St. John the Baptist Parish and School may not be a place that you have heard much about. It is not as large or noteworthy as some of the other parishes in the diocese. They are not known for having elaborate murals, ornate stained glass windows, or award-winning concerts, but this is a parish unlike any other.
St. John the Baptist is nestled in the lush rural landscape of Alden. Alden is a long established community with a rich history and a strong sense of community and family. This community is what makes St. John the Baptist and its school noteworthy. It is rare to find a place where generations of families still participate in rich and deep rooted traditions.
Over the past year both the school and the parish have had a complete change in leadership. Jonna Johnson assumed the position of principal in July of 2017 and Deborah Brown became the pastoral administrator in January of 2018. Both women are strong in their faith and dedicated to making the school and the parish successful, vibrant and places of strong faith.
"When we talk about the school, we don't just say it's an elementary school, we say it is a Catholic elementary school. The emphasis needs to be on incorporating our faith into our school." Johnson goes on to state that this isn't an easy thing to do in a climate that is very anti-Catholic. "I can stand up and say how wonderful the school is, and talk about all the reasons that families should send their children here because I know that they will be well educated, and well nurtured, but my voice is not as loud as all the others out there. We constantly hear about inappropriate actions of priests or missteps of the diocese and that is hard to fight against." The reality of the situation if far removed from the good work that is happening in Catholic schools in the diocese, and most of all, far from the good work taking place in St. John the Baptist School.
Johnson has worked hard to maintain an active relationship with the parish and has found ways to work with faith formation, and Brown to reinforce Catholic identity in the school. Daniel Stachelski is not only the musical director for the parish, but he is also the music teacher for the school. Stachelski is able to coordinate Masses that rely on student participation. His goal is to get children to be active participants in their celebrations of faith. If students understand all parts of the Mass, then it becomes meaningful, and they are more willing to remain active in the faith after they graduate.
Another huge connection to the parish comes under the umbrella of the pro-life group. Like many other parishes, St. John the Baptist recognizes the importance of fighting for those that cannot fight for themselves. The pro-life group is active, and spearheaded by deeply dedicated individuals. One of those incredibly passionate women is Pamela Turton. She is instrumental in organizing pro-life activities, including a trip to the annual March for Life in Washington. This year a group of people left the church parking lot and made the long bus ride to participate in the march. What made this group so special was that it contained mainly families. Among the group were 10 middle school students and their parents. For most of these students it was their second or third time participating in the March for Life. It has been a long-standing tradition for parents and children to attend.
Family roots run deep in this school, and 12 full time employees of the school are members of the parish. "When you have a staff that not only teachers their faith, but lives it, you are really spreading Jesus message, " said Johnson. Three of these teachers are also St. John the Baptist alumni.
When staff begins to arrive in the morning it is not uncommon to see teachers walking in with their children, or their nieces and nephews. At times it can seem that everyone is related, and if you aren't related, you soon begin to feel like you are family.
Perhaps the biggest connection to the parish has been Sister Ellen McCarthy, SSJ. Sister Ellen, who recently celebrated her 62 year of service in the diocese, has spent the past school year working with the youngest children in the school and their teachers. Not only does she help to coordinate the school's weekly masses, she works directly with the pre-K through second-grade teachers to ensure that they have an understanding of the faith. Once a week she visits each classroom and participates in religion lessons. This is definitely a highlight for the students, as they are delighted by her stories, her songs, and her infectious love of the faith.
Sister Ellen adds to the students faith formation by taking the students to the church, hosting baptism classes, and making Stations of the Cross approachable. Sister Ellen is not new to the school or the community. She was born and raised in Alden. She is an alumni of the school and served as school principal for a time. Many of the school parents fondly remember her as their principal, and love to see her working with their own children.