FREEPORT - Whether it’s divine intervention, or just good old fashioned community pride, there’s something special happening in Freeport.  The Sacred Heart Catholic school – once on the brink of being closed by the diocese – is now a thriving, bustling hub of activity for the community.

Other schools say, what are you doing?  We are kind of the only school in the diocese that has been growing.

Kathy Welle is a longtime Administrative Assistant at the school.  She says Sacred Heart’s enrollment bottomed out in the early 2000’s.  That’s when a local banker bought a bus so they could start picking up students from neighboring communities – New Munich and St. Rosa.  Community donations helped pay the bus driver’s salary.  Without that bus they would have had just 30 students in grades K-6 in 2005.

Today they’ve outgrown that bus, and instead are served by the Melrose school district’s buses.  And my are they growing, they have 125 students enrolled for this fall – plus another 25 kids in their pre-school program.

New principal Kristie Harren says the parents and community are vital in keeping Sacred Heart going.

They're what keep it going. Right now we have a remodeling going on in the school. There's a family up there, a mom and dad and their five kids. They're the ones putting the walls into our school.  We have parent volunteers that do everything for us from painting walls, to building shelves, to coming in doing our cleaning.

Meanwhile, the school is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.  And, Harren says using a 100-year-old building and church does come with some challenges.  For example, their gym space is the church basement , which has 11 large pillars throughout the room. Sometimes they have to cancel gym class, because of a funeral.

But, the days of having gym class cancelled for a funeral are all about to end.  Construction is underway for the school’s first-ever gym.  The money to build the more than $1.1 million facility has all been raised by community donations.

Christie Zenk has three kids in the school.  She says they are understandably excited.

When is our gym going to be done?  When is our gym going to be done?  They are so excited.

The answer is, they’re hoping to have the gym done in time for their Christmas program.  Not bad for a school that not too long ago only had about 30 students.

We have something incredibly special here. We're so fortunately. It's a special place and we're happy that we can keep it growing and make it better than it already is.

WJON video reporters Chrissy Gaetke and Rebecca David contributed to this story.

Last week WJON reporters Jim Maurice, Dan DeBaun, and Alex Svejkovsky each threw a dart at a Stearns County map to determine where they should go to find a news story.  Jim's dart landed closest to Freeport.

WJON Staff