Families Celebrate Generations of Catholic Education in Altoona-Johnstown

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By Tony DeGol
Proclaim!

For Maria Urbain, Catholic education is about tradition.

And she should know.

A 1991 graduate of Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg, Urbain is one of multiple generations of family members who attended BC or are currently enrolled.

“My grandparents, Bill and Lillian Myers, had 10 children, and out of the 10, nine had some contact with Bishop Carroll,” she explained.

Urbain’s dad, Gene Myers, was the first in the family to graduate from BC in 1967.

“It was important to continue the tradition of Catholic education in our family so that what we learned at home was continued in a school setting,” he noted.

In that same spirit, Myers gave his three children the gift of a Catholic education.

Maria’s brother, Gene, Jr., graduated from Carroll in in 1993, and her sister, Lisa, graduated in 1999.

The Huskie tradition continues with Urbain’s son, Thomas, a sophomore at BC. Her other son, Samuel, will be a member of Carroll’s Class of 2026.

The decision to provide a Catholic education for her boys is a no-brainer for Urbain.

“My late husband and I tried to raise our children with not only the traditions of our heritage, but the beauty of legacy and being a part of something bigger than ourselves,” she stressed.

Her late husband, Thomas, was also a BC graduate. Like his wife’s family, he too, was proud of his Catholic school roots. He helped plan high school reunions for his beloved Class of 1985, and he dedicated his time and talent to various fundraisers at All Saints Catholic School in Cresson.

The Myers-Urbain clan and their relatives are just one of many families throughout the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown that boast a long and storied history of Catholic education.

Their pride will shine along with everyone affiliated with the 13 Catholic elementary schools and four independent Catholic high schools in the diocese during the upcoming Catholic Schools Week 2021.

Celebrated January 31-February 6, the national theme is Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service. 

“Our Catholic schools are amazing places where students encounter the Lord and share the incredible journey of faith with each other,” wrote Bishop Mark in his Catholic Schools Week letter to the faithful “With the support of parents, the guidance of awesome teachers, and the use of the latest technology and curriculum, students are challenged every day to reach their full potential. Striving for excellence in the classroom supports their call to service of others as missionary disciples who encourage everyone to know who they are and to focus on their place in God’s plan.”

Students, teachers, administrators, and staff are rising to the challenge of the continuing coronavirus pandemic, assured Diocesan Director of Education Jo-Ann Semko.

“When other schools remained closed, we safely opened our doors using distancing and safety protocols to provide students with in-person and hybrid learning models to ensure that there would be as little a gap in students learning as possible,” she stated. “In our diocese, we obtained a 97% attendance rate while other schools in our area were struggling to obtain a mere 50% to 60% attendance rate.”

Beyond the theme of Faith, Excellence, and Service, the diocese is taking advantage of Catholic Schools Week 2021 to recognize just some of the many families who have shown an enthusiastic commitment to Catholic education for three, four, or more generations. Each Catholic elementary school in the diocese was invited to present a family to the diocese to spotlight in the diocesan media. Their stories are remarkable and inspiring.

The Lieb-Ludwig family’s experience with Catholic education dates back nearly seven decades.

According to Mary Beth (Ludwig) Lieb, nine children of Herman and Rose Marie Lieb attended Saint Nicholas School in Nicktown, and six attended Carroll. Herman and Rose Marie have had 12 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren attend Catholic Elementary Schools in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia.

All six children of Francis and Betty Ludwig attended Saint Nicholas and BC. Fourteen Ludwig grandchildren have attended Northern Cambria Catholic School (formerly Saint Nicholas) and 11 great grandchildren now attend NCCS.

Combined, the Liebs and Ludwigs have had 29 great grandchildren in Catholic Elementary Schools in three states, and they have the potential to send 16 other great grandchildren to Catholic Schools.

“We are fortunate to have had the opportunity for so many of our family members to attend Catholic Schools,” observed Lieb, a member of the BCCHS Class of 1969. “Faith is an important aspect of our families and we have been truly blessed. Catholic Education has been good to our families and we work diligently to help secure Catholic education for the years to come.”

That resolve is not lost on Catholic educators.

“Family is the very core of Bishop Carroll Catholic High School,” commented Jonathan Nagy, the school’s Dean of Students. “It is encouraging to have so many dedicated to the cause who know the benefits that can come from a solid Catholic education.”

For the Lieb-Ludwig and Myers-Urbain families, it is a love affair that continues to blossom.

“Giving our children a Catholic Education can be challenging,” reminded Stacy Lieb, a mother of four NCCS students. “It does require some sacrifice and 100 percent commitment. However, it’s one of the only things that we can give our kids that we know is a necessity.”

Added Urbain: “I love the intimacy that a small Catholic school can instill. I’m still in touch with almost all of my classmates from (the former) Saint Patrick Catholic School in Gallitzin. There’s something about reminiscing about a Christmas Eve Mass that was made up of your schoolmates, or a favorite teacher that really was able to bring the meaning of the Gospel to light in your eyes.”

Editor’s Note: Watch a special Catholic Schools Week edition of Proclaim! TV on January 31 at 10:30 a.m. on WATM ABC 23.

Photos: (Top) Catholic school students in the Lieb-Ludwig family; (Inset) Maria Urbain, her dad, Gene Myers, and her son, Thomas.