BEAUFORT — One Sunday in 1990, Father Martin Laughlin looked over his congregation at St. Peter Church. He saw many young parents, and had a vision of them waiting for their children to be dismissed from school. He knew that they wanted to educate their children, and that the education should be at a Catholic school.
In August 1991, the parents of 79 children took a leap of faith and enrolled their children in K-4 through third grade in an eight-room education wing of the parish social hall.
The new school consisted of five classrooms, a library, an art room, and an office. Sister Aidana Hatton of the Sisters of Mercy was its first principal.
Another grade was added each year until the eighth grade was reached. The first eighth-grade graduation of four students was celebrated in the spring of 1998.
As grades were added, the existing space diminished until, in 1995, Father Laughlin was given permission by the bishop to construct a new building on church property on Lady’s Island.
Now Principal Gene Cahill proudly points out that the South Carolina Independent School Association and the National Catholic Educational Association both accredit the school.
In his second year at the helm, Cahill sees the increased enrollment numbers as an indication of success.
Currently 216 students attend, a significant gain from 185 last year.
“St. Peter’s growth can be attributed to numerous factors, we believe,” he said. “First, the Catholic identity is infused in everything we do. Second, our academic strength is reflected in the dedication of teachers, as well as the success of our past graduates. Third, we receive incredible support from parents and others in the community. We are one large family here attempting to produce future leaders in a moral environment.”
Founding board member Karen Carroll said that her two daughters benefited greatly from their years at St. Peter.
“Our daughter Stephanie was in first grade when the school opened,” she said. “She has now graduated from Beaufort Academy and is a pre-pharmacy student at Clemson. Lauren, currently a Beaufort High School student, attended all 10 years. Because the atmosphere is so wholesome, Lauren always spends her free time at St. Peter with friends and teachers. This school just completes her.”
Adam Kenny, an eighth-grader who has attended St. Peter since K-4, said, “I’m going to high school this year, and I’m excited about that. But I’ll miss St. Peter’s School because they’re my family.”
His brother also graduated from the school. His father, Jerry, commented that he was so pleased with the way St. Peter’s has prepared both of his sons for the transition into advanced classes in high school.
Suzi Prekop is a second-grade teacher at St. Peter. She said the atmosphere is wonderful because everything is grounded in faith.
“I am teaching the children the year they receive the sacraments of reconciliation and first Communion, and I feel that I am preparing them spiritually, as well as academically,” she said. “Our relationship and bond is so much stronger as I have the opportunity to share my own faith with them. This makes me look at things a little bit differently and makes me try to be a better role model.”
Kelly and Richard Gray are parents of three children, two of whom attend the school. They said that making the decision on where to send a child can be exhausting.
“For our family, deciding on St. Peter’s was more of a ‘calling’ than a difficult decision,” Kelly Gray said. “We felt most importantly that our children develop as well-rounded, whole individuals which, for us, meant a Christian education along with an academic one.
“We have been overwhelmingly pleased with both,” she said. “Our fifth-grader has been extremely challenged by the curriculum and our second-grader is happy, comfortable, and learning at a fantastic pace.”
Dr. Perry Burrus’s two sons attend the school because he feels that in addition to academic achievement, the school also provides opportunities for the children to excel in athletic competition, art, music and drama.
“The teachers provide individual attention to each child’s needs, and the entire staff reinforces Christian values,” he said. “At St. Peter’s, I know my children are receiving an excellent education in a safe and loving environment.”