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Mass signals start of Catholic schools week

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

He has worked in Washington, D.C. -- across the street from the Capitol building, no less -- for more than five years. But Will Ruder hasn't forgotten his roots.

So although he was unable to attend a special celebration in northwest Kansas today, he made sure he let those back home know how he feels about his Catholic education.

Ruder, who grew up Plainville, was to be honored at today's 10:30 a.m. Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in his hometown as the winner of the 2013 Outstanding Alumni of the Year.

This morning's Mass always kicks off Catholic Schools Week for the Sacred Heart parish, and a letter of acceptance remarks was to be read from Ruder, a legislative assistant for U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan, who was unable to make the trip home due to work commitments.

Ruder, the oldest of six children of John and Karla Ruder, graduated in 1997 from Sacred Heart, where youngest sister, Melinda, is currently a fifth-grader.

Ruder said he used a strong foundation built and fostered both at home by his family and in school as something to rely on as he move on to public school in junior and high school.

He then attended Kansas State University, where he became active at St. Isidore's Catholic Center.

"You've got to remain grounded," said Ruder, who added that he hopes he can be a "good representative of all the kids who have had an opportunity to through Catholic Schools.

"I want to use this opportunity to recognize the role of a faith-based education, as a means to find a way to make a difference."

The other five area Catholic elementary schools, in addition to Thomas More Prep-Marian Junior-Senior High School in Hays, all are preparing for Catholic Schools Week as well.

Those are Holy Family in Hays; Sacred Heart, Colby; Sacred Heart, Ness City; St. Joseph, Oakley; and St. Mary's, Ellis.

Activities vary in each school, but all center on this year's theme, "Catholic Schools Raise the Standards." There are special days for honoring the students' school, their parents, academics, vocations, community and nation.

The theme is set each year by the National Catholic Educational Association.

"I think it's a good reflection of who we are as Catholic schools," TMP Principal Bill DeWitt said of the 2013 theme.

Bishop Edward Weisenburger, ordained last May as the new bishop of the Diocese of Kansas, will make appearances all across the diocese this week, including celebrating an all-school Mass Friday at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Hays, which holds about 1,000 people.

Students from TMP and Holy Family will participate in that celebration.

"The church will be packed with Catholic school kids, all in uniform," said DeWitt, a 1992 graduate of TMP who has three daughters attending Holy Family. "It'll be a great celebration."

The week of celebration is being acknowledged all the way to our nation's capital.

"I get most of my political acumen from my parents," Ruder said. "They work countless hours to make a great life for my siblings and me and give us some values."

Ruder said he feels lucky that whenever he needs to be reminded of those values, he doesn't have far to look.

"I just call home," he said.