Students line the pews of St. Luke Church in Palm Springs during a back to school Mass at St. Luke Church Aug. 15.

Catholic schools integrate academic quality, faith development

PALM SPRINGS | Catholic schools are in full swing for the new school year that began Aug. 13. But before the books were opened and the computers powered up, schools set the tone of the upcoming semesters by arranging prayer sessions and Masses, two major priorities school leaders believe are keys to success and make Catholic schools distinct in the education landscape of modern times.
“I believe that our school’s Catholic identity is why our enrollment is up,” said Diann Bacchus, principal of St. Luke School in Palm Springs, celebrating its 56th anniversary Sept. 4.

Bacchus spoke to the Florida Catholic while offering a school tour at the conclusion of St. Luke’s back-to-school Mass Aug. 15. She said the enrollment has increased from 200 students to 268. Father Edgar Mazariegos, St. Luke parochial vicar, celebrated the school Mass marking the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The students participate in weekly school Masses and many of the parents attend, joining in the faith-strengthening experience along with their children.

Father Mazariegos and Father Andrew Brierley, St. Luke pastor, who typically celebrate the Masses, are a strong presence on the parish and school grounds, and take part in other school activities.
“It is wonderful to start the new school year on this feast of the Blessed Mother Mary,” said Father Mazariegos as he began the celebration that included a blessing of the children, faculty and school leaders. He presented a homily with lessons about Mary, so loved all over the world and by people of all cultures. He encouraged the students to live holy lives as Mary did. “The solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary reminds us of her importance,” he said. “We are reminded to live the faith as she did.”

Bacchus is beginning her second year in leadership at St. Luke School, a Notre Dame ACE Academy. The school has worked in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame for several years now and is part of the university’s academic outreach program established to help strengthen and sustain existing parish and diocesan Catholic elementary schools.

St. Luke School is an example of the fine schools in the diocese and stands out as pioneering STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education here for others to follow. St. Luke initiatives continue to grow. Over the summer, leaders hosted a weeklong robotics camp that was well attended, and educators are already planning the next one. The school’s science curriculum with innovative project-based, hands-on learning is also expanding this year.

“Our goals are college and heaven, and our core values are seek, persist, excel, love and serve,” said Bacchus, who praised Notre Dame and the university’s support for helping to carry out St. Luke’s mission of bringing quality Catholic education with all its goals and values to children here, especially those in underserved areas. This summer, the entire St. Luke School administrative team spent a week at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana “refining school goals and preparing for the coming year,” said Bacchus.

She said she has a great school team going forward into the new year and the continuous backing of the pastor, who is there and a constant reinforcement and spiritual presence. “We are blessed to have the active support of our pastor, Father Andrew Brierley, contributing to a well-rounded faith-filled school,” she said.

As far as other summer activities, Bacchus spearheaded a new facelift for the aging St. Luke School. The principal and a group of volunteers rolled up sleeves and with paint brushes in hand transformed the entire old, blemished school with a fresh, bright coat of paint. It now sports the school colors of yellow and navy.

With a whole new look and several other improvements — including the addition of a public address system, beefed-up security features and more technology to enhance instruction and learning — the school is off to a good start. “St. Luke is a thriving school with strong Catholic identity,” said Bacchus, who is excited about the new school year and her mission of education to ensure students are well-rooted in their Catholic faith and academically equipped as they continue on their journeys to become future leaders.

Over the summer months, the Florida Catholic spoke with many of the leaders from the schools, and conversations steered toward their own school communities, school missions, and dreams and goals to help meet the spiritual and educational needs of the children they serve. We hope to bring you some of these interviews throughout the year and any new developments at the school communities.

As far as what is coming up next in the schools, Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito is scheduled to stop by three schools in September. Cardinal Newman High School is welcoming Bishop Barbarito Sept. 10 for a back-to-school Mass. He will also visit St. John Paul II Academy in Boca Raton Sept. 11 and John Carroll High School Sept. 13 to celebrate Mass at both educational facilities, enforcing the spiritual tone at each high school as the school year moves along.