Burlington Catholic School students Emsley Owen (left) and Oliver Erickson get showered in powdered orange by teacher Michelle Smith as they participate in the school’s color run last month. The event was among the first bonding activities for the new school created by the merger of St. Charles and St. Mary grade schools. (Photo by Erin Murphy)

Catholic school merger has goal to honor past, improve future

By Jason Arndt


Unifying two Catholic grade schools is often a challenging task because each of the schools has longstanding traditions. That was certainly the case in Burlington where the community’s two Catholic schools had long histories woven with pride.

Burlington Catholic School Inc., however, has found a way to become stronger together since it officially merged all operations of both schools for the 2019-20 school year.

The merger, which joined St. Charles Borromeo and St. Mary Catholic grade schools, came with a series of changes.

Changes include a new administration, unifying both student bodies and staff, as well as restructuring grade levels at each campus.

The unification plan follows a vision for regional collaboration advanced in recent years by the Milwaukee Archdiocese, according to Rev. James Volkert, pastor of the tri-parish cluster that includes St. Charles, St. Joseph (Lyons) and St. Mary.

Volkert, in a letter to parishioners in January 2018, said the unification helps Catholic education remain sustainable.

Meanwhile, in the same announcement, Volkert welcomed Emily Berg as principal of St. Charles, replacing Mary MacDonald, who departed for a position in Dousman.

Administrative changes

Berg, who later became principal of the merged schools, has been involved in Catholic education since she was in kindergarten.

“I came from Racine Catholic Schools in Racine and prior to that, I was a teacher in Brookfield,” Berg said in an interview Tuesday. “I actually went to Cardinal Stritch University, so pretty much my entire life I have been a part of Catholic education.”

Berg, a member of St. James Parish in Mukwonago, where she lives with her husband, finds a faith-based education as a vital component of her life.

“I love being a part of a faith-based community. It allows for all of us to share our faith each day praying together, attending Mass together, leading service projects,” she said.

Unlike her first year, however, Berg said her role as principal has changed because she oversees both St. Charles and St. Mary.

Blending traditions

About two years ago, St. Mary and St. Charles combined athletic programs, which created Burlington Catholic School athletics.

Berg believes the combined program was the first step in the process, however, the students from each school have never been in the same classes together up until this year.

But the students, and even staff, have collaborated well and that brings new opportunities to build friendships.

“I think it is going really well, the students and the staff, have handled the changes very, very well,” she said. “I think the kids really enjoy having different students in their classroom.”

The students and staff, meanwhile, have been vital components to helping Burlington Catholic School achieve its objective in the first year.

“We try really hard though the keep the tradition strong. We always say, ‘Two traditions; one school,” Berg said, adding officials reviewed each of the school’s traditions and found a balance.

“The goal for me, even though there are two campuses, I wanted it to feel like one school,” she said. “We are one school. ‘We are one!’ is our theme this year, actually, so we want to make sure we keep instilling that.”

“We are still one staff and we are still one school,” she said.

To read the entire story see the Oct. 10 edition of the Burlington Standard Press.