September 4, 2015

The transformation of souls: Principal, pastor say new St. Anthony Catholic School eager to share the gift of faith

As the principal of the new St. Anthony Catholic School in Indianapolis, Cindy Greer proudly displays the gift of 300 handmade rosaries that she received from two strangers who were thrilled to learn the school was making the transition this school year from a charter school to a Catholic school. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

As the principal of the new St. Anthony Catholic School in Indianapolis, Cindy Greer proudly displays the gift of 300 handmade rosaries that she received from two strangers who were thrilled to learn the school was making the transition this school year from a charter school to a Catholic school. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Cindy Greer was in full stress mode even before the two strangers suddenly showed up outside her office, carrying a brown box.

“What now?” wondered Greer on that day in July.

As a principal, she already had her hands more than full with having less than a month to do everything she could to get her school ready for undoubtedly the most dramatic change in education in the archdiocese this year: transitioning a school that has been a charter school for the past five years into a new Catholic school.

Yet when the two elderly women stood before her inside St. Anthony Catholic School in Indianapolis, Greer greeted them politely, never expecting the amazing story they were about to tell her or the stunning gift they were about to share.

The two women told Greer they had driven from Ohio to deliver the contents of the box, months after they learned in March that the new St. Anthony Catholic School would open on Aug. 11 for the 2015-16 school year. Since that March day, the women had been working together on the gift they now wanted to share.

“Inside the box were 300 handmade rosaries,” Greer recalls. “They were so excited we were going back to being a Catholic school. One of them had a sister in our parish. That’s how they knew. When I saw all the rosaries, I was floored. I just cried.”

Sharing a lasting gift

The rosaries aren’t the only gift of faith that has marked the transformation of the former Padua Academy charter school into St. Anthony Catholic School, now the home of about 230 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

New Bibles, crucifixes and statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe are visible in each of the classrooms—donations from Indianapolis-area graduates and supporters of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, a program that provides teachers for Catholic schools in economically-struggling areas across the country.

And the men’s club at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis added a fresh coat of paint to several classrooms in the new Catholic school.

Still, for Greer, her staff and the pastor of the parish—Father John McCaslin—the best gift they have received is being able to share the gift of faith with the children throughout the school day.

When the school was Padua Academy, religious symbols and statues had to be removed from the building. And religious education was relegated to an after-school program that not every student attended.

“It wasn’t ideal, but you could still show your faith in other ways—how you treat people, how to serve others,” notes Greer, who also served as principal during the site’s five years as a charter school.

“Now, you’re educating the whole child. You can talk to children about the choices they’re making—and how they can relate it back to the Gospel and what Christ teaches us. And just the opportunity to go to Mass and share that with the kids is huge.”

That opportunity arises every Wednesday morning at the school Mass. During a recent school Mass, the students’ voices and enthusiasm flowed through the church—from the first line of the opening song, “I will sing, I will sing a song unto the Lord,” to the last line of the closing song, “This Little Light of Mine.”

‘We’re teaching the faith every day’

During his homily that morning, Father McCaslin stressed the new approach of the school.

“We help each other bear witness to the Good News of the Gospel,” he told the children. “This year, may we be witnesses of the Gospel of God.”

After the Mass, Father McCaslin shared his joy about St. Anthony Catholic School—the latest school to become part of the archdiocese’s Mother Theodore Catholic Academies. That consortium, which seeks to provide a Catholic education to center-city students in Indianapolis, also includes Central Catholic, Holy Angels, Holy Cross Central and St. Philip Neri schools.

“It’s very exciting to be able to go into the classroom, to teach them, to have that influence,” Father McCaslin says. “The kids are beginning to understand the difference between a charter school and a Catholic school. We bring prayer into the school every day. We’re teaching the faith every day in religion classes. And we come together in the Mass. I’ve really enjoyed having them in Mass.”

So has the parish.

“When I told the parish about it becoming a Catholic school, people were excited,” Father McCaslin notes. “There’s a lot of rejoicing in the community, too.”

The transformation of souls

Greer has noticed that same joy among the students since the decision to transform the school was made during the last school year.

“When the kids heard we were going back to a Catholic school, they were excited,” she says.

That appreciation shows in letters that students have written to donors of the school. A child named Amy wrote, “What I like about this school is that we get to pray with the whole school, and I get to have fun with my friends. I also like to go to Mass and learn about God and our religion.”

Another student named Jose wrote, “What I really like about St. Anthony Catholic School is that we have religion and have a Mass.”

“The parents are excited, too,” Greer notes. “There’s a lot of happiness.”

The importance of the family connection at St. Anthony Catholic School is reflected in the huge mosaic of the Holy Family that greets everyone as they enter the building.

“I love my families,” Greer says, noting the predominantly Hispanic roots of the children who attend the school. “I have dedicated parents who try very hard. I have parents who tell me, ‘I didn’t have the opportunity to go to a school, and I want that for my children.’ Their belief and trust that their children are in this school and not a school, is humbling to hear.”

Greer and her staff are determined to live up to that belief and trust.

“I like to paraphrase something that the archbishop [Joseph W. Tobin] said when he gave a talk about bringing St. Anthony’s back: ‘We’re in the business of the transformation of souls—not just the education piece and the character piece, but the faith piece.’

“I loved hearing that. I love that that’s our mission.” †

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