VCS kicks off weeklong observance of Catholic Schools Week

Published 9:00 pm Monday, January 29, 2018

Vicksburg Catholic Schools kicked off its weeklong observance of Catholic Schools Week with a program attended by school and area officials, a proclamation from Mayor George Flaggs Jr. and tours of St. Francis Xavier and St. Aloysius.

Several of the visitors toured the school, while members of the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce and officials from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center read to students in the classrooms.

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“Catholic education predates public education in Mississippi,” St. Aloysius principal Buddy Stricklin said. When the statewide public school system was established in 1870, he said, “Catholic education in Mississippi was already providing a system of excellence and was a light house for educational excellence for eight years.”

He said that excellence continues at St. Aloysius and St. Francis. He pointed out that 120 students at St. Aloysius have earned college scholarships exceeding $16 million, and 265 students have provided an average of 11,000 hours of community service.

He said Vicksburg Catholic Schools’ educational excellence is recognized in the community, adding 65 percent of the total 523 students attending the VCS are from other faiths.

“They look to us for a commitment to excellence,” he said.

Stricklin said after the proclamation program he believes Vicksburg Catholic Schools’ faith-based background is part of the reason it attracts students of other faiths.

“One reinforces the other,” he said. “It helps those students from other faith traditions strengthen their personal faith.”

St. Francis principal Mary Arledge also believes the Vicksburg Catholic Schools’ faith-based program and its tradition of educational excellence are reasons why parents from other faiths send their children to the schools.

She said Vicksburg Catholic Schools’ influence in the community goes back to 1860, when the Sisters of Mercy founded St. Francis Xavier School, a boarding school for girls.

“The boys stayed at home and worked in the fields,” she said.

St. Aloysius was founded as a boy’s school in 1879 by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. The schools were finally consolidated in 1989.

The Rev. Tom Lalor, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church and a former teacher, said the importance of Catholic education “has first of all to do with teaching people about our faith, but it has an ecumenical dimension that calls us to embrace all peoples and how they enrich our lives.”

He pointed to a child’s painting of St. Francis Xavier on the wall in the school lobby.

“St. Francis Xavier was a great Jesuit, as was St. Aloysius, and that sense of holiness that’s espoused by the Jesuits, plus their learning, has been a part of the school system here in Vicksburg.

“Having taught in Catholic schools for 18 years myself, I feel a great privilege for having been around so many young people and learned so much … not only from Catholic young people but from other faith traditions that I’ve had the honor to have been associated with.”

Organized in 1974 by the National Catholic Education Association, National Catholic Schools Week is an annual observance of Catholic education in the United States. This year’s theme is “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.”

Besides the proclamation and tours, Vicksburg Catholic Schools will recognize the school’s faculty, staff and volunteers Tuesday; Bishop Joseph Kopacz, bishop of Jackson, will celebrate mass Wednesday; an open house for prospective families will be held Thursday; and a student appreciation day will be Friday.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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