison.
“The real significance is the sense of community created when three Catholic schools exist in one small town. St. Benedict Catholic School is better because of our wonderful neighbor across the street — Benedictine College,” she said.
“We are better because our middle school students have a high school focus — attending Maur Hill-Mount Academy,” she continued. “The emphasis on Catholic education is always visible for our parish families.”
As a parishioner and parent herself, Liebsch has experienced the value that such a close community brings. As principal, she feels she has been able to give back to the community that helped her raise her children in the faith.
While, of course, many students choose to complete their education outside of Atchison, there are many who do graduate from all three schools. One such person is Katie Wagner, who not only graduated from all three schools, but also earned a graduate degree from Benedictine College in 2016.
“I’ve been a Raven all my life, pre-K through MBA” she said. The daughter of Liz Kuckelman Wagner, owner of Jerry’s Again restaurant, Katie is a third-generation graduate of Maur Hill-Mount Academy. She has remained in Atchison and is preparing to open a restaurant of her own, The Sunflower.
Her Catholic education, said Wagner, has greatly influenced how she views business.
“I will utilize these skills in my own business and workplace,” she said. “I have a very high regard for the human being and how to treat people with integrity and respect.”
For the Catholic community in Atchison, this unique educational setting is truly remarkable.
“Remember,” concluded Archbishop Naumann in his homily at Mass, “We must thank Jesus that this is all possible.
“We must be grateful for our parents, for our faculty, for our benefactors and for his sacrifice.”