January 27, 2006

2006 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Nativity School celebrates 50 years with new chapel

By Mary Ann Wyand

Nativity School in Indianapolis is 50 years old this year, and the parish has established a chapel in the school to commemorate a half century of Catholic education.

Peg Dispenzieri, Nativity’s principal for the past four years, said Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ parishioners are very supportive of the school ministry, which was started in a converted barn on the parish property at 7225 Southeastern Ave.

“We’re the only Catholic church and the only Catholic school in Franklin Township,” she said. “We’re a big part of the community. We hold our Catholic faith very much in the forefront of what we do here at the school.”

Dispenzieri said Nativity School has maintained “a tradition of academic excellence with extremely dedicated teachers” during three building programs in the past decade that were necessitated by the continued population growth in what was formerly farmland southeast of Indianapolis.

“There are so many people moving into the area that we’ve needed three expansions in 10 years,” she said, “but the thing that amazes me is that Nativity parishioners have been so supportive of the building programs that they have committed their time and resources to complete them. The parishioners really believe in the school, and they support it 100 percent. We have pretty much paid off the expansions as we’ve done them.”

Nativity School serves preschool-age children through the eighth-grade, she said. There are two classes per grade, 24 teachers and 345 students this school year.

“The primary grades, the kindergarten and the preschool—which was started two years ago—are located in the second new addition that was built about five years ago,” Dispenzieri said. “The middle school—the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grades—has pretty much taken over the last new addition that was added a couple of years ago.”

This year, she said, “we’re very proud of the new chapel in what used to be our old computer lab. We have morning prayer there for teachers, and students use it for prayer services or for music and liturgy practice before school Masses on Fridays in the church.”

Parishioner Bob Gries of Indianapolis built the altar and is currently finishing the ambo, she said, and students from every grade helped make colorful banners depicting the fruits of the Holy Spirit that decorate the chapel walls.

She said Father Patrick Doyle, Nativity’s pastor, will dedicate the chapel after Gries installs the new ambo.

“The chapel is a mixture of lots of different gifts from many people,” she said. “The students are excited to use it and like to share their faith.”

Nativity Parish was founded in 1948 and the school opened in 1955.

“We’re celebrating our anniversary with events throughout the school year,” Dispenzieri said. “We had a huge parish Mass at the beginning of the school year and tied it into our parish festival. We also sponsored a family fun run in October at [nearby] Southeastway Park, and lots of people participated in the 5K race.”

Sixth-grader Emily Dehner said she has enjoyed the anniversary celebrations this year and likes attending Nativity School because “the people are really nice and you learn a lot here.”

Second-grader Evan Fehring likes the celebrations too, and thinks its “pretty cool” that Nativity’s modern school building started out as a converted barn.

Bob Gries’ wife, Kathy, started the kindergarten program and now teaches a first-grade class. She has worked at Nativity School for two decades.

“I think one of our big pluses is that although we’ve grown as far as having extra classes, we’ve also kept a little bit of the small school atmosphere,” Kathy Gries said. “People know each other, we have really good financial support from our families, and the teachers have a wonderful rapport with parents. We have good ISTEP scores, and I think we do a good job with academics.”

Best of all, she said, is the fact that “we can bring God into all our different classes, and have the opportunity to attend liturgy, prayer services and other special things together in Lent and Advent that are a real advantage for us.”

Nativity’s other first-grade teacher, Ann Skirvin, is a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis and also has taught at Nativity School for more than 20 years.

Skirvin remembers teaching kindergarten when that classroom was located in the church building.

“In 1977, my first year of teaching, I had 35 students,” she said. “That was a lot of kids. With all the building that is underway in Franklin Township in recent years, the parish is really making an effort to offer a Catholic education to more families.

“As a teacher, I feel very welcome here,” Skirvin said. “I’ve spent my whole career here, and never wanted to work anywhere else. I really enjoy the families here, and there is a lot of parish support for the school. Adding on to a school three times in the fairly recent past is very expensive, but parish support for the capital campaign made it possible. It’s a good feeling as a teacher to know that the whole parish family is supportive of the Church’s mission of Catholic education.”

Skirvin said she also appreciates the addition of a chapel for the students, faculty and staff.

“It’s nice to have a sacred space in the school,” she said. “I told the children that it’s nice to be able to focus on prayer there because we can’t necessarily hear God with our ears, but sometimes we can hear him in our heart when we’re in a nice, quiet place.” †


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