St. James School kicks off Catholic Schools Week

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Danielson - posted Mon., Jan. 27, 2014

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Catholic Schools Week. From Jan. 26 to Feb. 1, Catholic schools across the country will use the week as a vehicle to promote themselves and to highlight the educational benefits they provide. St. James Elementary School in Danielson will join in the celebration.

Unlike many Catholic schools in the country, St. James has enjoyed healthy enrollment numbers for the last several years. It serves 223 students in grades one through eight and offers pre-K and kindergarten programs. Enrollment has been inching up for the last three years. Some grades are close to the enrollment cut-off point. 

“We’re different,” said Principal Monique Almquist. The school is growing at an average rate of seven percent when nationwide enrollment is falling. “That’s a huge gap.”

According to the National Catholic Education Association, elementary school enrollment has declined more than 25-percent since 2000. That number rises to 38-percent for urban dioceses. Last year alone, enrollment figures fell 12-percent.Tuition costs and competition from public, private and charter schools have been blamed for much of the national decline. It costs $3,520 for one child to attend St. James. That’s just under the national average of $3,673.

For many St. James’ students, however, tuition costs are negligible. That’s because Pastor Rev. John O’Neill set the groundwork for an endowment fund more than 20 years ago. Last year, 207 students received tuition assistance in the form of scholarships from “Friends of LaSalette,” a group dedicated to the school. 

O’Neill is a LaSalette missionary, not a diocesan priest. His 50-year priestly career and the fact that he belongs to an international order has given him a wide audience. He has been able to create a large scale endowment with the help of parishioners, family, friends and contacts from around the world. “We brought in the base,” he said. “We’re ecumenical and international.”

The parish still has to hold constant fundraisers and second collections. Parents are asked to be strong partners with the school through its development program. A major part of that program is fund-raising. Families are asked to contribute $500 in development hours to help the school. They can participate in the annual bazaar, weekly bingo games, craft fairs or a host of other events.

The reason for its success is more than money Almquist said. “We really do walk the walk,” she said. “We look to keep God in everything we do. We look to be generous, kind and patient. We look at those things to help guide our behavior, to help guide our children’s behavior, to approach problems so even hard things can be handled with love.”

“Everyone wants to be loved,” Almquist said. “Everybody wants to feel peaceful and be valued, so we live that out. Somehow the enrollment and money seem to follow.”

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