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Trinity Prep: Second home to students

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

High school students attending Trinity Prep Seminary in the late 1950s and 1960s came from various backgrounds and areas of the country, but those attending an all-school reunion insisted they all had something in common.

The school became a second home.

Located on the site of Trinity Heights Queen of Peace in Sioux City, the preparatory high school opened in the fall of 1957 and was run for about 10 years by Salvatorian priests and brothers at the request of Bishop Joseph Mueller. Approximately 300 boys were educated at the school, of which about 14 went on to become priests.

Bill Kersting of Spencer was one of the organizers of the May 31-June 1 reunion that drew more than 30 men, plus some spouses.

He pointed out that all students, freshmen to juniors, were required to board at the school but as a senior, there was the option to be a day student.

“But after three years, this was your friends, your family,” said Kersting, who was a Sioux City native who opted to stay all four years on campus. “After all those years together, they become your family, your brothers.

Many of them have continued contact with each other over 50 years – some by email, by phone.”

He mentioned the prep school drew from several states, mainly Midwest, because while there were several college seminaries, there were not many high school seminaries.
Owen Pryor of Columbus, Kans., returned for the reunion because the school and people meant so much to him.

His last visit to the Trinity grounds was three years ago and he acknowledged it was the first time to see that the original buildings were gone. It was a little hard for him, but he said the development is beautiful.

“My years at Trinity were exceptional in that the priests and brothers who taught us and my classmates were outstanding,” he said. “We’ve stayed in touch through the years.”

Given that they were a boarding school made the bond all the stronger.

“We just didn’t go to high school with them, we lived here 24-7. You came in September and didn’t go home until December. Came back in January and didn’t go home until May,” said Pryor, who was a member of the class of 1964. “It’s not like we went home every afternoon and didn’t see them over the weekend. We were a family.”

Tom Wessling, a member of the class of 1961, led the rosary on the grounds of Trinity Heights Friday night that opened reunion activities.

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” he said. “We are in the heart of God’s country.”

A native of Danbury and current resident of Troy, Ill., Wessling said even though he began to attend the school at age 14 and he had never been away from home, he was never homesick at Trinity Prep.

Father Ron Krisman, a priest of the Diocese of Orlando, Fla., drove 1,500 miles to attend the reunion despite having major back surgery just six weeks ago because, “I really wanted to be here.”

“I think it was a great place to receive good formation in the spiritual life,” said the priest of his years at Trinity. “I really enjoy coming back here and seeing the guys who didn’t become priests, who have become committed laymen in the church.”

While not many priests came from the school, he noted, Trinity helped to form many strong lay leaders. The native of Kansas City, Kans., said he hopes to attend the next reunion if his health holds out.

Father John Vakulskas, pastor at the parishes in Ashton and Sibley, was a member of the class of 1961. He attended the reunion as a way “to relive old memories. You take a lot of trips down memory lane.”

Father Vakulskas recalled how the Salvatorians put an emphasis on prayer, academics and sports – offering a well-balanced education environment.

“There were all kinds of opportunities to follow-up on interests and talents,” he said.

Another priest in attendance was Father Pat O’Kane, a priest of the Diocese of Sioux City who pastors the parishes of Blencoe, Onawa and Salix.

Dan Klein, a native of north central South Dakota and member of the class of 1967, admitted it took him a little longer to adjust to time away from home. While it eventually became “a home away from home” he said the first year was tough to get used to.

By the time he was a junior and senior, he said he was heavily involved in athletics.

Now a Sioux City resident, Klein said, “This place is special to me. When I come up here and walk around the grounds, I have memories of things I did. Just like when we prayed the rosary tonight – that was a tradition. Every night we would walk the grounds and pray the rosary.”

Klein was instrumental in acquiring contact information for the men of Trinity in preparation for the 2007 reunion. It’s that list that has been key for gatherings in 2011 and this year and is expected to be going forward.

The reunion included a talk by Trinity Heights Executive Director Terry Hegarty, informing the Trinity Prep grads about developments at Trinity Heights over the last 25 years and future plans. Saturday’s schedule included opportunities for local sightseeing or golf, a social at Dan Klein’s with class trivia, with Mass and dinner at Briar Cliff University to close out the gathering.

Organizers say they would like to make the reunion a triennial event – gathering every three years.

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