By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
GARDEN CITY St. Michael’s Parish will add a new element to its Christian formation and evangelization this fall with the opening of a new school.
St. Michael’s Catholic School will officially open its doors to children in kindergarten through second grade. A third and fourth grade will be added, depending on enrollment. Parents can register children until March 12.
Sister Roberta Thoen, a Sister of St. Mary of Namur from Lockport, N.Y., has been selected as the new principal. She was the 10-year administrator of DeSales Catholic School in Lockport which had kindergarten through eighth grade.
Her 30-year career has been divided equally between teaching and as a principal. She has also taught in schools in South Carolina and Massachusetts and selected for Outstanding School Administrator in Western New York state.
She left De Sales Catholic School to study at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., in the Institute of Spirit and Worship. She will receive a certificate upon completion in May and will return to Garden City.
Class sizes at St. Michael’s will be limited to 22 students in the primary grades and 25 in grades three and four. Sister Roberta anticipates a total of 120 students who will be taught an integrated curriculum including religion and Catholic doctrine, computer technology, science, music, art and the fundamentals.
“We want to enhance the creative spirit of every child,” Sister Roberta said. “We will begin looking for enthusiastic, creative and dedicated teachers in June. I hope to get donations of materials and support. People can make donations in memory of someone.”
A new grade will be added each year, depending on demand. The school will be located in the McCaffrey Center and Hanley Hall on parish grounds. Both buildings are set up with classrooms and used for religious education on Sundays and other parish programs so no structural changes will have to be made.
Although, if the school grows, some renovation might be necessary. Hanley Hall has a large kitchen and room that can be turned into a cafetorium at lunch, and used for indoor physical education classes and assemblies.
A playground with equipment already exists adjacent to a large grass lot that can be used for recess.
“Our biggest need is to let people know that we are opening,” Sister Roberta said.
Currently, parish children either attend public schools or St. Andrew’s Catholic School 20 miles away in Myrtle Beach. Up to 300 children are in CCD.
“St. Andrew’s has been at capacity for years and cannot accommodate more students,” said Dr. Gay Rowzie, Secretary of Education and Evangelization. In the future, the Pee Dee Deanery might consider adding a Catholic high school, but it must have the elementary and middle schools to feed it.
“As we have understood the value of cluster and parishes,” Rowzie said, “the future of Catholic education on the Strand is going to depend on St. Michael’s and others to meet the population growth. The need is not stopping at St. Michael’s either. We need to be looking down the road for continuation culminating in a Catholic high school. St. Michael’s is one significant piece that has to happen to move us toward that one vibrant Catholic school network in the Grand Strand community.”
The school will open to all parishes in the deanery and operate in cooperation with St. Andrew’s.
“It takes a lot of courage to open a school in this day and age,” said Sister Roberta. “I find it amazing. I am impressed with the liturgy and prayer life of this parish. Parents are so supportive. We have a lot of young families moving in and settling down in the area.”
The new principal said the administrative style at the institution is going to be one of participation with the faculty, children and parents.
“I love to be in the classroom and will make time for reading to students,” she said. “I’ve even been known to teach a class when the teacher is out.”
Retirees are a rich resource; Sister Roberta hopes that many will volunteer.
“We had a foster grandparent program at my last school,” she explained. “They came in and read to the children. I believe in strong reading programs.”
St. Michael’s will be a school of choice. Parents should have the right to choose between public and private education, according to Sister Roberta.
“I think there is a lot we can do,” she continued. “It’s exciting and challenging starting a new school. Nothing is established and we establish our own philosophy and programs.”
Msgr. Thomas Duffy, pastor of St. Michael’s Church, said that the interest in a school was determined during the Synod process of examining parish needs. Rowzie said that a group of “young, caring parents” got together and drafted a plan after the Synod and the diocese began working with them.
“It was on hold for a short period of time but Msgr. Duffy’s leadership saw it through to fruition,” Rowzie said.
The parish received permission to create the facility last year and quickly began the search for a principal.
“Catholic education is an important part of a parish’s outreach,” Duffy said.
He foresees a multicultural institution that is interactive and has an impact in the community.
“Part of the whole mission of the church is Christian formation of children and of the community,” he explained. “It will be a challenge not to become a parochial school but to become a school for the community. We have to be Catholic and we are going to expose people of other faiths to our Catholic beliefs, but we have to, no matter who we are, care about other people not just take care of ourselves.”
Because the parish is so active, the school building was in use full time. Plans are underway to get permission to build a new parish activity center across the street from the church, which they would like to see completed by June.
St. Michael’s is located at 572 Cypress Avenue. For more information about enrollment call (843) 651-3737.