History

History of St. Thomas Aquinas School
Webster City, Iowa

Prior to the establishment of St. Thomas Aquinas School, students attended St.
Thomas Aquinas Catechetical School which began in 1940 in a frame house on the
corner of Bank and Willson Streets. Sister Mary Sienna Freilinger and Sister Mary
Calista Loosbrock, Dubuque Franciscans, taught religion to about eighty children of
the parish who were released during school time from the public elementary and
secondary schools of Webster City. Other children of the parish, who were enrolled in
schools in outlying districts, came for religious instructions on Saturdays and
Sundays.

During the first years of its existence, a number of non-Catholics also attended
religion classes. Parents often visited the instruction periods, and weekly adult
classes were held for interested Catholics and non-Catholics.

In 1950, a building committee, comprised of George Shanley, Donald Frakes, James
McCormick, Al Shipman, and Louis Brown, was appointed by Father Daniel A.
Gorman to start planning a four-class-room, kindergarten through eighth grade
school and an adjoining convent. Estimated cost of the new one-story building was
set at $140,000. Architect’s plans, drawn by Flinn and Saipo, Waterloo, showed the
building to be a one-story modern brick design with an abundance of glass in the
classrooms.

Building plans were released on March 17, 1952, when the contracts were awarded
to Zitterell-Mills, Inc., Ermels Plumbing and Defiance Electric Company. The school
section included four classrooms and an assembly room. The convent had eleven
rooms and a chapel.

Construction work had been accelerated because of the announcement that the
pastor, Father Gorman, effective February 24, 1953, was to be transferred to Elkader
where he would be pastor of St. Joseph Church. The school year opened on
September 15, 1952, with ninety-nine pupils attending classes in the church
basement and other available space. On November 11, 1952, the pupils were able to
occupy the new building. The school was actually completed during the Christmas
vacation when the final coats of paint were applied. At that time, approximately 165
students were receiving instruction in religion at St. Thomas Aquinas Catechetical
School.

St. Thomas Aquinas had some time earlier been named a major beneficiary in the
will of Mrs. Anna Sullivan. The Sullivan gift of $42,000, plus the sale of a residence
and property for $13,500, given in 1938 by Miss Maggie Smith, provided the parish
with one-third of the entire building cost. A third residence and property given by
Miss Smith were sold for funds to equip the school and convent. The first faculty of
Dubuque Franciscans were Sister Mary Janet Schmitz, principal; Sister Mary Lucida
Derga, kindergarten and first grade; Sister Mary Albert Huelshorst, second and third
grades; Sister Mary Margaret Bunkers, fourth and fifth grades. Sister Mary Janet, the
principal, taught sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Because of increased enrollment
in the lower grades, the kindergarten was dropped in June 1955.

New classroom space was added to the school in 1962 when the general purpose hall
was converted into two classrooms at a cost of $14,676. The two classrooms allowed
the seventh and eighth grade classes, also known as Aquin Junior High, to have
separate rooms, one for the boys and the other for the girls. In addition, the parish
kitchen was remodeled in 1970, and a hot lunch program was started in the fall of
1971. By 1965, there were 165 students in grades one through eight being
instructed by three Sisters and three lay teachers.

The Great Books Program was open to all upper-grade students who qualified.
Charles C. Wood, a blind parishioner who had done post-graduate work in American
History and Government, conducted the program for some time and lectured to the
Aquin Junior High history classes. The choral groups from St. Thomas Aquinas School
presented annual programs on Webster City’s radio station during the Thanksgiving
and Christmas seasons.

The seventh and eighth grades were discontinued in 1966 on the initiative of the
local school on the theory that the children would experience better continuity if they
attended all three grades at the junior high school rather than transfer there for the
ninth grade and then transfer to the high school the following year.

The Archdiocese of Dubuque recommended the closing of St. Thomas Aquinas School
in May 1970. However, if the parish could show reason that the recommendation was
not valid for the next year, the school could be continued for another three years. St.
Thomas’ enrollment was at 117 and had steadily declined over the years. Officials
were notified of the pending closing at an area meeting in Ames, where participants
were informed that classes must be at least twenty in number. However, Father
Edgar Kurt, pastor, and Sister Monica Murray, principal, anticipated an influx of
students due to the increased employment at Franklin Manufacturing Company plus
the addition of the stockyards east of town; thus, the school remained open.
By 1984, the Franciscan Sisters were no longer able to staff the school. The convent
was closed, and the space was used for the school’s offices. The school’s first lay
principal, Miss Susan Thompson, was hired in 1984.

In the fall of 1992, the kindergarten was reinstated with a class of twenty students.
During the summer of 1993, a section of convent was remodeled into a classroom.
Jaycox Construction completed the work at a bid of $36,382.35.

In August of 1999, Father John J. Walsh, pastor, announced that plans were
approved for the building of a new parish center at a cost of $1.3 million. Kolacia
Construction of Fort Dodge was the general contractor. The new facility would be
utilized for socialization, recreation and education