“. . . by their competence in secular fields and by their personal activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let [the faithful] work vigorously so that by human labor, technical skill, and civil culture, created goods may be perfected according to the design of the Creator and the light of His Word.” Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gengium §43.
In 2002, the Prince of Peace parish community joined Bishop of Charleston Robert Baker to respond to the wish of young families to establish a new Catholic parochial school in Greenville’s east side. Without realizing it at the time, perhaps, these parents embarked on the laborious and difficult task of defining, encouraging support for, and laying the foundation of a school that could be a model of Christian fellowship and of quality Catholic education, a school that establishes – and helps children reach – the highest achievable learning standards in all subjects.
This is not an easy task, as you might imagine. In many ways, the “Catholic” part of our Catholic school was not the hard part. Our school year is structured around the liturgical year and the celebration of the saints or of special liturgical moments such as advent or lent. Our daily life includes prayer, the reading of scripture, or the study of the Church. Our week centers on the Eucharist and common participation in the liturgy every Wednesday morning. Our work is supported by the prayers of our community before the blessed sacrament in the perpetual adoration chapel. These together encompass the soul of Catholic learning.
But to prepare children for a calling in the world where they could bring their Catholic faith into their personal and professional relationships with others, they must also master secular learning, reading, writing, and mathematics. The world respects mastery and achievement, and we more readily earn a hearing as Catholics in the public square when we can demonstrate our commitment to such excellence.
This is why the US Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon award to “Exemplary High Performing Schools” is so important to us. Over the last six years from 2010 to 2015 Prince of Peace Catholic School is the only private school in our state to win this prestigious academic award given annually to only 50 private schools across the country. It is a confirmation of some very human things (enriched by God’s grace and as a result of prayer and the sacraments) achieved through our planning, our common sense, our dedication to principle, and our setting and reaching high standards of learning for children.
To qualify, our students first had to reach achievement levels placing them in the top 15 percent in the nation in both reading and math at every grade level from 3rd to 8th; an unambiguous record of student academic achievement, however, is only the beginning of the application process. Once we qualified as a National Blue Ribbon candidate, we submitted a thorough report that accounted for how we help children achieve at that high level. The report went to the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) which selects and nominates private schools for award consideration by the US Department of Education. The evaluation process continued to the final stage of nomination after the elimination of one third of nationally qualifying private schools, with Prince of Peace Catholic School still in the running as a finalist.
High achievement calls forth commitment and duty: training teachers to better deliver classroom instruction and to manage classrooms, purchasing classroom technology to help teachers deliver a more rigorously paced instruction, adopting instructional goals and methods that train and discipline a student’s mind for content mastery especially in the fundamental areas of reading, writing, and mathematics, establishing compensation policies and practices aimed at teacher retention and employee commitment to our Catholic education, and inviting parents, the primary educators of their children, to join us as partners, volunteers and laborers in the Lord’s vineyard we call Catholic schooling.
Sustaining all these very human things is our faith. We are a community that prays for one another, values the sacraments and the stories of the saints, seeks forgiveness after misunderstandings, lives courtesy and charity toward others, and is willing to make sacrifices so that children better discern God’s voice in their lives and live His will with fidelity.
We are very proud of the achievement of our children and of the great dedication of our teachers who work so closely with them along the path of learning. I invite all in the parish to share this honor with us; thank you for your prayers and your support. Prince of Peace Catholic school could not thrive – would not have thrived – without the parish whose “yes” in 2002 brought it to life.
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth . . . so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may come to the fullness of truth.” Pope St. John Paul II (1998)