January 27, 2006

2006 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Shawe Memorial senior’s book to be published this year

By Mary Ann Wyand

Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School was founded 50 years ago in Madison, and its history was a story waiting to be told until a Shawe senior decided to write a book about it in 2005.

Now a freshman and communications major at Berry College in Rome, Ga., Prince of Peace parishioner Jacob Laskowski of Madison is currently putting the finishing touches on his book, Looking Back: The Story of the Hilltopper, and raising funds to pay for printing costs.

“What started as a school project my senior year quickly turned into a much larger undertaking than I ever imagined,” he said. “With only one year of a journalism class, I hadn’t the slightest idea [how to begin] making an entire book by myself. I figured it would be easy when I started, but I soon realized it wasn’t close to what I had dreamt it would be. However, I was too excited about finishing it to ever think about giving up.”

His book focuses on “the things that make Shawe Memorial different from other schools.”

He decided to start his book with a chapter about “the rich history of Catholic education in Madison” and the events that led to the school’s founding in 1955.

“Then came the part I never thought I’d finish—the pictures,” Laskowski said. “I went through tons of photos from old newspapers to all 49 yearbooks. I borrowed photos from alumni, parents and anyone willing to help.”

But when Laskowski finally thought he was finished with the book last year, he decided that he didn’t like the way he had designed it so he started over.

“When I did finally finish, I began writing to several Madison-area community organizations soliciting funds to print the book,” he said. “I still can’t believe I actually finished. It has been an immense joy researching [facts] for this project. … It’s been something that I will never forget doing, and will always help me remember my days at 201 W. State St.”

He has collected about half the money he needs to cover printing costs, and plans to return home to attend Shawe Memorial’s homecoming celebration on Jan. 28 to promote advance sales of the book. He has received $7,000 in major donations, but still needs to raise $8,000 to print copies of the 130-page, hard-cover book, which has 250 color or black and white photographs.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I learned so much, and I’d do it again.”

Laskowski hopes Shawe alumni will buy the book, and that it will help them remember the days when they were Hilltoppers.

He also hopes Madison-area residents and other people interested in the history of this scenic southeastern Indiana community will purchase the historical book about five decades of Catholic school events, including academics, extracurricular activities and sports.

Chapters include “The History of the Catholic Church in Madison,” “Building a Catholic High School,” “The Doors Open,” “When Toppers Get Involved,” “Home of the Hilltoppers,” and “Growing in Mind, Body and Spirit.”

Father Hilary Meny of Haubstadt, Ind., a retired diocesan priest who celebrated his 91st birthday on Jan. 21, wrote the foreword for the book.

Laskowski explains that “Father Meny is credited with the vision of a Catholic high school and grade school on the hilltop in Madison. With the help of a group of supporters, Father Meny created Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School and then, 10 years later, Pope John XXIII Elementary School. He worked hard to raise the money needed to build these two schools.”

In the foreword, Father Meny recalls a “routine meeting of the priests” with Archbishop Paul C. Schulte in the early 1950s at the St. Mary Parish rectory in North Vernon.

“The archbishop stated that he would like to meet with the priests from the Madison area …,” Father Meny writes. “All of us were moved with wonder as to what the archbishop was going to say to us. Then the archbishop relayed to us that he had received a letter from the Mother Superior of the Ursuline Sisters in Louisville. In her letter, the Mother Superior offered that, if the two parish grade schools in Madison, St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s schools, were combined as one in one building, she would be willing to staff a Catholic high school at Madison.”

Archbishop Schulte told the priests that this offer was “too good to be turned down” and asked the priests to sign a document endorsing the proposal.

Father Meny and other Madison area priests—Father George Sebastian, pastor of St. Mary Parish; Father Charles Walsh, pastor of St. Michael Parish; Father Albert Diezeman, assistant pastor of St. Mary Parish; and Father Henry Gardner, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in China—signed the document.

Laskowski dedicates the book to the Hilltoppers alumni and explains that it is because of the graduates that Shawe Memorial High School is “what it was years ago, what it is today and what it will be in the future.”

Readers will learn that Madison was settled by hunters in the early 1800s and mapped as a town in 1809. The first Catholic Mass was celebrated there in 1814, but Catholicism “was not respected highly” and “many Catholics in the town were driven away from their faith.”

Servant of God Bishop Simon Bruté, the first bishop of the Vincennes Diocese in Indiana, was determined to establish a Catholic parish in Madison and began sending missionary priests there. He appointed Father Michael Shawe as the first resident priest in Madison.

Construction of the Madison-Indianapolis Railroad by Irish immigrants increased the number of Catholics in the primarily Presbyterian town, and many of the workers decided to live in the Ohio River community.

A Presbyterian man donated the land for the construction of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, which was founded in 1837.

In 1993, St. Michael, St. Mary and St. Patrick parishes in Madison and St. Anthony Parish in China were consolidated and renamed Prince of Peace Parish by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein. The former St. Mary Church is now Prince of Peace Church.

When Laskowski writes about the founding of the Catholic grade schools and his alma mater, it is evident that he appreciates the hard work and sacrifices of Catholics who contributed money to construct the buildings.

Shawe Memorial’s first freshman class was established in 1952 and the students completed two years of studies at St. Michael School until the new high school officially opened for the 1954-55 school year.

“Shawe Memorial has continued, since 1952, to educate its students with caring, devoted teachers …,” Laskowski says in the book. “Small classes encouraged individual attention, which gave students more knowledge of what was being taught to them.”

At the conclusion of the manuscript, Laskowski acknowledges that the book is a work in progress.

“As another chapter in The Story of the Hilltopper ends,” he writes, “one more will begin. The future of The Story depends on every Hilltopper—every student, every teacher, every alum. This is your story. Keep writing it.”

Marta Belt, director of development and marketing for Shawe Memorial High School and Pope John XXIII School in Madison, said on Jan. 19 that “when Jacob started this project he was 18, a senior in high school, and it was a project for one of his classes. It blossomed into something that he thought would be good for his school. That was why he did it. That was Jacob’s purpose all through high school. He did things that were good for his school and community. He’s an amazing young man, and was named an Outstanding Hoosier by the governor.”

Belt hopes Shawe’s more than 1,000 graduates will order the keepsake book.

“It’s going to be such a neat thing for people to have, not just our alumni and our parents,” she said, “but all the people who are interested in the history of the Catholic Church and Catholic education in Jefferson County.”

Belt said any money raised over and above the cost of printing the books will be donated to the high school to help pay for office equipment for The Topper Tribune, the student newspaper.

“Jacob was instrumental in getting the newspaper started again when he was a student at Shawe,” she said. “He wants to set up an office with a computer that is just for the paper.”

Prince of Peace parishioners Mike and Jean Laskowski of Madison are looking forward to the publication of their son’s book this spring. She is a kindergarten teacher at Pope John XXIII School.

“We think it’s great,” she said of their son’s hard work. “He’s very creative and goes full-force when he comes up with ideas.”

While writing the book, she said, he also served as president of the Student Council, was a member of the tennis team, worked part time, volunteered as a lector at church, and helped with the Mayor’s Youth Council, Students Against Drug Abuse and other service projects. Several years ago, he started Diversity Week at the high school.

“You name it, he did it,” she said. “He likes to be busy.”

(Looking Back: The Story of the Hilltopper, a hardcover book with color photographs, sells for $25. For more information or to order a copy of the book, call Marta Belt at 812-273-5835, ext. 245.) †


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