Cedar Catholic Junior/Senior High School Principal Chris Uttecht looks over an assignment with senior Reagan Loecker, left, and her sister Kendra Loecker, a sophomore. Both young women are recipients of a tuition scholarship funded by the Msgr. Cyril J. Werner Endowment Fund. LARAYNE TOPP

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CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK: Endowment gives Cedar County Catholic students big boost

By LARAYNE TOPP

Msgr. Cyril Werner took his place each school day, seated in the corner of a hallway by the Sacred Heart statue at Holy Trinity Elementary School in Hartington. He greeted each student as they came from the lunch room.

“Everyone wanted to talk to him,” remembers Keith Loecker, who graduated from Hartington’s Cedar Catholic Junior/Senior High School in 1988. “He was always good with kids.”

Msgr. Werner spent 38 years as pastor of several parishes in Cedar County, including almost 20 years at Holy Trinity in the 70s and 80s. During that time, much of his attention focused on providing and promoting Catholic education. He worked passionately to keep Catholic schools open at a time when many were closing for lack of funding.

Today, Keith and Michelle Loecker’s family are beneficiaries of those efforts. Their six children either have attended or are attending Holy Trinity and Cedar Catholic. But choosing parochial over public school education comes with a price. The Loeckers have chosen to watch their budget and do without, so their children can attend Catholic schools.

When Loecker was a youngster at Holy Trinity, many of his classes were taught by nuns, he said; no fee was charged to attend. Today, however, tuition can be costly.

Msgr. Werner often reminded Holy Trinity students how important it was that their parents sacrificed so that they could attend Catholic schools, Loecker said, so they should appreciate and not waste that opportunity.

The Loeckers’ daughters Reagan and Kendra are a senior and a sophomore, respectively, at Cedar Catholic. Reagan is involved in band and choir, while Kendra participates in one-act plays and the Future Farmers of America. The three oldest Loecker children have graduated from Cedar Catholic, and the youngest is a sixth grader at Holy Trinity.

“We’ll be paying tuition for a few more years,” Michelle explained. Providentially, those payments have been reduced by an endowment established in Msgr. Werner’s name.

The Msgr. Cyril J. Werner Endowment Fund was established by a significant planned gift made by Msgr. Werner through his estate after he passed away in February 2012. His estate directed this gift to go to the Omaha Archdiocesan Educational Foundation and held perpetually in endowment.

The interest generated by the fund provides tuition aid to students in all Catholic schools in Cedar County. These include Cedar Catholic and Holy Trinity in Hartington, East Catholic Elementary School in Bow Valley, and West Catholic Elementary School in Fordyce.

The tuition assistance keeps Catholic education accessible in Cedar County. In addition to easing the burden of tuition for qualifying families, the endowment also offers budget assistance to the schools themselves.

To date, more than $41,000 in tuition aid has been distributed to Cedar County schools, explained Tim Bogatz, stewardship and development officer for the Omaha Archdiocesan Educational/Parish Foundation. The Foundation, established in 1977, manages nearly 200 endowment funds benefiting archdiocesan parishes, schools and ministries.

The Werner endowment is an example of how such funds help to enable a school and/or parish to impact the lives of Catholics well into the future, Bogatz said. The role of endowments in sustaining the mission of the Catholic Church should be seriously considered by anyone in parish or school leadership, he said.

Chris Uttecht has served as principal at Cedar Catholic for the past two years.

“Hartington is a pretty Catholic community,” he said. “They take pride in Cedar Catholic and Holy Trinity schools.” Eight churches in three parishes send students to Cedar Catholic and Holy Trinity.

Father Owen Korte is the current pastor of Holy Trinity Parish and serves as president of Cedar Catholic. He appreciates how Catholic families within these parishes support their schools, and in turn, the role of education within the community.

“A school brings life to a community,” he said, and the endowment plays a large role in helping Cedar County kids become students at Cedar County’s Catholic schools.

Msgr. Werner dedicated much of his life to the youth of the communities he served and their education. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Omaha in 1945 and named monsignor in 1985. He was the fourth honoree to receive Boys Town’s District Service Award for his lifelong work with youth. Over the course of his priesthood, he was assigned to parishes in Fordyce, Hartington, Omaha, O’Neill, St. Helena and St. James.

Michelle Loecker remembers Msgr. Werner as a man of gratitude. “He reminded you to be grateful,” she said. “He would often say, ‘God is good.’”

Her husband compares all the priests he meets with Msgr. Werner, she said. “It’s honorable to be remembered like that.”