You can do more with the grace of God than you think.- St. John Baptist de La Salle
In July 1999, Kathie Brown and her husband Dennis packed their belongings and relocated their family to the west side of the Twin Cities, an area more populated by cornfields than houses. Kathie was embarking on what turned out to be both an entrepreneurial venture and a vocational call – the creation of a new Catholic high school, the first to be built in Minnesota in over thirty years.
Twenty-one years later, Kathie views the decision to leave Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin as a significant close-your-eyes-and-leap of faith experience. “Sometimes a question challenges us to say ‘Yes’ to change, to embrace the unknown. Reflection is valuable, but we will never have all the information we would like to make a perfect decision. Leaving CMHS, friends, and extended family was difficult, but working with a passionate group of people to grow a school created a new sense of what it means to be family,” Kathie believes. This responsiveness to the needs of young people is a legacy offered to each class of Holy Family students.
By the time Kathie reported for her first day of work in an office of then Klein Bank in Chanhassen, the architectural plans were drawn. The ceremonial shovels had been stuck in the soil of the farm that would support Holy Family Catholic High School. What was left? Everything.
Busing, food service, furniture, equipment, and supplies had to be acquired. These are essential components of a school that are so easy to take for granted in an established institution. Of great importance, however, was developing a vision for the curriculum and finding the educators who were knowledgeable, flexible, and creative to achieve that vision.
Kathie began by using her experience with a combined English and history course at her former school and imbuing it with theology. Integrated Studies (IS) was born. Seeking a theology teacher who could envision an interwoven approach to learning and deepen understanding of the Catholic faith, she found Doug Bosch, someone capable and willing to explore ways ninth grade students might see education as more than earning grades. Today, elements of this integration are found in the junior-level courses of American Literature, American History, and Catholic Social Teaching.
Eleven other teachers filled the available positions by the time the building was ready for limited occupancy. Four remain: Doug Bosch, Gary Kannel, Matt Thuli, and Jim Walker. Kathie credits the tireless efforts of these first twelve educators for setting a high standard of collegiality and innovation not only for each other but for the next teachers to join the professional community as the school grew.
Kathie also recognized the importance of providing traditions and rituals for the first 147 students who walked through the doors in the fall of 2000. She established a weekly Convocation to pray, communicate information, and reinforce values. The classes of 2003 and 2004 established many other meaningful traditions. They suggested the Thanksgiving dinner and an honor society to acknowledge academic effort. These young people took ownership of their new school and led Holy Family quickly and decisively to a culture of excellence. Kathie recalls, “All they needed was someone to listen to their ideas and permission to use their energy to make them happen. I was in awe of their insights and eagerness to make Holy Family their school. They helped form me into the school leader they required.”
One of the most significant historical developments in the growth of Holy Family came in 2005 with the formal approval to join the Lasallian international network of schools. Former president Frank Miley initiated the discernment process and Kathie immediately identified with the Christian Brothers’ pedagogy that sees students as the center of the educational process. She loves the imagery of faculty and staff walking alongside youth as they teach minds, touch hearts, and transform lives – their own included.
An essential aspect of our Lasallian charism is to “Live Jesus in our hearts . . . forever.” It is witnessed frequently in the way people say “Yes” to what will help students thrive. They are not concerned whether a task is in a job description. Over the last twenty years, faculty and staff have volunteered to moderate clubs, plan events, and suggest better ways to do things – and then do them. Kathie hopes the culture of doing “whatever it takes” is so well-established that such generosity continues to grow. She has tried to lead the way by serving whenever her skills are compatible. She remembers everyone in her family cleaning the school’s windows and bathrooms the weekend before Holy Family opened in fall 2000. Recognizing every job is an essential one, she has served as Holy Family’s first counselor, a substitute teacher, ticket-taker, concession stand coordinator, and, for eight years, as both president and principal.
These experiences explain why what comes next is not a question Kathie can answer. She could not have predicted what would be necessary to end this school year with as little loss of learning and relationships as possible. As the challenges increased, what became important was supporting students and teachers in their efforts to adjust and stay healthy in every way. Again, she had help. Teachers ensured the students were well-taught. The staff and parents supported the teachers. Family takes care of family.
All is well these days as Kathie packs up the many memories two decades can collect. And because all is well, she is not concerned about making plans for the immediate future. The question that needs her next “Yes” will come when it comes.
The Kathleen Brown Opportunity Scholarship Fund was established to honor Kathie’s legacy and commitment to our school. More information about her scholarship can be found at: http://www.hfchs.org/giving-opportunities/brown-scholarship/
Kathie shared Holy Family’s story during the 2020 Founders Week. Visit this Vimeo Showcase to view her videos: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7299211