Committed to providing a Catholic education, parish carpool drives children to school over 20 miles each way
It’s 5:30 on a Monday morning in Salem, Missouri, and Melinda Dreisewerd is rolling out of bed. The mother of three is in charge of the school carpool today. However, this is no ordinary carpool. She’ll be behind the wheel of a microbus taking 18 area grade-school-age kids 23 miles north to St. Patrick Catholic School in Rolla, Missouri.
For close to a decade now, the “Salem bus” — as it is affectionately known as — has been putting more than 275 miles a week on its odometer, and thousands of dollars in its gas tank, all for the sake of Catholic education.
Students from Salem, for the most part, belong to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which is in the north-central part of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese. St. Patrick School, in the south-central part of the Diocese of Jefferson City, is the only Catholic school for miles around. “Catholic education is the primary way to go,” said Father Dan Hirtz, the pastor of Sacred Heart.
Father Hirtz said the program began when he was approached by a father who sent his own kids to St. Patrick. Father Hirtz had the dad speak at Mass one weekend, and his story inspired the parish to see how they could help support Catholic education.
The parish got by with a minivan at first. It was around five years ago that Father Hirtz bought his first microbus, which holds around 20 students.
“Father Dan has always pushed for our kids from Salem to come to St. Pat’s,” said Becky Cahill, who shares driving duties with Dreisewerd and has several children in the school.
“He also has a thing for buses,” she added with a smile.
Cahill and Dreisewerd both had to get commercial driver’s licenses to drive the school bus.
“The driving part was the easiest,” Cahill said. “But then we had to know all the parts of the bus, how they worked, what could go wrong and how to fix it.”
So far, these two moms haven’t had to solve any mechanical issues. However, should a roadside crisis arise, Dreisewerd said their husbands are just a phone call away.
'A great place'
With its mission to provide a quality education, and develop the whole person in a Catholic environment, sending their children to St. Patrick is well worth the early rising and long hours on the bus, the parents from Salem said.
“It is such a wonderful school. We would bring our kids here even if we had to drive further,” said Cahill, a mother of seven.
Dawn Pharr, also of Salem, agrees.
“Where to start?” said the mother of three children at St. Patrick. “I could write a novel about what a great place this is.”
Dreisewerd and Cahill swap driving duties during the week — one does the morning drive to Rolla, while the other brings students home to Salem.
Three years ago, Father Hirtz bought a car to minimize the number of times the bus made the trip between St. Patrick and Salem. Now the routine is that, after dropping the kids off at school, the morning driver leaves the bus in a nearby parking lot and travels back to Salem in the four-door sedan, leaving the car at the afternoon driver’s house. At around 2:45 p.m. the afternoon driver takes that car up to Rolla, loads the school bus, and drives the bus home.
“We are so grateful to Father Dan and the parishioners (at Sacred Heart) to make all this possible,” Dreisewerd told OSV. “It provides a great opportunity for our parish kids to experience a full Catholic education.”
Not only does Father Hirtz provide the transportation, but he also helps with tuition if a family needs it. The parish will pay half of the tuition for a family’s first school child and three fourths of the tuition for a second child. “It is important that parents have a part in those tuition payments,” the pastor of 16 years noted. “It gives them a sense of ownership.”
Father Hirtz and all those involved want to see this program keep on rolling. “It’s a win-win for all those involved,” he said. “The parents are happy, and our kids are very participative there at St. Patrick.”