Catholic Schools Week is upon us!
Having attended Catholic Schools from kindergarten through graduate school, I always look forward to this annual celebration of Catholic Education. Catholic Schools Week begins this year on January 26 with our annual Pancake Breakfast and Open House. Many volunteer hours already have gone into the planning of this event, and we can't wait to showcase our school to our guests! We are looking forward to an outstanding morning on the 26th, with a week full of daily CSW activities to follow.
This year, I had an opportunity to give an interview to The Catholic Herald for their January 22 Catholic Schools Week issue. Because of space constraints, the print version of the interview was edited, but I wanted to share the full version below.
Looking forward to my first Catholic Schools Week with the St. Gabriel community!
From The Catholic Herald
Bridget Bartholomew is in her first year as principal of St. Gabriel Catholic Parish School in Hubertus. She moved to Wisconsin from Maryland over the summer and was delighted to find such a close-knit community with multi-generational families devoted to their parish school.
- Bridget grew up in Watertown, NY in a devoutly Catholic home where she attended Catholic grade school and high school.
- She earned her undergraduate degree at St. Bonaventure University, where she met her husband, Robert. She has a Master’s degree in British Literature from Fordham University and a Master’s degree in Education from the College of St. Scholastica. She also has a graduate certificate in Educational Leadership from Hood College in Maryland.
- She and Robert were married in 1986 in her hometown parish. They have three children: Zachary, Emma, and Casey.
Favorite memory of growing up in Catholic schools?
I’m still close friends with classmates from grade school and high school, and we shared so many experiences in those formative years. It would be hard to select one ‘favorite’ memory, but it is so striking to me that our friendships have endured. Despite living throughout the U.S. and Canada, we still reconnect often, share news of our families, ask for prayer. The community at St. Gabriel reminds me so much of the parish school I attended in my hometown. Many St. Gabriel students have parents and grandparents who attended when it was St. Hubert’s school and parish. I’m hoping for our students to make similar lifelong friendships when they’re here in our school. Friendships based on faith that stay with you throughout your life are so powerful.
How important was faith in your home when you were growing up?
Well, let’s just say that if the car wouldn’t start because it was 25 below zero, we were still walking to Mass on Sunday! It was a priority for my parents that we all went to Mass and attended Catholic schools. I know that my parents struggled to afford tuition for six children. A faith-based community was so important to them, though, and they wanted the academic advantage of Catholic school. They wanted to give us every advantage they could, and a foundation of faith was essential.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a teacher?
Not really. I initially went to college thinking that I would probably pursue some kind of science-related career, but I graduated with a major in English and minor in Latin. My husband and I were married just before I started grad school at Fordham. At that point I thought perhaps I’d be a college professor. Life intervened: we had three children, and I was very blessed to be able to stay home with them for twelve years. I took a teaching job when our youngest son started kindergarten. A year later I took a job teaching English at a Catholic high school in the Twin Cities, and I remember feeling a very profound sense of being home. Everything felt so right.
What’s been the biggest adjustment for you coming to Wisconsin from Maryland?
We lived in Minnesota for over 15 years and were very accustomed to life in the Upper Midwest. After 11 years in Maryland, we are adjusting back to the different pace of life here, which we love. I’m also adjusting to the climate change: we had a lot of snow days in Maryland for three-inch snowfalls, and ‘bitter cold’ there might have meant 10 degrees above zero! Winter weather notwithstanding, my husband and I are very glad to be back.
Have you found a favorite local restaurant yet?
We really like the Crafty Cow and Siam Thai in Milwaukee. We also love the Old Town Serbian Gourmet House by the Basilica.
How do you think your faith has grown through the years?
I know that there’s a God who loves us. He is so very good to us, despite all of our flaws and failings. The older I get the more I realize that He has a plan, even when we may not understand it--or like it. We can trust Him always. It’s easy in a busy world to lose sight of that. As I have grown older, I’ve had an increasing appreciation for seeing the handiwork of God all around me.
If you could help all of your students understand one thing about God, what would it be?
God knows us and loves us exactly as we are--unconditionally. We don’t have to earn God’s love.
What does your daily faith practice look like?
I usually read a few different devotionals in the morning to start my day. I try to pray often. There are a number of people I pray for daily, so it’s very important to me to do that. I listen to Christian music at home and in the car, and that helps to attune me to what’s important.
What drew you to St. Gabriel?
My husband started a new job here in December 2018, and I finished the 2018-19 year at my previous school. While visiting last spring, I saw on the Archdiocese website that the St. Gabriel principal job had been posted. The posting mentioned that the school had a new building, which sounded pretty exciting. Before I applied, though, I decided to drive out to Hubertus to see how far the commute would be from our home. I put ‘St. Gabriel School’ and ‘Hubertus’ into my phone, and the GPS took me to the former St. Gabriel school building. I was a little perplexed--it didn’t quite look like a new building.
At any rate, I applied and was asked to interview first via Skype and then in person. When I arrived for the second interview at the correct location of the brand new school building, it knocked my socks off! The new facility is beautiful, and all the people I met were so friendly and welcoming. Fr. Tim [Bickel] set the tone from the start with his incredible enthusiasm.
After six months on the job, those initial impressions have been confirmed daily. The support for the school from the parish staff and parishioners, parents, and volunteers has been unwavering. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to join such a terrific school community.
What’s the best advice you received before you took this position as principal?
I have a friend who is an instructional coach, and she said the most important thing is that I listen to my teachers. As the ‘new kid’ at St. Gabriel now, I see great wisdom in that advice. I had four years as vice principal at my last school before taking the principal role there, so I already knew that community well as a parent, teacher, and administrator. At St. Gabriel, I have a team of experts with whom to work: the teachers! They understand their students, their instruction, and the school community. We also have an amazing school secretary who patiently answers my countless questions and has great insight into school traditions and operations. Every school community is unique. At St. Gabriel I have the advantage of working with a great team of faculty and staff who know and love this special school so well.