Archive for Thursday, October 12, 2006

St. John, Corpus Christi schools enjoy establishing own identities

October 12, 2006


It's a watermark year for Catholic education in Lawrence: The city's original Catholic school is celebrating its 50th year and reclaiming its roots.

And the second school - which was part of the first the past five years - is finally getting its own identity.

"I feel like I'm back home," said Pat Newton as she sat in her office at St. John School, 1227 Vt.

For the past five years, Newton was principal of the Lawrence Catholic School.

She shuttled between her office at the school's campus at St. John's and a new school at Corpus Christi Catholic Church across town at 6001 Bob Billings Parkway.

But last spring, Newton and officials with Corpus Christi Church and St. John the Evangelist Church decided it was time for a split. The Lawrence Catholic School became two parish schools: St. John's and Corpus Christi Catholic School.

Since then, the schools' staffs and students have been enjoying establishing their separate identities, according to Newton and Becky Wright, Corpus Christi's new principal.

"We came up with a new mascot name, The Saints," Wright said. School parents and students also picked some new colors: blue and gold.

"Kids are loving that. It's been a lot of fun," said the Rev. Mick Mulvany, Corpus Christi's pastor.

Big expansion

St. John School first-grader Gracie Odrowski, right, laughs in her chair beside classmate Hannah Stuit, who hurries to finish a math assignment Wednesday in Lisa Quinlan's class. St. John's is in its 50th year and is re-establishing its identity after a split with Corpus Christi.

St. John School first-grader Gracie Odrowski, right, laughs in her chair beside classmate Hannah Stuit, who hurries to finish a math assignment Wednesday in Lisa Quinlan's class. St. John's is in its 50th year and is re-establishing its identity after a split with Corpus Christi.

But the biggest change is coming in a couple of months: a $7 million expansion project that will allow the school to accommodate seventh and eighth grades, she said.

"We're in the midst of a capital campaign right now to continue the growth of the school," Mulvany said.

The plans include a new technology center, a media center and a library. The project also calls for a commons area, which would serve as a dining hall and a staging area. And it would add a new music room, a science lab, more classroom space and administrative offices, Mulvany said.

Long history

At St. John's, there are 235 students in K-6, with two sections in each grade level, Newton said. The school has 17 teachers and a counselor.

St. John School has a history, and its students and patrons reflect the growth of Lawrence over the years, she said.

Newton said last summer she went through boxes of documents, photos, slides and other memorabilia to organize the material for patrons wanting to take a look.

She said she put the material in chronological order with 49 piles, each representing material from a particular year.

There wasn't much from 1956, though she did have the original building report.

This 1956 photograph shows a classroom at St. John Catholic School. St. John and Corpus Christi Catholic Churches now have separate parochial schools.

This 1956 photograph shows a classroom at St. John Catholic School. St. John and Corpus Christi Catholic Churches now have separate parochial schools.

The school's opening day was Sept. 6, 1956, starting with 161 students in grades one through eight, taught by four members of the Sisters of Charity, an order based in Leavenworth.

Sister Owen Marie was principal and was one of two staff members who had a college degree, Newton said. The other three teachers were Sister Ellen Louise, Sister Lorraine and Sister Mary Luce.

The building report also noted very minimal equipment: a radio, a record player, a globe and seven maps.

"I went through pictures, newspaper clippings, photographs and slides," Newton said. "It was interesting to see our current families - current parents - as children."

Grades seven and eight were discontinued in the 1970s to make it easier for students to make a transition to the grades seven through nine format adopted by Lawrence public schools. The school added a kindergarten in 1981.

"I've been at the school for over 30 years, so I just saw my life go before me in generations of kids," Newton said. "I think St. John's is Lawrence. It really does represent Lawrence."

Corpus Christi emerges

St. John School originally served only St. John the Evangelist parish.

But in 1981, Corpus Christi parish was formed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., to serve western Lawrence.

Corpus Christi's original church was built at Kasold Drive and Harvard Road. But there wasn't enough room to build a school, and St. John School continued to serve both parishes.

In 2000, Corpus Christi opened its new church on a hill in western Lawrence designed with the concept that it be like an Italian village on a hill.

A school with classrooms for K-6 was included on the church campus.

And St. John School was renamed the Lawrence Catholic School. At that time, the first class opened on the new Corpus Christi campus, with 23 kindergartners.

Since then, each year Corpus Christi added another grade level.

Beginning with this school year, both parishes now support their own schools.

Moving to the future

Corpus Christi now has 225 students in kindergarten through sixth grade that are served by 15 teachers and four administrators.

"It was fun building that new school and having the two campuses," Newton said. "But last spring it was decided that it was time for us to go our separate ways and go back to being parish schools so we could each grow in our own traditions and our own cultures."

Even though Corpus Christi's campus had been serving students, it had to go through the state to get proper accreditation during the summer as a separate school, Wright said.

Also, members of the parish were asked this summer to pledge money to build the new facilities, Mulvany said. So far, the pledges are about $4 million for the $7 million project, he said.

At this point, there is no plan to build a Corpus Christi high school, he said. Catholic high schools are built to serve a region and that kind of a decision would be made at the archdiocese level, she said.

The archdiocese recently built St. James Academy in western Lenexa on Kansas Highway 10 to serve that purpose, he said.

Returning to roots

"We are back to being St. John's Catholic School, and we are part of St. John's parish," Newton said.

St. John's is served by the Capuchin Franciscans, a religious order established by St. Francis of Assisi, and by the Sisters of Charity.

"I think the St. John's community, the people who I am around, are very happy," she said. "They love having their own school. ... It's good to be one big unit."

Lay teachers

Mulvany said Corpus Christi will have lay teachers and though the city's west side is new, it is coming together as a community.

"It's a really very spirit-filled community," he said. "People love living in this area of Kansas, and you know there's so much growth happening on this side of town that you might think it would be more disparate than it is, but they really do forge themselves together as a community, which is really great."

The two schools are funded separately through their own parishes. Families are told the cost per student is $4,500 and they work out their tuition agreement toward meeting that cost with the pastor, she said.

Students are also accepted to the school from nonparish families, she said.

Newton said St. John's will continue to have its annual fundraising auction. As part of the 50th anniversary, the auction will be held this year on Nov. 11 in the school, rather than at the Lawrence Holidome.

Wright said there will be a separate fundraising event for Corpus Christi School, but it will be in the spring, so as to not conflict with St. John's auction.

St. John's future

Newton said St. John's is considering adding a preschool and wants to continue to keep up with technology.

But more immediate plans include replacing a fence in front of the building near Kentucky Street and putting up a memorial plaque and bench to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, who established the school.

"Fifty years ago it was very popular for Catholic churches and other churches to have their own schools, with the idea of educating the children in the faith," Newton said.

Mulvany said there was a time in Lawrence when there was a waiting list to get into the Catholic school.

"Now that's not an issue for kids in Lawrence right now - and that's terrific," he said.

- 6News reporter/anchor Deanna Richards contributed to this report.


roger_o_thornhill 11 years, 8 months ago

I think it would have been funnier if they had adopted "The Devils" as their mascot. I'm sure even the Jesus could laugh at that one.

prioress 11 years, 8 months ago

Comparing private and public school expenses is not valuable. Private teachers work for less and have fewer benefits, including pensions. Parents pay tuition, but there are many grants and, at times, support from the churches' central structures. Similar to KU, tuition payments to private schools do not reflect the 'true' cost. Special education is another issue; private schools do not have to provide it, and if they admit a student with special needs, they ask for, and receive, services from the local public schools. Public schools are also mandated to provide transportation if the student lives on a regular route and can be dropped off at the Catholic school without a diversion from the route.

We are, of course, not discussing here the fact that private schools generally do not deliver better educational results than public schools. They are a viable alternative, and a good choice for some parents and we should wish them well.

KS 11 years, 8 months ago

The cost is $4,500 per student? What did the Lawrence school district say their costs are? Humm!

Ken Miller 11 years, 8 months ago


Where would Jesus send His kid to school?

lunacydetector 11 years, 8 months ago

actually prioress, in every year that i can remember, the local catholic school children have scored higher in aptitude tests than the public school children.

prioress 11 years, 8 months ago

Aptitude tests? I suppose you mean achievement tests. You are right, in a sense. A private school is just that; they can discriminate in any way they want and are not bound to take the challenged and the damaged like public schools. As I noted, they usually do not deal much with special education either. They also can dispose of due process and eliminate students who do not conform; privates also tend to enroll only students who can speak English.

If a grade school in Lawence (or just about anywhere else) could cherry pick the students they choose to admit and eliminate those who are difficult to teach, they would do "better" as well. I like private schools and think they are a viable choice for parents; to assume they are inherently better, despite the lack of a level playing field, is erroneous.

commonsense 11 years, 8 months ago

"If a grade school in Lawence (or just about anywhere else) could cherry pick the students they choose to admit and eliminate those who are difficult to teach, they would do "better" as well." prioress

The 2 catholic schools and the other private schools in town do not pick and choose, the parents pick and choose. It's not like St. John's and Raintree are out recruiting! If a student has a learning disability, the schools are usually very forward and honest with the parents; ie "we do not have the ability to provide the needs your child requires". If they did, they would. There are plenty of members of the Catholic Church who send their children to public schools because they know it's what's best for them. They realize that their child needs a paraprofessional, or a Title 1 Teacher, or a speech professional. Sometimes, the schools can help, sometimes they can't. But people make it seem like disability = liability at private schools, and that's not fair. There are plenty of students who attend private schools with IEP's and their scores count just like they do in public school. And to be honest, for a majority of these parents, it's not just about education. There are good teachers at both public and private schools. It's about their 3rd grader being able to say Merry Christmas as they walk out the door before "Winter Break"! And they have every right, just as other individuals have a right to refuse relgion in public schools.

BigAl 11 years, 8 months ago

I've also noticed that St Johns does a great job with their students and operate with a minimal staff. They have one principal and one office person for their 235 kids. The rest of the employees are teachrers. How does the public schools stack up to that?

Tychoman 11 years, 8 months ago

Three principals, three counselors, 5 or 6 secretaries that I can remember for 1350 students thereabouts. Seems fine to me, Al.

Angie Evers 11 years, 8 months ago

Public schools provide transportation? That's news to me...! Someone should have told my mom when I was a youngster, and I guess should look into it myself so I don't have to make the long trip for my kids twice a day. :)

It may not be the most convenient for location, but St. John's the perfect match for my family! Happy 50th St. John's!!

cerealmom 11 years, 8 months ago

Only a fool would pay for private education when they already pay for public school.

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