by Kathy Schmugge
COLUMBIA — Across the country, Catholic elementary and secondary schools are celebrating their important role in providing faith-based education during Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 30-Feb. 5. The Diocese of Charleston’s two diocesan high schools, two private high schools, and 25 diocesan and parochial elementary schools are no exception.
The tradition of setting aside a week to celebrate the success of Catholic schools in the country is only 21 years old. Catholic schools’ reputation for providing superior education in the United States, however, began to spread shortly after the first school opened in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1606.
The theme this year is “Faith in Every Student: Catholic Schools.” Sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the local dioceses, the week is promoted at each school in creative ways.
Many of the schools in the Diocese of Charleston have a long history in the state. Catholic education in Sumter goes back more than 135 years, and like most other Catholic schools in South Carolina, St. Ann School had an open house for parents and prospective parents, allowing them to see the students and teachers in action.
St. Peter School in Columbia took that open house concept one step further by having parents “shadow” their children during the day. The parents sat in desks, ate at the cafeteria, went to recess and even changed classes with their children.
Maria Culbertson, junior class president at Cardinal Newman School, was asked to reflect on her time at her elementary school, St. Peter.
“I could not have asked for a better preparation in my life than what I received at St. Peter’s. I always thank God for blessing me with such a great opportunity,” she said.
Another school in Columbia, St. Joseph, had several special activities planned this year. Because the school is celebrating its 50th anniversary, it had a student quiz bowl on school trivia. It also had a student/faculty volleyball game, an ice-cream social for the students, and a talent show.
Deborah Nottingham, a St. Joseph parent, did not believe there was any other option for her children, even if it meant an hour commute. Nottingham, the PTO treasurer, also believes that Catholics have an obligation to support their schools.
“I want my children to learn how to care about others and grow up to be good kids in a good environment,” said Nottingham, who recently agreed to serve on the finance committee of the school board.
Donna Fosmire, another St. Joseph parent, was attracted to the “whole package” that it provides for her children.
“The school is strong academically, but it also spiritually nurtures the children so they can practice Christian values and carry those values with them,” Fosmire said.
Carolyn Williams, who has been an educator for 32 years and a first-grade teacher for eight years at St. John Neumann School in Columbia, said that she feels fortunate to be able to teach children who are so well-behaved and to have so much support from the parents.
“If I had taught at St. John Neumann for all of my 32 years of teaching, I would not have any gray hairs,” Williams joked.
Someone who knows the value of Catholic education is St. Martin de Porres Principal Sandra Leatherwood, who has been the principal for nine years and a teacher there for 20 years.
“Catholic education opens the door to children as well as adults, not only by enhancing their academic success, but by providing an opportunity to develop a greater love for God,” she said.
Jim McIntyre, principal at Cardinal Newman School, helped explain why Catholic schools are different than public or other private institutions.
He said: “Our mission separates us from other schools because of our strong academic excellence, cultural diversity and faith-based education. It is like three legs of a stool that are in total balance, each of these components are intertwined.”