New School Brings Life to Aging Neighborhood

By Suhay, Lisa | Momentum, November/December 2007 | Go to article overview

New School Brings Life to Aging Neighborhood


Suhay, Lisa, Momentum


Community support empowers new Catholic school where others had failed

When it comes to philanthropy, a fledgling Catholic elementary school in Norfolk, Virginia, has found that giving is a faith-based operation. Through a delicate balance of quality education and community building, trust is a currency translating to fiscal stability.

Entering its third year of life, Saint Patrick Catholic School has reached its 390 student capacity, a fully packed paragon with 40 percent of the population non-Catholic.

"We are authentically Catholic, yet warmly ecumenical and hospitable, and the general population supports the school," said founding principal Stephen J. Hammond. "People are attracted to quality and they know it when if s present in an institution."

Stimulated by the excellence of Saint Patrick's new physical plant, nationally unique, cutting-edge teaching strategies, affordable tuition and community-building through generous financial-aid scholarships, a November 2006 fundraising breakfast for 450 guests blossomed into $450,000 in gifts and long-term commitments. This was not a coffee and donuts affair done on the fly. Every detail of the breakfast, from the china to the children's choir singing and a big screen video of the school's "success stories" told by students, was planned as if the school were hosting nothing less than 450 residents of the Vatican.

That, however, is de rigueur for this institution where visitors can almost feel the presence of the great reformers of education and the church walking the halls: William Glasser and Ernest Boyer strolling beside Saints Ignatius and Don Bosco. Everyone who enters the school is treated well by all, from students to staff. Doors are held for young and old, rich and poor alike. Each person who enters is accorded deference and respect.

Faith-filled Education for All

Opened in the fall of 2005, Saint Patrick Catholic School is one of the most technologically advanced Catholic schools in the country with dedicated computer and science labs, a state-of-the-art library and media center, a 350-seat performing arts auditorium, a suite of music rooms, a large art room, a gymnasium built to high school standards and a variety of athletic playing fields.

The commitment of Saint Patrick to furnish an excellent, faith-filled education for families from all walks of life, not just the wealthy, has led to even non-Catholic donors embracing a school that helps the city retain population and enhance its neighborhoods.

"We couldn't do all this by ourselves and we wouldn't want to even if we could," said Charles V. McPhillips, a partner at Kaufman & Canoles, P.C., and chairman of the BarryRobinson Trust, which supplied the initial capital to create the 93,000square-feet physical plant. "We want our community to support the school and show that they appreciate something of value that serves them well."

The school serves the community day and night. "Evenings at Saint Patrick," a winter month of one-night-only mini-courses in everything from cooking to ballroom dancing and accounting, are taught by volunteering parents, staff and friends of the school. The program doubled its course offerings (to more than 140) and total class registrations (to 1,100) in its second year. Proceeds fund scholarships. Some 7,500 copies of the "Evenings at Saint Patrick" were distributed throughout the city of Norfolk, positioning the school as an educational and social asset for adults as well as children.

Until very recently, Norfolk was an aging community with a dwindling population. While there was corporate growth, potential residents chose neighboring cities for their residence, partially because of preference for suburban schools.

Neighborhoods had begun to die and Catholic education began to pass away with them as Blessed Sacrament and Sacred Heart Elementary schools closed their doors and Norfolk Catholic High School moved out of town. …

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