On Feb 2, Bishop Thomas celebrated a special centennial school Mass at St. Matthew’s Catholic School in Kalispell. The occasion coincided with Catholic Schools week and Bishop’s homily reflected on the great value of Catholic education. Following Mass, Bishop Thomas took student questions at a student assembly, visited with faculty and the Early Learning Center Class where he got to hear an enthusiastic impromptu song.
Principal Lauren Smith explained the faculty reaction: “Teachers came up to me after he left and said how impressed they were with Bishop Thomas and how they had enjoyed his visit. Bishop was so personal and authentic, there were no barriers. He showed our students pictures of himself meeting the Pope on his phone. He really made us feel like he was there for us, and he was.”
St. Matthew’s School was founded in 1917 by the Sisters of Mercy. The building also served as home for the Sisters who had come to Kalispell to establish a hospital and serve the growing community. Today, the school boasts 18 full time and 4 part time faculty with 165 students spread through grades K-8, a Pre-Kindergarten program and an Early Learning Center.
Even though a century has passed, St. Matthew’s remains rooted in its Catholic identity. Fr. Rod Ermatinger, Pastor at St. Matthew’s Parish, celebrates Mass with the students each week as different classes take turns serving as the choir, lectors and altar servers. 8th grade students attend a retreat each semester and the school sets aside time for Eucharistic Adoration each week.
Providing a distinctly Catholic Education is what drew Principal Lauren Smith to St. Matthew’s. Formerly a Counselor at Flathead High School, she recalled, “I had been praying for about a year about what I was going to do next and I was more attracted to being in the Catholic School environment than being principal.” Of her 6 years in the job, Smith said, “Personally for me it’s been the hardest job I have ever had but the best job I have ever had too. Every day you walk through the halls at St. Matt’s you encounter Christ in someone.” According to Smith, the faculty shares her love for St. Matthew’s: “We have extremely talented and experienced teachers here who could easily find work in other places but stay because its an environment they want to be in.”
Extracurricular activities also bolster faith at the school. The annual Holy Hoops Basketball Tournament is a weeklong community event that encourages teamwork, discipline and healthy competition. Near the end of the school year the Creative Hand Project teaches art, history and public speaking as students write, give presentations and ultimately adorn the the gymnasium with student art that reflects their faith.
Fr. Ermatinger ensures that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available at the school at least twice a year and has started taking impromptu questions from students each week during what has come to be called 5 Minutes With Father Rod.
St. Matthew’s annual school auction will be held Saturday Feb. 4. This year’s theme, A Centennial Gala, will draw from the rich history of Catholic Education in Kalispell. Auction proceeds represent the bulk of the school’s annual operating budget and help provide the excellent education that continues to stand the test of time.