By JOEY REISTROFFER
ROCK HILL — Nicole Vance is just a kindergartener, but she knows quality when she sees it. After looking over the brand new parish life center and education facility at St. Anne’s, she smiled broadly and proclaimed, “I like it.”
So did a thousand others who gathered for Mass July 26 on the feast day of St. Anne to hear Bishop David B. Thompson celebrate the liturgy then dedicate the school.
It wasn’t easy. It took $4.5 million and two years of construction.
God answered your prayers, Bishop Thompson said. “I commend you for the prayers you have offered for your magnificent school.”
Now the school has a mission to strengthen the Christian faith by teaching youngsters at St. Anne’s Catholic doctrine.
“It must teach our children what is right and what is wrong,” Bishop Thompson said. “It must be academically excellent … for genuine learning to take place.”
The bishop also said, “the school must be accepted by all,” not only the parish, but the entire civic community.
It got off to a good start as Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Sutton showed up for the dedication ceremony, and U.S. Rep. John Spratt made an appearance.
Also, half of the school’s first graduating class of 1958 flew in from all over the country to take part in the event. That included the then pastor, Father Robert Sweeney, who came from Texas to take part in the festivities and to concelebrate Mass with Bishop Thompson.
Four Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who taught at the school from the late 1950s to the early 1990s, also attended.
One who came back was Sister Carolyn Bennett, now serving in Savannah, Ga. “I used to go to school here and teach here,” she said. She graduated in 1962, went off to high school and college, then returned to teach.
Back then, “it was a small school in a small town. There were only 90 of us,” Sister Carolyn said. She also enjoyed the family atmosphere of the school. “Everybody was so close. We got to know all of our classmates.”
The influence of the teachers impressed her so much that Sister Carolyn wanted to be a part of it, and she came back as a Sister herself to teach.
Sister Maryanne Winterbert also returned for the festivities. She was the principal for six years, and said parental involvement made the school special.
“We really didn’t have any problems,” she said, “because the parents were so involved with the school.”
That family atmosphere and caring was crucial, Sister Maryanne said. “It made a difference, and it still does today,” she said. “Children know that their parents really care about their school, so they want to do better.”
Sister Mary Lorraine and Sister Rita Marrotta agreed.
The original school at St. Anne’s opened in 1951, the only Catholic school in a 90-mile radius. As the years went by, the community began to grow and so did school attendance. As quarters began to grow cramped, Father William Pentis, CO, realized something had to be done.
One parishioner said the school was using 12 portable buildings to fit everyone in a classroom. “It was just too small,” he said.
Now St. Anne’s has a brand new state-of-the-art school. But Father Pentis said it is much more than that. The school includes an all-purpose center for the entire parish.
“It’s for everyone,” he said. The complex will hold activities for children, teens, young adults, families and senior citizens. “The most important thing is the people,” said Father Pentis.
PHOTO: Father William Pentis and Bishop David B. Thompson are escorted by the Knights of Columbus as they prepare to dedicate the parish center and educational facility. (By Madeline Webber)