Church and State: Partners for the Common Good

Since 1846, St. Peter Parish has been educating children and developing highly educated citizens of Missouri.

In this photo provided by the Missouri State Archives, the Missouri Capitol burns after being struck by lightning the evening of Feb. 5, 1911, in Jefferson City, Mo. City firefighters, state penitentiary inmates and fire crews from Sedalia, Mo., who rushed by train to assist from more than 60 miles away, fought the blaze but the building was a total loss. (AP Photo/Missouri State Archives, Thomas Cooper)

The first classes were taught by parishioner Mr. F. Roer in his home free of charge. In 1854, St. Peter School was established in a small brick building near the church. A larger church was built in 1857, and the old frame church was converted into a second school building to provide more classroom space. In 1868, the School Sisters of Notre Dame arrived from Wisconsin and this order, along with many lay staff members, maintain St. Peter Interparish School today.

In 1872, a boy’s school was constructed where the current school stands. As enrollment grew rapidly, a larger facility was erected in 1889. The structure was designed by architect Frank Miller, who also designed the Cole County Courthouse. The basement of this building held six meeting rooms and a bowling alley. The first floor contained six classrooms. The entire second floor was known as St. Peter’s Hall, an auditorium with a large stage. Because it was the largest assembly hall in the area for many years, St. Peter’s Hall was the site of many historic events in Jefferson City and Missouri.

St. Peter Interparish School has the distinction of being the “Ninth Capitol of Missouri.”  For many years, Jefferson City struggled to remain the state capital as other Central Missouri towns vied to have the seat of government moved to their communities. In February 1911, this controversy came to a head when the Missouri State Capitol was struck by lightning and burned. The pastor of St. Peter Parish, Fr. Joseph Selinger, and the Parish Committee quickly offered use of the school to the Legislature at no charge. The offer was accepted and for the remainder of the 46th General Assembly the House of Representatives met in session in St. Peter’s Hall on the second floor of the school building.

William Jennings Bryan, noted American orator and political leader, addressed the Joint Legislative Assembly in St. Peter’s Hall during the session. School classrooms were used for committee meetings and school classes for the children were held in private homes. The Senate met in session in the Supreme Court Building.

A short time after the House of Representatives moved into the school building, the Missouri State Legislature voted to keep the seat of government in Jefferson City, probably in large part because of the community’s rapid response to the crisis and the generosity and concern of St. Peter Parish.

In 1931, St. Peter High School began classes and shortly thereafter, the Christian Brothers arrived. St. Peter remained a first grade through high school facility (accredited though the University of Missouri) until the founding of Helias High School (now Helias Catholic High School) in 1956.

Msgr. Joseph Vogelweid believed that parents who wanted their children to have a Catholic education, no matter the learning ability or educational needs of the child, should be able to have their desire met. To that end, the Vogelweid Learning Center of special education was founded and began serving children in Sept. 9, 1964.

The Vogelweid Learning Center is currently a special services inclusive program within St. Peter Interparish School. The Center’s mission is to promote and act upon the belief that the students served must be accepted and instructed as individuals. As such, the potential and rate of learning for each child is different. There are differences in personality and temperament. Students with a variety of cultural, economic and religious backgrounds and varying degrees of disabilities are enrolled. Children from other Catholic parishes as well as children of other faiths are enrolled. Children receiving services through the program remain in the regular classroom whenever possible and also receive small group or one-to-one instruction.

In 2007, a large addition to the school was constructed, which included several classrooms, a cafeteria, multipurpose facility/gymnasium, elevator, band room, art room and restrooms. The Vogelweid Leaning Center was brought into the main building and the original Vogelweid Building now houses the St. Peter Interparish Preschool.

This venerable old school was opened, maintained and has prospered because of generous believers with deep faith and commitment to the opportunity of parochial education for the families and children of the Jefferson City area.

In times of disaster and human need the legislative stance regarding the “separation of church and state” was modified and adjusted because we really were (and still are) all one in spirit (the spirit of American Missourians).

In a time of normalcy, can we not look with a compassionate eye at modifying the rules and regulations in place today to decrease the financial burden parents and faculty members of parochial schools face in educating students? Does compassion and cooperation only have to arise from tragedy and grief? Yes, we do choose to exist and be separate from the governance of public school systems, but schools that are successfully educating the children of Missouri are saving the citizens of Missouri many tax dollars. Full funding of parochial schools in Missouri would be an unreasonable request, but funding assistance in forms (such as tax deductions or credits for other K-12 educational expenses) maintained by other states would be a logical place to look and would be greatly appreciated.

Joseph Gulino is the principal of St. Peter Interparish School in Jefferson City.

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