January 26, 2018

2018 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Generations build on each other’s work to make saints and scholars

Students at St. Nicholas School in Ripley County pause from eating lunch to pray the Angelus at noon every day, one of the ways the Batesville Deanery school community lives its faith. (Submitted photo)

Students at St. Nicholas School in Ripley County pause from eating lunch to pray the Angelus at noon every day, one of the ways the Batesville Deanery school community lives its faith. (Submitted photo)

By Julie Stockman and John Shaughnessy

RIPLEY COUNTY—At exactly noon, the bells from St. Nicholas Church ring through the countryside near Sunman and echo through the parish school, leading the students to stand, face the nearest crucifix and pray the Angelus.

“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary…”

That daily prayer by the kindergarteners through eighth-graders is just one of the traditional Catholic rituals that mark their days at their school in the Batesville Deanery in southeastern Indiana. 

Throughout the year, morning offering prayer begins each school day, and an act of contrition concludes it. Students say grace before and after lunch. And every Friday during Lent, they visit the Stations of the Cross in the church.

St. Nicholas’ 130 students also wear red shirts on the feast days that celebrate martyred saints. And they participate in the celebration of the Mass three mornings during the week, including Fridays when the pastor, Father Shaun Whittington, hosts a question-and-answer session after the Mass, letting students of all ages ask questions about the Catholic faith.

Father Whittington also makes the sacrament of reconciliation available to each grade a couple of times during the school year. And when a student wants to receive that sacrament individually, a teacher will send a text to the pastor to make that arrangement.

“It’s truly amazing,” says principal Daniel Swygart about all the ways that the Catholic faith is a part of life for St. Nicholas students. “When I first came here three years ago, there were two things I was astounded by.

“There’s a stewardship model where they don’t charge tuition. And the second thing is they have access to a 24-hour eucharistic adoration chapel. It’s amazing how you feel when you’re here late at night and the eucharistic chapel is lit, and people are in there. It makes you feel you’re never alone.”

He also marvels at the efforts of parents, grandparents and friends of the school who volunteer in numerous ways to help the students. It’s an approach that beckons back to the people who came together to build the current parish church in 1856, he says.

“They created the bricks from the sand and the clay of the creek bed,” Swygart says with awe in his voice. “Those bricks are still strong. We have the bricks and stones that show that commitment, and we have the ‘living stones’ that are still living out their faith today.

“You surround these kids with people who have this dedication to their faith and it rubs off. It takes over.”

That commitment continues in the parish’s capital campaign called the Heritage Project. Since the archdiocese approved the campaign in the summer of 2017, the parish has raised more than $3.3 million, with 173 families making gifts.

That’s already enough for the campaign’s first phase which will create a new education center that will house the school and religious education programs, and create an endowment for ongoing maintenance of parish facilities. And the campaign’s success so far has provided a head start on the funds needed for the second phase—creating a new fellowship center that will include a gym, stage and cafeteria.

The success of the campaign reflects the essence of the parish, says Father Whittington, who offers a defining story about that commitment.

“A couple of months ago, I officiated at a wedding, and I was talking to the bride and groom,” he says. “The bride told me she was the fifth generation to be married at St. Nicholas. The long-term, multi‑generational commitment to the parish is amazing. It’s a way of life.”

A way of life that is also evident in the school’s stewardship model, he insists.

“It creates a robust partnership between the school and the school’s families. There’s a lot of volunteering, and a lot of sacrificial giving.”

There’s also a deep commitment among the parish’s families to participating in the celebration of the Mass each weekend.

That combination “has given us the successes that God’s grace has allowed us to have” in the areas of religious formation, academics and financial stability, he maintains.

That combination also leads to the main hope that the parish and the school have for its latest generation of students.

“The motto of the school is, ‘Building saints and scholars,’ ” Father Whittington says. “All the different things we do are in support of that goal.”
 

(Julie Stockman is a member of St. Nicholas Parish.)

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