By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Over the last 22 years, Theresa Ulrich packed more than 5,000 school lunches as she sent her eight children off to Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Ky.
She and her husband Don made the decision early in their marriage that their children would attend Catholic school. As their eighth and final graduate finished senior year this month, the couple said they would do it all over again.
Their 18-year-old son Buddy rounded out an era at Bethlehem when school leaders delivered his cap and gown to the family’s farm house in Bardstown. The COVID-19 global pandemic and subsequent safety restrictions prevented the Ulrichs from seeing their last child walk across the stage and collect his diploma.
“We had planned a humongous party,” Theresa Ulrich said, laughing.
Those plans for graduation festivities are not important, she said. The young men and women her children have grown into, thanks to their Catholic roots and education, are what’s most important.
“We have eight really good kids,” said Theresa Ulrich. “We’re very proud of them. They’ve made good choices. They have good careers. I think that (attending Bethlehem) has something to do with it.”
Don Ulrich recalled that some of the children wanted to follow friends to public high schools,
but he didn’t give them a choice.
“We wanted them prepared for life. Making good decisions after school reflects that,” said Don Ulrich during a recent interview.
He also wanted to make sure their children were growing in their Catholic faith, which helped cement the decision to send them to Catholic high school. All eight attended St. Catharine Academy in New Haven for grade school.
“Don and I strongly feel that the Catholic Church’s future depends on parents sending their children to a Catholic school,” said Theresa Ulrich. “This is where they learn about their Catholic faith and history. They learn to love the sacraments and their importance to their soul and salvation.”
Her husband agrees.
“Our faith is what will get us through this life to the next. You don’t get a second chance when you’re raising kids,” he said.
In the end all the children were happy they attended Bethlehem. They all excelled and hit their stride, said the couple.
They took part in sports and speech and debate clubs, sang in the choir and participated in campus ministry activities. Theresa Ulrich said Neal, her third son, particularly enjoyed the responsibility of raising the school’s flag every morning and taking it down every evening.
Buddy, the 2020 graduate, said he is happy with his parents’ decision to send him to Bethlehem, though in the beginning he wanted to attend a public school to be close to his friends.
“I liked that we all knew each other and that we were all friends,” he said. “I made a lot of friends at Bethlehem.”
Buddy played football all four years and competed in bass fishing. He plans to enter a four-year apprenticeship this fall and become a welder, he said.
The Ulrichs said their seven other children went on to successful lives and careers.
Matthew, a 2002 Bethlehem graduate, is an engineer. He is married and has four children.
Josh, a 2004 graduate, is a diesel mechanic manager. He is married and has one child.
Brian, a 2006 graduate, served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps and now works as a millwright journeyman. He is engaged to be married this August.
Neal, class of 2009, is a plumber journeyman. He is married and has three sons.
Sarah, a graduate of the class of 2012, is pursuing a nursing degree. She is engaged to be married in June.
Olivia, a 2015 graduate, earned a degree in philosophy from the University of Louisville and is pursuing a master’s in theology. She plans to teach at a Catholic high school.
Becca, a graduate of the class of 2018, is studying nursing at Bellarmine University. She was the winner of the Mary Agnes Dugan Clayton Scholarship.
Connie McDowell, a science teacher at Bethlehem, taught all the Ulrich children.
“When I saw the name ‘Ulrich’ on my class roster, I knew that I would have a cooperative, hardworking student. All of them were so polite, respectful and dependable,” said McDowell in a recent interview. “They all have a pleasant, peaceful demeanor and were such a source of positive energy in the classroom. I am truly saddened to see the end of the Ulrich era but grateful that I could participate in a small part of it.”
Theresa Ulrich said she enjoyed having her children at Bethlehem. Her favorite traditions were sporting events, Baccalaureate Masses and graduation ceremonies at the Stephen Foster amphitheater.
Her husband particularly enjoyed serving as boat captain for Buddy’s bass fishing team.
With 22 years worth of high school activities behind them, the couple said they have much to look forward to.
“We’re going to breathe a little and start thinking about retiring,” said Don Ulrich. “We have eight grandkids and it’s time we start enjoying that.”