Grades: Pre-K through 8
Teaching Staff: 14
Support Staff: 6
Average Class Size: 13
St. Mary School was founded in 1866 and is fully accredited by the Wisconsin Religious and Independent Schools Association (WRISA). WRISA is a state chapter of the National Federation of Nonpublic School State Accrediting Associations, which is recognized by the College Board and the Office of Non-Public Education, an office within the U.S. Department of Education.
Catholic Schools are an integral tool of evangelization. We prepare each child spiritually, scholastically and socially to excel at the next level. The students in all grades interact in a nurturing learning environment. We achieve this through a high level of parent, teacher and parish community involvement.
Catholic education is a shared responsibility, in which parents have the primary role. St. Mary fosters a cooperative and collaborative approach that capitalizes on the talents and competencies of each member, recognizing the worth and uniqueness of every individual as a person created in the image and likeness of God.
Our mission is to educate and empower administrators, teachers and students to become self-directed, continuous learners and ethical, responsible citizens prepared to meet the increasing challenges of a global society.St. Mary School was founded in 1866 and is fully accredited by the Wisconsin Religious and Independent Schools Association (WRISA). WRISA is a state chapter of the National Federation of Nonpublic School State Accrediting Associations, which is recognized by the College Board and the Office of Non-Public Education, an office within the U.S. Department of Education.
History of St. Mary School
In 1831, Dominican missionary Father Samuel Mazzuchelli held the first Catholic mass in Portage. The first church, a small log cabin with a cross on the top, was built in 1833 and stood until it was destroyed by fire in 1840. The first permanent pastor arrived in 1857 and purchased the site where the present church is located.
In 1866, two Sinsinawa Dominican sisters arrived to begin a school. A third teaching sister arrived in 1880, and in 1888 a music teacher joined the staff. By 1911, 196 students were being taught by four teachers in four classrooms.
By 1945, the enrollment had grown to 215. To accommodate this growth, the old German Catholic church building was renovated to include seventh and eighth grade classrooms and an auditorium.
Three years later, a nearby house was converted into classrooms and a building fund was begun. By 1953, when Father Thome arrived, more than $100,000 had been collected.
Father Thome appointed finance and building committees. After another financial drive brought the building fund to $200,000, plans for a new school were drawn up. Ground was broken in October of 1955, and a new $650,000 school was dedicated one year later.
The building, which was ultra-modern for its time, contained a gymnasium/auditorium with a seating capacity of 900, two locker rooms, a kitchen, a cafeteria, ten classrooms, two large meeting rooms, a parish library, a nurse’s office, and an administrative office. At that time, seven Sinsinawa Dominicans and two lay teachers taught 375 students.
Between 1946 and 1956, a large increase in enrollments within the Diocese led to a shortage of religious staff at the schools. Ten new schools were built, and lay faculty increased from 2 to 44.
Like most schools in the Diocese, St. Mary has experienced a decline in enrollment over the last three decades. The drop in enrollment can be attributed to many causes, including the declining birth rate, the rising costs of a Catholic education, and the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. The St. Mary enrollment for 1970-71 stood at 288. By 1980-81, it was 232, and in 1990-91, it was 203.
Over the years, the parish has remained committed to maintaining a school and building on its tradition of excellence. In the mid 1970’s, a certified physical education teacher was added to the staff. In 1982, a kindergarten was started. An art teacher and computer teacher were added to the staff in 1991. By 1992, St. Mary School was staffed entirely by a lay faculty.
Agents of change have been at work in the parish from the beginning. Parishioners have been willing to convert existing space to accommodate more students, to build a new facility, to hire an all lay staff, and to add new programs to maintain the excellent reputation of the school..