Community of Saints
Four-parish collaboration creates stronger Catholic school
Parents, students and staff from Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. John Vianney, St. Matthew and St. Michael parishes walk in St. Paul’s Cinco de Mayo parade May 5 in support of their new regional school, Community of Saints. Bill Jones / The Catholic Spirit
Community of Saints School in West St. Paul is quickly nearing its 290-student goal for the 2012-2013 school year, with 250 students already registered for the new K-8 regional school.
The parish schools of St. Matthew in St. Paul, St. Michael in West St. Paul and St. John Vianney in South St. Paul, along with Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in St. Paul are forging ahead with the school collaboration in the St. Michael building.
When the collaboration was first announced Oct. 28, Holy Trinity in South St. Paul was slated to be a part of the regional school, but successfully appealed to remain a parish school. St. Joseph in West St. Paul, another school in the area, remains a parish school, as outlined in the original plan.
After some initial concerns — about tuition, transportation and school leadership — were resolved, parents and students got on board and involved in naming the new school, said Maryanna Charley, current principal of St. Michael.
When this school year ends, Charley will serve part time as the assistant to the new principal, Pat Gannon, currently principal of St. John Vianney, and to Doug Lieser, principal of St. Matthew, who will be president of Community of Saints.
“I think once [parents] knew that the three of us were on board . . . that did help,” Charley said.
It has taken longer than expected for the new school to develop because it is unfamiliar territory for the three leaders, Charley said.
“We’re combining. We’re regional. The site is moving, basically. The perception is out there that we are closing,” Charley said. “We have to get away from that word ‘closing.’”
Slow, steady transition
Gannon noted that using the St. Michael building made the most sense, because that school, at one time, had more than 400 students, while St. John Vianney has only 13 classrooms and St. Matthew is too small to accommodate 200 students.
However, the SJV gymnasium may be used for school sports, he said.
Many of the families at St. Michael, St. Matthew and St. John Vianney have already registered to attend Community of Saints, after a somewhat rocky start.
“I think change can sometimes cause people to be reactionary . . . and just look at the negatives and not the positives,” Gannon said.
Lieser said one challenge was that people wanted all the answers right away.
Mary Kane, archdiocesan Schools Team assistant superintendent, said that the group was just four weeks into the planning with Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching, which made it difficult to plan meetings.
Answers, activities and action
But after the October announcement, answers began being offered through the help of all the pastors involved.
Gannon said the open communication erased many concerns.
“My priest addresses it almost weekly,” he said. “As decisions are come to, those are shared.”
Right now, enrollment is more than Gannon expected and coming from unusual places.
“We’re attracting kids from the public schools that haven’t attended any of the three schools before,” he said.
The three schools also planned projects and activities for the students to get together, such as snow tubing, rollerskating and a play at St. Michael.
During Advent and Lent, students were given the names of a student from each of the other two schools and told to write prayer cards for them.
“When the students came to our school to see the play ‘Alice in Wonderland’ put on by Hamline,” Charley said, “they were so excited to meet their prayer buddies face-to-face.”
Charley said the Community of Saints website also has helped keep parents and students informed.
And Father Michael Rudolph, St. Michael pastor, said parents were relieved to find out the cost of tuition, which is competitive with other schools. They also were pleased to know financial aid would still be available, he said.
Lieser said tuition assistance is very important to the families.
“We anticipate that more than 50 percent of our students will be on free or reduced lunch . . . and will likely need assistance to afford a Catholic education,” Lieser said. “I think the public meeting [in January] helped a lot.”
The day after the January meeting, parents started registering their children, Charley said.
A telephone campaign by committee members prior to the January meeting was used to ask parents what they needed to know at that meeting, Kane said.
“We knew up front what was important to people and what the priority was for answering questions,” she said. “When the three [principals] did that presentation, they hit the high points.”
People were heard, answers were given and work continued to be done, Kane said.
Scholarship money for Community of Saints totaling $30,000 — $10,000 for each of the collaborating schools — came from the AIM Higher Foundation, Lieser said. The scholarships are a “difference-maker” for many of the students who will be attending the school, he said.
Georgann and Mark Henjum are among those who have gotten to know other parents through some of the combined school activities, through the schools’ combined sports teams and, in Georgann’s case, by serving on the board of the school’s planning committee.
Although it will be sad for Georgann to see her daughter Ann leave St. Matthew at the end of this year, she said that at least, next year, the parents can all cheer for one team: “The Saints.”
Registration information for Community of Saints is available at http://www.sprcs.org.