Sacred Heart School in Lawrenceburg is a four-generation tradition for one family

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Debbie Stephenson is a second generation graduate of Sacred Heart School in Lawrenceburg, graduating in 1970. She follows in the steps of her mother, Anne (Gang) White, who graduated in 1945. Stephenson’s three children carried on the tradition as have her 12 grandchildren, three of which are still students at the school. Stephenson, left, poses with her grandson, Avery, a kindergartener; her grandson Braxton, a seventh grader; her daughter Wendi Cunningham, class of 1990; and her granddaughter Adalee, a fifth grader. Photo by Katie Peterson

For Debbie Stephenson, family tradition begins with Sacred Heart School in Lawrenceburg, from which she graduated in 1970.

She was a second-generation graduate following her mother, Anne (Gang) White, who graduated in 1945.

And the tradition has continued with Stephenson’s three children – Wendi, class of 1990; Brent, class of 1993; and April, class of 1996 – and 12 grandchildren – Katie, class of 2009; Riley, Brittany Sims and Brittney Stephenson, class of 2012; Julie, class of 2014; Makayla, class of 2015; Brookelyn, class of 2017; Mackenzie, class of 2018; Thomas, class of 2022; Braxton, future class of 2024; Adalee, future class of 2026; and Avery, future class of 2031.

“Four generations in all,” said Stephenson, who has served as the school’s cafeteria manager since 2015. It’s the second time she’s returned to Sacred Heart for work, having previously served as school secretary for 10 years, before spending 20 years working for H.B. Brink and Company in Lawrenceburg.

“When I went to work at Brinks, I always thought that if the time came up where I could come back, I would,” Stephenson said. “There’s just always been something that I liked about being here.”

Stephenson’s daughter, Wendi Cunningham, is also back at her alma mater, helping out in the cafeteria and with several other programs at the school.

“It just feels like a family here,” Cunningham said.

“Everybody knows everybody,” Stephenson added. “Everybody watches out for everybody.”

Stephenson said that, when she was a student, she didn’t know that there were options outside of Catholic school.

“We didn’t even think that you could go to public school,” she said. “That was just not an option in our household.”

But, even with knowing of other options, Stephenson said, there was no question that her three children would attend Sacred Heart.

“There was no question about them going to Catholic school and getting a Catholic education,” Stephenson said. “You just seem to get a better education coming here than at the time, going to public schools.”

Cunningham found that to still be true when it was time for her children to attend school.

“I knew they weren’t going to public school because the schools that we are zoned for in this county are ranked the lowest in the county, so I preferred them not to be there,” said Cunningham, whose children have since graduated from Sacred Heart. “I have friends and family who have kids there that were way behind my kids, so it was not an option.”

Plus, there’s the added bonus of receiving a Catholic education with opportunities to attend Mass daily.

“I know that a lot of the kids that my kids have grown up with cannot say the ‘Our Father’ to save their lives, and they’ve gone to church just on Sundays,” Cunningham said. “My kids could say it from kindergarten, but these kids were seventh and eighth graders and still didn’t know it. I feel that they get more out of going to church every day than you do going once a week.

“And it just brings them closer to God,” she added.

“It instills in them a little more about where their religion came from, where the Catholic Church came from, when you go to church and you listen and you have religion classes every day,” Stephenson added. “When you learn more about the Church, about your background as a Catholic, it instills it in you, and you carry that on as you get older.

“Out of the nine grandkids that have already graduated from Sacred Heart, eight of them have graduated from Lawrence County High School, and six of the eight have graduated with honors,” she said. “I think that is attributed a lot to the education that they got here.”

And now three more are continuing their education.

Seventh-grader Braxton said he loves “the cooking, the friends that I make, and just the great teachers.”

“Why I like Sacred Heart is because we get to go to church every day, we do fun classes, and we get to just have fun always,” added fifth-grader Adalee. “It’s good to have generations here, and it’s good to have all our teachers to help along the way.”

And it all began four generations ago. 

“My grandparents were German Catholic and Mama, Aunt Catherine (class of 1944), and Uncle William (class of 1950) all went through this school, and all their kids were raised Catholic,” Stephenson said. “She would be very proud of how well her grandkids and great grandkids have done, and that we are carrying on the tradition by sending them to school here at Sacred Heart.” 

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