Featured Article III

 

THERE ARE STILL PLACES IN RURAL AMERICA
where people must travel long distances to practice
their faith. Sometimes, these distances become
burdensome. In Kentucky, an isolated military
community is struggling with the logistics of
sending their children to a distant Catholic school.
To solve this problem, they have proposed a simple
solution – buy a new vehicle for transportation.

 

Military families know about making sacrifices. They are often separated for months at a time during deployments. They are frequently transferred from one base to another, often to different states. They come to know a life where continuity and stability are sought-after comforts.

The military families stationed at Fort Campbell Military Base in the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, can add another sacrifice to that list: If they want their children to receive a Catholic education, they have a very long commute.

Military families at Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Screaming Eagles and the 5th Special Forces, face a one-hour drive, morning and afternoon, to attend the closest Catholic school, Saints Peter and Paul, located in Hopkinsville. It can be a burden. The Martin family, who recently moved to Fort Campbell from Washington state, enrolled their children at the Catholic school, in part to soften the blow of the unpopular transfer. They love the school, but Morgan Martin has to commute with her children 150 miles round trip each day. This distance detracts from the overall experience. “The kids can’t participate in any extracurricular activities because that would add even more driving,” Morgan said.

Rather than commute, many Catholic families at Fort Campbell choose the local Department of Defense School. This was the choice for the Fisk family who has five children. But two years ago, as their oldest daughter started middle school, they felt drawn to a Catholic education. But in contemplating a switch, the family faced a difficult choice – daily driving to the Catholic school or leaving the base and their close-knit community to relocate near the school.

The family ultimately decided to leave the base, which Rosemary Fisk described as “the heart of things,” and “make the sacrifice” to move to Hopkinsville. She is happy with the school. “The children go to Mass twice a week, which helps because their Dad is gone so much,” she said. However, it’s hard emotionally to be far from the base, and costly, which presents another obstacle for most military families.

Another family, the Wagners, also reluctantly moved off the base to Hopkinsville in 2011 to be close to their daughter’s school. That year, Thomas Wagner was deployed overseas for 220 days. They miss their military family but want the best for their daughter. Carla Wagner said, “I knew that my daughter was not only going to get an education, but she would also learn about life, about faith, about God.” And for Thomas, having his daughter at the school has helped him in his own faith life. “I pray more and volunteer to help,” he said. “It’s not a school; it’s a family.”

The draw to a Catholic school is understandable. It gives military families an immediate sense of connectedness and familiarity in their otherwise transient lives. It offers an environment of high academic standards, discipline and Christian values. To facilitate attendance and allow families to have both a Catholic community at school and a military community on base, Saints Peter and Paul School has proposed a solution – a bus.

Sarah Kranz, the principal, said that school research shows, “If transportation is provided, more families will choose a Catholic education as an investment in their children’s future.” She knows at least 10 students who would use a bus and believes more will join them.

Officer Thomas Wagner, who has been in the military for 19 years and is frequently deployed overseas, wants a Catholic education for his daughter.

But the school already faces financial challenges – more than a quarter of the students receive free or reduced lunches, and the school annually disburses $110,000 in financial aid grants.

Bishop William Medley of Owensboro has requested assistance from Catholic Extension to purchase a 15-passenger bus that will become self-sustaining through nominal fees to riders. We are raising funds to offer a $25,000 challenge grant towards the bus.

Something as simple as a bus – a means of transportation – will make it easier for Fort Campbell families to serve God and their country with one fewer sacrifice. Putting children on a bus each day, knowing they are in good hands will take a significant burden off the shoulders of these military parents.