By Michelle Donaghey
SOUTH BEND — Presenting him with a framed picture of the Dream of St. Joseph by the 17th century artist Georges De la Tour, eighth-grade student Caroline Hall, on behalf of the children of the St. Joseph Grade School in South Bend, thanked Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades “for all you do to help make our dreams come true.”
“It was the dream of the people of St. Joseph Parish to have a school where children are educated and formed in the faith of the apostles. It is our dream still today to be an outstanding school pleasing to the Lord and His Church,” said Hall who told the bishop, after presenting him with a spiritual bouquet, that the school children will be praying for him throughout the year.
Children at St. Joseph Grade School, which recently was named a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education and designated a Four-Star School by the Indiana Department of Education, welcomed Bishop Rhoades and their parents and guests for Mass that celebrated the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2.
Bishop Rhoades visited St. Joseph Grade School during Catholic Schools Week. He also made a pastoral visit to Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne.
The Mass included a candle procession with students carrying candles for Candlemas Day, which the bishop explained during his homily, recalling the words of Simeon, who said that the child, Jesus, who was presented in the temple would be a “Light to all nations. Candles are to remind us who is the Light. We are to spread the light to others and to share our faith. Do good deeds. We help to make Christ’s light shine in the world.”
One of the three children choirs and members of the school’s string orchestra, student lectors and servers participated in the Mass. Others present for the Mass and tour were Suzanne Wiwi, principal; Holy Cross Father John M. DeRiso, pastor; and Holy Cross Father John P. Riley, parochial vicar; Deacon Jim Fitzpatrick; and Dr. Mark Myers, superintendent of Catholic Schools.
During the tour of the school, Bishop Rhoades visited each classroom, talking and meeting students and staff personally. The young children in the kindergarten especially touched him.
Looking at the hand-written assignments posted on the walls Bishop Rhoades was impressed by how much they learned in reading and writing at such a young age. He took a few moments not only to talk to those present, but to a child. Tatum Gumpf who was present in class through Skype.
Second graders impressed the bishop with their memory of the Act of Contrition, which the bishop recited along with them. In another classroom, children said the “Hail Mary” in Spanish.
In the music classroom, Bishop Rhoades listened to the teacher, Heather Hill, explain the type of teaching method she uses — called ORFF methodology. She explained that the children use movement and that the teaching follows the child’s natural voices and follows the progression of their throats, working only in the range for their throats.
“I believe anyone can sing,” said the teacher.
While in the cafeteria during one of the lunch periods, Principal Wiwi shared with the bishop that the school worked hard to make sure that the children packed healthy lunches, discouraging the use of pre-packaged lunches purchased that include only crackers and cheese.
When asked what she was most proud of, Wiwi could not find one particular thing.
“We’re proud of everything,” Wiwi said. “We’re proud we are one of 11 Catholic Schools that got a four-star rated. … We’re really excited that our curriculum flows from the bottom up. This is a community of teachers and kids that really work well together. It is an ongoing adventure. We’re always looking ways to improve our curriculum and what our children are learning. It’s very exciting to be here everyday.”
“I think it is to ultimately create an atmosphere that children live the faith and are learning at the same time,” said Wiwi. “As long as we see that happening with our children and our staff it is exciting.”
“When children are happy and teachers are happy, there always is going to be a lot of progress,” she added.
Wiwi pointed out that that the school has “a lot of resource help for children who are struggling if they need it, the innovative ORFF music singing program, not only one but three choirs as well as strings and band.
The success of the school she thinks comes from having “have a strong faith based curriculum and a strong academic curriculum” and from everyone who is a part of it feeling a sense of belonging.
“They feel welcome here. It is like a family,” said Wiwi.
St. Joseph Grade School places emphasis on community and the call to live stewardship as a way of life. Each grade level has partnered with a service agency or a program in the South Bend community.
Younger students are partnered with Holy Cross Village, while older students are serving at St. Margaret’s House, the Sisters of Holy Cross, Hope Ministries, The Veterans Center for the Homeless, LaCasa and Christ Child.
Father John M. DeRiso noted that at the school there is a framed quotation displayed prominently at the entryway to the school: “Be is known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school. He is the unseen but ever present teacher in its classes, he is the model of its faculty, and the inspiration of its students. May that always be said of this school, named in honor of God’s servant, Joseph.”
The school honors its patron, St. Joseph, and is blessed by its strong ties with the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Catholic Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Myers commented on the school and the Blue Ribbon School honor and four-star designations during the tour.
“This is a very special school with a very special faith. It (the four-star award) affirms the hard work. It affirms that what we are doing is this is the work of Christ,” Dr. Myers said especially noting the dedication of staff.
“You have people here that have a common goal to do the work of Christ and that affirms this work is important and it goes on, it has been going on for 166 years and that is very gratifying to just be a small part of that,” he said smiling.
St. Joseph School plans to continue celebrating the Blue Ribbon achievement throughout the year with students, faculty and parents. For more information, visit stjoeparishcom and follow the “school” tab.
St. Joseph Grade School
Address: 216 N. Hill St., South Bend, IN 46617
Telephone: (574) 234-0451
Pastor: Holy Cross Father John M. DeRiso,
Principal: Mrs. Suzanne Wiwi
Teachers and support staff: 42
Students (kindergarten-8): 443
Web site: www.stjosephgradeschool.com
School colors: Blue and Gold
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