The Miracle on West Calvert Street
“The parish was founded to be of service to the immigrant poor, and she still is. The languages have changed and some of the customs have changed. But that spirit is still there.” – Father Kevin Bauman
South Bend School Thrives After Threat of Closing
Article: Virginia Black, South Bend Tribune
Photos: Santiago, South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND — The kaleidoscope of hundreds of can labels stacked before the Our Lady of Hungary altar reflects the colorful Hungarian saints and icons gracing the walls. On this morning before Christmas, perhaps the most relevant scenes beaming down on the schoolchildren are those depicting the parables of the good shepherd and the good Samaritan.
Because, as the Rev. Kevin Bauman tells the children as Mass begins that morning, the children and their families who contributed to the parochial school’s successful food drive are essentially “the poor feeding the poor.”
The drive for St. Vincent de Paul may be a sign that fortunes are rising for Our Lady of Hungary School, which as recently as 2009 threw washes and rummage sales in a frantic effort to keep the little school open.
Bauman and Kevin Goralczyk, who has been principal since August, credit the school’s apparent turnaround to two things: the Indiana voucher program that pays much of the tuition for lower-income families who choose a private school; and the congregation’s embracing of its neighborhood’s growing Hispanic population.
Goralczyk, who most recently was principal of Michigan City High School, took the Our Lady job to spend less time commuting from his South Bend home. The 45-year-old principal has bigger goals for the school a former diocesan superintendent once referred to as “The Miracle on West Calvert Street” for its recent resurrection, in a neighborhood where Hungarians once walked to attend church and on their way to their jobs at Studebaker.
At its height in 1953, the school was home to 702 pupils, according to Tribune reports. Enrollment finally fell to 70, and the bishop said 2009 the school was on the short list to be closed without a major cash infusion to tackle its debt.
But then-Gov. Mitch Daniels’ voucher program resurrected the little school, and Daniels himself visited Our Lady in 2011 to see for himself the place that had attracted the largest number of voucher students in the city.
Now the school is home to about 185 pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade and about 14 full-day preschoolers. The principal says 90 percent are Hispanic, 5 percent black and 5 percent white. About 95 percent partake of the voucher program.
“Our Lady of Hungary has always been a place for immigrants to come to,” Goralczyk says. “We’re just seeing a different immigrant, a Hispanic immigrant.”
Bauman, a South Bend and Our Lady native who returned as pastor in 2011, says he was charged with reviving the congregation by embracing the dwindling Polish, German and Hungarian members while welcoming the growing number of Hispanics in the neighborhood seeking a church home.“The parish was founded to be of service to the immigrant poor, and she still is,” says Bauman, who is bilingual. “The languages have changed and some of the customs have changed. But that spirit is still there.”
Academics are a challenge when 90 percent of your pupils speak English as their second language. Parent meetings take longer, for instance, because an interpreter helps with communication. Goralczyk says the school’s state grade has risen from a D last year to a C- most recently, and he’s confident Our Lady will soon be rated an A-. He credits hard-working teachers who are dedicated to the mission of becoming an A school.
While we’re talking in his small office whose wall backs up to the gymnasium, a clanging interrupts for a moment. Goralczyk is used to it — it’s apparently the boiler pipes — but it drives home the point that money is going toward academics and not a fancy school building.
A raffle-ticket fundraiser earlier in the year raised enough money for each student to have a new desk and chair.
“Our thing was that the kids and parents took ownership of their school, and to empower the teachers to be in charge of their classrooms,” he says. The recent food drive succeeded in driving home the point that even students who have less money can contribute to their community. “Kids should learn they’re able to give back, and that they’re lucky to go to a Catholic school,” Goralczyk says.
“We have great staff,” the principal says of his teachers, who he fears will be lured by the often higher pay and benefits of public schools. “They work very hard, and they have huge hearts.” (Perhaps this is where I should mention my daughter-in-law, Amy Black, is the school’s big-hearted first-grade teacher, hugging pupils in the hallway as they leave for the day.) With more Spanish speakers on staff, parental communication seems to be and parents are more comfortable, Goralczyk says.
Bauman, 54, points out that more church communications now are in Spanish than English. “The common link is food, I’ve got to tell you that,” the priest laughs about the attempts to bridge old traditions with the new. So parishioners teach each other how to make goulashes and kieflies side by side with burritos and tacos.
Mary Schaar, a 79-year-old great-grandmother to two current Our Lady students, is a Croatian immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1952 and has been a solid Our Lady parishioner for four decades. She is waiting for Mass to begin on this Thursday morning before Christmas, and the former resident of German war camps acknowledges the changes in the congregation.
Later, Bauman says Schaar is “famous for her food” yet is learning Mexican cooking in Our Lady kitchens.
“We were gonna be closed just three years ago,” Schaar says of the school and the mixture of cultures. “We have new life.”
Committees have already been formed to explore how to celebrate the church’s 100th anniversary in 2016.
“We’re still in service. We live that out every single day here,” Bauman says, beaming. “I’m so proud of that.”
Virginia Black: 574-235-6321