Catholic schools hit big milestones in 2016-2017

By Peggy Moraczewski

The Diocese of Austin will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year, but Catholic schools have been present in Central Texas for over twice that amount of time. 
“The Diocese of Austin is truly blessed with such a rich history of Catholic education,” said Dr. Ned Vanders, the diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. Five of the diocese’s 22 Catholic schools are celebrating significant anniversaries this year, for a combined total of nearly 500 years of Catholic education. 
The Cathedral School of St. Mary was founded in 1866, when the population of Austin was about 600 people. Holy Cross priests, religious sisters and brothers staffed the school in the 1800s. In memory of their contributions, Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, celebrated a Mass at St. Mary Cathedral in early September. 
For the Cathedral School of St. Mary, spreading the good news of 150 years of continuous Catholic education begins at the school entrance with a welcoming banner and carpet embellished with the newly designed anniversary logo. 
The school’s new Msgr. Edward Matocha Garden honors the past, while creating a space where fruits, vegetables and young minds can flourish. Students love the garden built for them by the local Knights of Columbus. Msgr. Matocha was the first priest ordained for the Diocese of Austin in 1947. He served as the rector at St. Mary Cathedral for a decade and enjoyed gardening. 
St. Mary’s Catholic School (SMCS), one in Taylor and one in Temple, were founded in the late 19th century. SMCS-Taylor began celebrating their 120th anniversary last May with an Alumni Reunion, and this school year began with Mass and a blessing of the school by longtime pastor, Msgr. Lonnie Urban. He celebrates the 50th anniversary of his ordination next May, and served as pastor when the new Interim Principal for the 2016-2017 school year, Heidi (Zimmerhanzel) Altman, was a student at the school. 
“St. Mary’s is a blessing to the community. It’s a place for formation and roots ... it provides a legacy for these families,” Altman said. 
The Dominican Sisters of Houston are part of that legacy, with a presence since the early years. A 120th “Birthday Party” commemorated the August 1896 school opening, and an anniversary theme will link with events throughout the year. In October, parents are invited to join their children praying a “Living Rosary” on the school grounds. Students from as far away as Round Rock and Hutto attend the school.
St. Mary’s Catholic School in Temple is celebrating 120 years of Catholic education with a new focal point at the entrance of the school, where a path leads people to a Shrine of Our Blessed Mother. Preparations for the new school year included a retreat with pastor, Father Steve Sauser, staff and faculty. 
“We are a family. Father Steve is very visible in our school and the students love him. Our school is growing by leaps and bounds,” said Principal Theresa Wyles.
Over the summer, the interior of the school was warmed with a fresh coat of paint and new windows in the school office. A fully updated computer lab, Chromebooks and I-Pads are now in use. New electives, such as robotics and film study, are available for middle school students this year.
On the first day of school, teachers at St. Louis Catholic School in Austin greeted students wearing commemorative T-shirts celebrating the school’s 60th anniversary. The campus was “spruced-up” over the summer and, for the first time ever, the school gym is air conditioned. Anniversary festivities include events reminding them of their history in the fall and the spring. Alumni are invited to a Fall Open House and students will write letters next spring to place in a time capsule, to be opened on the 75th anniversary. 
St. Louis plans to open the first Catholic Montessori School in the diocese. An existing building is being refurbished for this educational alternative. The Montessori option will start with pre-Kindergarten for the 2017-2018 academic year.
St. Theresa Catholic School in Austin is focusing on the culture of spirituality built during their 30 years of existence. Their anniversary theme is, “Thirty years of making a difference ... learning, serving, believing,” and it is partnered with a spiritual theme, “Practicing little acts of virtue.” The goal is to embrace St. Theresa of Lisieux’s “little way,” making it the hallmark of the school, through the discipline of virtuous living: kindness, compassion, love and giving.
Middle school students will observe the Year of Mercy, on a pilgrimage to St. Mary Cathedral. They will attend Mass, followed by a day of service around the city. 
Staff and faculty recently participated in a spiritual formation retreat and next spring, a similar retreat will be offered to the entire parish community. Campus landscape enhancements also reflect the spiritual formation that has occurred inside their facilities.
Sprucing up
Over the summer many school campuses were renovated and improvements were made to technology. Students at St. Austin Catholic School will enjoy a new art room, renovated restrooms and a new gym floor. The entire parish family at St. Ignatius Martyr Parish in Austin will benefit from a remodeled parish family center, a facility that does double-duty as the school gym and lunchroom. 
Chromebooks and the Lexia Core 5 reading program were also added at more of the schools. Lexia Core 5 is a web-based software program for elementary students, providing personalized reading instruction. 
“Although technology has changed the students’ information highway, our Catholic schools continue to catechize and evangelize by being Christ-centered and bringing the Gospel values to bear on our present age,” Vanders said.
Bishops Joe Vásquez and Daniel Garcia plan to celebrate Masses for the five schools celebrating significant anniversaries. Dates and times will be released as soon as they are confirmed. For additional information about Catholic education in the Diocese of Austin, visit