Fifty Years of ‘Grace’ at Our Lady of Peace Parish

WHEELING – Fifty years ago, Grace and Tom Kolibash were a young married couple facing a question many parents wrangle over – where to send their children to school.

Grace was raised in Center Wheeling, attended St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, but moved to the Mozart area of Wheeling when she married the love of her life. From that union, five children were born. When the couple began attending the newly founded Our Lady of Peace Church, they knew the growing congregation needed a school of its own.

As two of the founding members of Our Lady of Peace School, Grace and Tom worked to see the school to fruition and beyond.

“It was the best decision we ever made,” Grace said.

The early days of the school saw two grades in one classroom, a makeshift auditorium on the second floor where card parties and plays were held, and a library established long before computers graced the desks.

One of the projects that made the Kolibashes most proud is when they and the Montgomery family worked toward purchasing a school bus to transport students from the outlying hilltop areas to the school.

“We got everyone to pool their Top Value stamps and we bought a used school bus that made two runs a day,” Grace said. “We were so proud of that. Now the kids ride the public school buses.”

While her children were entering various grades of elementary and high school, Grace went back to work as a nurse to help pay tuititions. But her work schedule never stopped her from a deep commitment to OLP School and church.

Fifty years later and now widowed, she continues serving as a Eucharistic minister and reader for Mass, washes the church linens and has been a dedicated visitor to shut-ins, taking Communion and hospitality to those in most need of spiritual and human comfort. She carries homemade greeting cards from the parish school children to the elderly or ill during hera visits.

When the church is filled for novenas, Grace is there. If there is a hot dog sale, she is right there pitching in. Now with grandchildren in the school, she rarely misses any program at the school or church.

The Rev. Dennis Schuelkens Jr., OLP Parish administrator said, “Grace is the go-to person. She takes the lead in the novenas and prayer chains. She is an organizer and planner, collaborating with me on so many areas of parish life.

“I ask and value her opinion on many things. One day I will see her sitting in the school folding bulletins and the next thing you know she’s sewing something for me.”

OLP Principal C’Ann Reilly said even after 50 years, Grace, who is 82, remains “a constant and visible model of faith” for others, especially the children who are accustomed to seeing her involved in all aspects of parish life.

Grace’s dedication to her parish and faith have earned her the Bishop’s Cross award which is given to a Catholic whose life and works demonstrate his or her commitment to the mission of Catholic schools in West Virginia. She will attend the annual Bishop’s Dinner for Catholic Schools on April 21 in Morgantown to accept her award.

“I cried like a baby when I got the letter,” Grace said. “I’m very humbled.”