City of Montrose fights to keep Catholic school open

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MONTROSE, Mo. -- Most small towns find their identity in their local schools and churches. And up in Henry County the town of Montrose has one of the smallest private Catholic schools in the state that is trying to stay afloat as much for

Montrose, Missoouri is an old coal mining town of 384 people. Like so many small communities, the downtown is not what it once was as jobs moved elsewhere and families with them.

"Most of the residents are of Catholic background," explained Father Tom Hermes.

The catholic church is a mainstay of the town, and next door is St. Mary's, a small Catholic private school. At lunchtime two tables will hold the entire student population. 27 students, K thru 7th grade. And all the teachers. Four. Plus the principal.

It's been around since 1915 and generations of families have come through its four classrooms that house two-grades to a room. And with so few teachers, the older kids serve as mentors to the younger ones like this reading class where poetry written and published by the students is read. And since there are no phys ed teachers...

"Our older students lead P.E.," explains Angie Steward, the assistant principal and kindergarten teacher.

But just as the town size has dwindled, so has the school's enrollment.

Theresa Munsterman has been a secretary and fill-in teacher here for 20 years. And she's sent four of her own sons through the school.

"It's been a real struggle," Munsterman said. "Financially there's been a couple of times when we didn't know if we were gonna make it to the next year. We're very fortunate to have Father Tom.

Father Tom Hermes is the principal and pastor of the church as well as plate cleaner at lunch. He does a little of everything and works out of a three-by-seven-foot office that doubles as the furnace room. He arrived from Chillicothe seven years ago as the knight in shining armor to keep the school afloat, and did so by becoming the squeaky wheel.

"I'm the squeaky wheel because I try to remind the diocese of the importance of the little schools," Father Tom said. "When the Catholic school goes, much of the history of the town will also disappear."

The future of this small Catholic private school is still up in the air. But Father Tom says as long as he's here, he hopes to keep this legacy alive.

"St. Mary's adds a moral fiber," he explained.

"It's just something that's been around for a long time," Steward adds. "And we hope that it stays that way."

TAG:: Ironically enough..Although the school has only 4 teachers..Two of them have the same last name..Smith..Not related, by the way.