ANDERSON—St. Joseph School was only a year old when Tom Holahan’s parents enrolled him there in 1968. He attended three years before moving on to public middle and high school, but what he recalls from that brief time has stayed with him.
“When I grew up, I found that I knew the meaning of respect and integrity and justice,” he said, “because (the teachers at St. Joseph) had so lovingly demonstrated that to me each day. I was blessed.”
Holahan was among more than 200 former students and supporters who gathered April 21 for the school’s 50th anniversary celebration. Founded in 1967, it was staffed by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. The last sister left in 1990, 20 years after Holahan graduated.
“As it turns out, the sisters who demanded excellence from us knew what they were doing,” he said. “All of these lessons and more have stayed with me and served me well.”
St. Joseph started with grades 1-5, with pre-kindergarten added a few years later. The middle school opened in 2010, starting with the sixth grade and progressing to seventh and eighth the next two years.
“Our first graduating class for our middle school was in 2012,” said Nadine DePape, interim principal.
Enrollment at St. Joseph peaked during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, DePape said, reaching close to 120 students in the late ’80s and early ’90s, only to decline with the economic downturn of 2008.
“Our enrollment dropped significantly, to where we were down to 68 students just two years ago,” she said.
That number is beginning to climb again with enrollment for the coming school year currently at 81.
Last April, the school added a full-day K-4 program, DePape said, a move that has helped fuel the increase in overall enrollment.
On average, around 70 percent of the students are Catholic, she said, though during the peak enrollment years that split was about 50/50.
Seventeen instructors currently teach at St. Joseph, including DePape, who teaches fifth- and sixth-grade science. The teacher/student ratio is intentionally kept below one teacher for every 15 students. Average class size is around 10 students per class.
“Small classes add to the excellent education we provide,” she said.
DePape began teaching at St. Joseph in 2000 before being named interim principal in 2016. The school recently hired a full-time principal, Haymee Giuliani, who will move into that position this summer. Giuliani is familiar with St. Joseph, having put a son through school there before moving to another state.
As for DePape, she said she plans to take a year off before possibly returning to teaching. In the meantime, the school is putting together a plan to upgrade its playground, plus other efforts aimed at sustaining the increase in enrollment.
“We’re beginning to grow again, which is very exciting,” DePape said.
Holahan, who still remembers a much smaller school 49 years ago, is also pleased to see the growth.
“We had maybe 15 kids spread across two grades,” Holahan said, adding that another two grades were combined into one class because of the small size.
Holahan went on from his Catholic foundation to earn a business degree from Clemson University, marry and have a family of three daughters, all of whom attended St. Joseph.
“It was a great experience for all of us,” he said.
Top photo: More than 200 people attended a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of St. Joseph School in Anderson April 21.