By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
ST. JOSEPH — Funded by the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, the Honoring Families Scholarship is helping a St. Joseph family keep its promise to their father.
Coupled with a special scholarship already in place at Bishop LeBlond High School for children of a deceased parent, Mary Huey received a $700 tuition break that allowed her oldest, Mitchell, to enroll at the city’s only Catholic high school while his three siblings continued at St. Francis Xavier Elementary School.
All four children will graduate from Bishop LeBlond, she said. It was a promise she made to her husband, Dennis, shortly before cancer took his life eight years ago.
“When you think that the school year is nine months long, that’s almost $100 a month,” Mary Huey told The Catholic Key. “That’s a lot of things. That’s groceries.”
Never wealthy by any means, Dennis and Mary Huey got by on faith.
It was a faith that Dennis found when he met and married cradle Catholic Mary, she said.
“Dennis was a good husband and a good father. He was such a good man, and knew what was important,” Mary said.
“He hadn’t been baptized when we were dating,” she said. “He believed in God, but said something was missing. He said his family would celebrate holidays, but not holy days.”
Attending Mass with Mary, Dennis took Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults classes at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, then was baptized and confirmed on Easter Vigil, 1995, one month before they were married.
“The Catholic faith was something he wanted his children to have,” Mary said.
Not long after they married, Dennis lost his job when the Quaker Oats plant shut down in St. Joseph. Times were tough, but he eventually found a new job at the Ford plant in Claycomo, an hour one-way commute, but worth it to keep his growing family in St. Joseph, she said.
Then in the fall of 2003, he was diagnosed with colon cancer that had already spread. He died on Dec. 19, but not before having Mary promise him that someway, somehow, their four children — Mitchell, Matthew, Ellie and Alex — would receive a Catholic education at least through high school.
“He had a good insurance policy, but that only lasts so long,” Mary said.
The Huey children were already enrolled at St. Francis Xavier, and the family found out in their grief that it was not just a school, but a community.
“The teachers got together and for at least the next two months after the funeral, they brought supper to the house for us,” Mary said.
Mary said that Principal Darin Pollard worked out a deal in which she would volunteer in the school’s after-school care program in lieu of enrollment fees for her children. That helped keep them at St. Francis Xavier.
But when Mitchell graduated from St. Francis Xavier, Mary had to figure out a way to pay for tuition at two Catholic schools.
Bishop LeBlond Principal “Dr. (Solon) Haynes sat down with me before the school year, and told me about the grants and scholarships that might be available to us,” she said. “He was really working hard to get Mitchell in that school.”
One of them was the new Honoring Families Scholarship that provides $500 off tuition to any diocesan high school (Bishop LeBlond, Archbishop O’Hara, St. Pius X, and St. Mary’s) for families with a child in high school and younger siblings still in Catholic grade school.
“When you think that they give this to every family, that’s an awful lot of money,” Mary said.
Mary said that it would be easy to send her children to St. Joseph public schools, which are good schools. But they are not Catholic schools, she said.
Case in point, Mitchell’s grades started wobbling early in his freshman year. It was all hands on deck, Mary said. Failure was not an option.
“We met with every teacher and came up with a plan where he caught up,” she said. “It’s not that they just do a great job teaching, but every teacher and the principal knows every child, and they know who you are. I haven’t had a single complaint with any of them.”
Nor do the schools with any of the Huey children.
“Each one of them seems to have a love of life that is written on their faces,” said Pollard. “Everyone would say that Mary and her children are a blessing to our school community.”
Ditto for Mitchell, says his principal.
“Mitchell is a great young man who has taken advantage of the opportunities at Bishop LeBlond to make himself a better student and person,” Haynes said. “Mitchell enjoys coming to school and can always be seen with a smile on his face.”
The Huey children are equally as devoted to their schools.
Ten-year-old Alex’s favorite class is religion.
“We get to do projects,” he said. “Right now, we’re doing Bible booklets. We have all these old religion books, and we cut out the pictures and write about the Bible verses.”
Nothing goes to waste in a Catholic school.
Ellie, 12, passed along a story about how Pollard makes the day fun.
“When it’s somebody’s birthday,” she said, “he’ll do an Elmo or Cookie Monster voice (over the intercom). It’s funny.”
Matthew, 14 and an eighth grader, says he faces “the hardest decision” next year. He would like to go to St. Joseph Lafayette High School, “because my Dad graduated from there,” but he’ll probably go to Bishop LeBlond.
Good choice, said big brother Mitchell, who also plays junior varsity soccer.
“The education there is better than a lot of schools,” he said. “I’m glad I’m there.”
Mary said it isn’t easy keeping her promise to Dennis. But it is worth every sacrifice, pointing to the Dodge Durango from the last millennium that serves as the family car.
“It’s paycheck to paycheck. We don’t have a lot of extras,” she said.
“But I like that what I am teaching at home is reinforced at school, and what they are teaching at school is reinforced at home,” Mary said.
Mary said the Catholic school community also pulled her and the children through the loss of Dennis to the point where she is grateful for their eight years of marriage and their four children, rather than bitter over his death.
“You have to realize you have blessings, or else you will just lay down and die,” she said. “That’s the way it is with a Catholic school. You look at all the good things you’ve been given, and you go on.”