A school with deep roots in its church and community is celebrating Catholic Education Week with its fellow institutions around the province.
St. Joseph School has been providing education to Nelson youth for well over 100 years. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace were first invited by Bishop Dontenwill to open a school in 1897 and they originally taught in a home until a new school building opened in 1900.
There were 84 students and tuition was $1 per month.
The sisters grew the school asking for contributions and holding socials and bazaars to raise funds.
In 1952, Mary Immaculate agreed to provide upkeep for the school so it became a parochial school. The sisters were paid $400 a year for their services.
It wasn’t until 1978 that the school became what it is today. After much preparation and planning, the property between the old school and the church became the location for the new St. Joseph School and Catholic Centre. Bishop Emmett Doyle blessed the new school in October 1979.
Today, the school continues to thrive.
“We’re really proud of what we’re all about,” said principal Marlene Suter. “Things have changed a lot but the important things stay the same.”
Having the school right beside the church creates an atmosphere of community, she explained. The parish is involved in the school — potlucks are held together with the school, and the students often help put out chairs in the gym for funeral services.
“We have that community thing happening and in today’s world it’s a very nice feeling, a security,” she said.
Catholic Schools Week runs from February 2 to 7 and during that week-long celebration, St. Joseph School will be holding a special mass, an ice cream social, Ready Set Learn events, a “principal for the day” contest, school spirit day and it will also be hosting a hoop dancer. These types of activities occur often as they fuel the close bonds established at the school.
“Parents often say to me, ‘it feels like family,’” said Suter.
The principal is proud of the academic record of St. Joseph students, many going on to receive scholarships upon graduation. But financial support for students can start at the elementary level. The school, which relies on tuition fees, also has parishioners who help out when families can’t afford the St. Joe’s option.
“Our motto is if God sent you into our doors, we’re going to make sure you can stay,” said Suter.
This year, St. Joseph’s theme is “walk humbly with the Lord.” Students and staff join together in committing to complete 30 hours of service to others before the end of the school year. Time spent in the community can include anything from singing for seniors, helping neighbours or collecting food for the food banks.
Being good stewards is an important lesson taught at the school. As is leadership. The Grade 6 students choosing to stay at St. Joe’s, instead of making the switch to Trafalgar, take their senior role seriously.
“They’re teaching the little ones the lessons we’ve taught them. They’re passing it on and that’s the fulfillment of education,” said Suter.
There are 79 other Catholic schools in BC.