As the school year has gotten underway, over the past few months students around Holy Name Province have been diving into varied academic, spiritual and outreach initiatives. From the Carolinas to the mid-Atlantic region, schools affiliated with the Province have welcomed their young people – “God’s angels,” as one teacher calls her pupils. Activities up and down the East Coast varied by geography and community.
In South Carolina, as the last school semester was winding down in the spring, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School in downtown Greenville hit one out of the park – to use baseball jargon – scoring the Association for Learning Environment’s prestigious 2016 Excellence Award. Fittingly, the school kicked off the 2016-17 academic year at the ballpark.
On Aug. 30, more than 300 students and parents attended St. Anthony School Family and Friends Night at Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive, the Boston Red Sox Class A minor league affiliate. It was a night to celebrate the achievements and talents of students and staff.
Though the ceremonial first pitch – thrown by Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor – attracted attention and cameras, some of the evening’s highlights included a stirring performance of the National Anthem by the school’s gifted Mixed Choir and recognition of dedicated teachers and staff.
When the doors opened before Labor Day for the first day of school, students provided a lesson in the gentleness and compassion that marked the life of St. Francis. As K3 children arrived for the first time, they took a tour with their teachers throughout the school and met all the students, teachers and staff. They met St. Anthony’s oldest students — the sixth graders — who welcomed them, gently taking their hands and providing reassuring words and walked them around the building.
Community Causes and Team-building in North Carolina
A few hundred miles away — in North Carolina — at least one group of students at The Franciscan School in Raleigh were eager to get things started this new academic year. Within the first couple of weeks, eighth graders at the K-to-8 school were already brainstorming on an academic initiative introduced last school session that integrates the Diocese of Raleigh’s rigorous language arts curriculum with community service.
Under the program called Community Actions Uniting and Serving Everyone (C.A.U.S.E.), students will immerse themselves in social causes – identifying and writing about them based on interviews, research and volunteering at not-for-profit organizations. Students will then create proposed service projects around these causes and organizations.
Part of the goal is to stimulate awareness and motivate students to think about social issues – and ultimately effect change, according to Michael Watson, principal of The Franciscan School, which has been recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.
Last school session, eighth grade students participated in service projects that included raising funds for the medical care of military veterans, using original artwork to brighten the hallways of a hospice, and beautifying a school for special needs children.
“It is a wonderful way for our students to feel connected to issues that impact the world around them, and for them to feel empowered by making a real difference,” said religion teacher Kristen Dellasega.
Added Steven Patti, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, “Our students are excited about using this opportunity to serve the community in ways that have a real and lasting impact – and it all fits with their Franciscan stewardship of providing their time, talent and treasure for the benefit of others.”
In nearby Durham, middle school students (grades 6-8) of Immaculata Catholic School started off the academic session with an overnight retreat.
Immaculata traditionally begins the new school session with the retreat to give older students an opportunity to bond with each other and get to know God more deeply. This year’s event was held for the first time at YMCA Camp Weaver, 100 acres of rolling hills, lakes and trails in Greensboro.
Assigned to small groups, students participated in team-building exercises and various activities that included rock wall climbing, a youth rally, guided meditation, and Mass.
“While surrounded by God’s beautiful creation, students had a fun time working together and learning to appreciate the individual gits and talents that they bring to the world and to our school community,” said Cara Ragusa, Immaculata’s director of communications.
According to Christopher VanHaight, OFM, pastor of the 110-year-old parish of Immaculate Conception Church, the retreat gave students a chance to reflect on the Immaculata way of life – respecting God, self and others; being a person of integrity; living a life of service, and producing quality academic work.
Commemorating Education through St. Peter Claver School Benefit
In Georgia, one of the major events marking the new academic year at St. Peter Claver Catholic School in Macon was a special benefit dinner organized by St. Peter Claver Catholic Church parishioners Jim and Ninfa Saunders, according to Sr. Cheryl Ann Hilig, DC, principal.
Jim Saunders, a retired financial advisor and member of the school advisory cabinet is serving as the honorary chairman of the 2016 annual campaign, and Ninfa Saunders, CEO of Macon-based Navicent Health, hosted the Oct. 24 benefit dinner attended by 150 members of the medical, financial and business community. As parishioners, Jim and Ninfa also support the Daughters of Charity’s work with the poor and are deeply committed to providing a quality education to the in-need population of Georgia’s fourth largest city. The benefit raised great awareness for the mission-driven – not tuition-driven – school, said Sr. Cheryl Ann, providing an opportunity for attendees to make gifts and pledges supporting the school’s scholarship program. Contributions continue to be received, making the evening a great success.
Many, including pastor William McIntyre, OFM, are hoping that the benefit will become an annual event. “We are extremely grateful to Jim and Ninfa Saunders for conceiving this successful dinner and for bringing the St. Peter Claver story to the leaders of Macon,” William said. “Many of those in attendance were grateful to learn about our work with children, their success in the classroom, and the community and national leaders our parish school has produced over the past 114 years. This benefit will greatly assist the school in its mission to provide tuition assistance for in-need children.”
William, along with Frank Critch, OFM, and Paul Santoro, OFM, arrived at St. Peter Claver’s – founded in 1888 as an African-American mission parish – a little more than 14 months ago, returning to the Diocese of Savannah where Franciscan friars had previously served in parishes and mission churches in Southwestern Georgia from 1942 until the early 1990s.
The school, which serves pre-K-8, was established in 1903 by St. Katherine Drexel to provide children of every race and ethnic origin a values-based education. The present-day diversity of the student population continues the tenets upon which the school was founded.
Triangle School’s Contributions to Lima’s Children
In Virginia, students and staff at St. Francis of Assisi School were planning fundraising events for their “Pennies for Peru” initiative – an ongoing campaign that assists poor children at their sister parish in Peru.
Although Holy Name Province no longer operates Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Peru, students at the Triangle school continue this long-standing tradition of support for their counterparts 3,500 miles away. To date, they have raised $15,500 – resources that have helped purchase children’s vitamins, school equipment and supplies, fund academic scholarships, and construct a chapel.
“It really puts things into perspective for our students when they see how the children in their sister school are deprived of the many basic resources and comforts that we take for granted,” said Shari Phillips, director of admissions at St. Francis of Assisi School.
The new academic year also began with several popular annual events that underscore the giving spirit and camaraderie of the school and parish community – including Francis Fest (the parish’s fall festival) and St. Francis Day in the Park Mass and Walk-a-Thon, which was attended by new Arlington Diocese superintendent of Catholic Schools Jennifer Bigelow, the former principal of The Franciscan School in Raleigh.
Reflections from a Silver Spring Teacher
In northern Maryland, not far from Washington, D.C., St. Francis International School in Silver Spring is beginning its seventh year as a unique model of Catholic education. In response to financial challenges and declining enrollment, the school opened its doors in 2010 as a collaborative effort between St. Camillus School and St. Mark the Evangelist in nearby Hyattsville, Md. It now includes a third parish, Our Lady of Vietnam.
Steeped in Franciscan tradition and values, the school provides early childhood, elementary and middle school education to nearly 500 students from 53 countries – including El Salvador, Haiti, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Dominican Republic, Sierra Leone, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh and the Philippines, and the United States – and who speak more than a dozen languages in their homes, such as English, Spanish, French, Amharic, Vietnamese and Bangla.
As the book was about to open on the first chapter of the new school year at St. Francis International School, third grade teacher Kathy Perencevich shared her reflections, titled “Finding God is Easy with Third Grade Angels,” on the academic year. Christopher Posch, OFM, pastor of St. Camillus, called her essay – which describes the promise of the future by recalling the triumphs of the past – “superb.”
As the new school began, Perencevich, wrote “I recall a quote from St. Teresa: ‘Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.’ With that, I begin again, ‘Welcome boys and girls! Something very big has just happened to you as you entered this room! You have become God’s third grade Angels!’ As they all applaud and hug each other in the morning meeting, I know that indeed, God is here in all His glory and blessings abound in the ordinary here at SFIS.”
Last spring, SFIS was honored by Today’s Catholic Teacher magazine with an Innovations in Catholic Education award for the school’s peacemaking program (called “Lord, Make Us Instruments of Peace”), which was started as a manifestation of the school’s Franciscan charism.
In New Jersey, Lessons in Service and Compassion
In southern New Jersey, St. Anthony of Padua School is continuing its outreach efforts to support students and their families. Last academic session, St. Anthony’s introduced a “Backpack Snacks and More” program (similar to other friar parishes) to supplement the nutritional needs of their students. The Camden school announced that the program would be expanded to a weekly initiative this school year.
In an education landscape that has become increasingly more competitive by the emergence of several charter schools in the area, St. Anthony’s – under the leadership of principal Dr. Mary Burke, and as a member of Camden’s Catholic Partnership of Schools – provides comprehensive spiritual and academic formation deeply rooted in an excellent, student-centered curriculum defined by faith-based values, according to Hugh Macsherry, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish.
Hugh noted the importance of Catholic education to both the Church and society, a point that was driven home at the Notre Dame University-sponsored School Pastors’ Institute Conference that he attended last summer.
The proud pastor said that St. Anthony’s parish and school are shining examples of diversity – in particular, the growing Latino population of the Church in the United States. During this year’s academic session, St. Anthony’s is planning several school events and initiatives to further support and increase the faith of its strong Latino community – including Las Mañanitas (a traditional Mexican song that is sung to someone on a birthday and saint’s day) and processions on major Latino feast days, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe and San Andres.
In northern New Jersey, students at St. Mary of the Assumption School in Pompton Lakes began their year with the theme: Pray, Serve, Give – Do Good Works Each Day. It is consistent with the credo of the school’s parish, St. Mary of the Assumption, where Frank Sevola, OFM, serves as pastor.
“Praying, serving and giving – this helps our students understand that God surrounds them with His love and that He is part of everything they do. Opportunities to help others present themselves every day,” said school principal Carol LaSalle.
To help students put these into practice, the administration has planned year-long service projects for all grade levels – including stocking the shelves of a local food pantry, collecting winter coats for the needy, participating in a Christmas giving tree, and tutoring peers.
St. Mary’s celebrated the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi this year in a unique way. The day began with liturgy and a visit from the K-9 and mounted police units of the local sheriff’s department, followed by a “barktoberfest” celebration that included a pet costume contest and special blessing of the animals.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “School Scholarship Established in Angelo Gambatese’s Name” – March 23, 2016, HNP Today
- “Peru Parish Returned to Archdiocese” — March 23, 2016, HNP Today
- “Greenville School ‘Tops Off’ New Building Frame” – Dec. 5, 2012, HNP Today
- “Students Encounter Different Programs, Faces at Province Schools” – Oct. 10, 2012, HNP Today
- “Maryland Parishes Plan Opening of St. Francis International School” – Feb. 3, 2010, HNP Today