Catholic schools have been a strong part of the educational framework for our nations for many years. The same is true of Chapel Hill. St. Thomas More Catholic School on Carmichael Street has been educating students for over 50 years. During the weekend Masses on Jan. 24-25, along with many other churches across the country, a principal will speak about the importance of Catholic education. Students will pass out “thank you” tokens to churchgoers, and the 60 staff, 460 students, and their families, along with parishioners at large, will cheer for Catholic education as they launch into Catholic Schools Week.
Some cheer that they have a school that has a cross on it. It is one of the most recognizable symbols in human history and means many different things to many people. At our school, it means that studies will include this cross and the savior who hung on it two millennia ago. That study complements a community expectation that the beliefs, rules and practices in the school reflect the teachings of Jesus, whose teachings and hard-to-believe crucifixion story made the cross an enduring symbol.
Some celebrate that they have a school with deep tradition. If long-held Catholic observances aren’t iconic enough, there are the sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who ran the school in the early years, the memories of a beautiful stone church on Gimghoul Road, and many Christmases where thousands of residents would pick out their Christmas tree and a wreath just off of Fordham Boulevard. For 50 years educators, parishioners, students and families have built memories around that small brick building that originally included just a convent, a small chapel, an auditorium/gym and several elementary classrooms.
Yearly, the families of St. Thomas More Catholic School contribute tens of thousands of dollars, volumes of food and clothing, and hundreds of hours to local charities, ministries within the larger church, international funding campaigns, and families within the school and church community. Local news readers have seen St. Thomas More students packaging Christmas presents for impoverished children of Appalachia, collecting cash to send to organizations on the ground fighting the Ebola outbreak, and carrying boxes of used clothing to the Caring and Sharing Center right next to the school.
Of course, many simply appreciate the academic reputation that identifies itself with hard work in scholastics and athletics, prayer, high standards of behavior and self-discipline, handwriting, uniforms, religious iconic artwork on every wall, and holy water at every doorway. Catholic education presents an archetypal picture in many minds from popular media and personal experiences and stories. Some of these still exist, and others – like the ruler-wielding enforcer nun – live on only in parody and dramatic re-tellings.
Personally, as a parent, local citizen and educator, I applaud the option that St. Thomas More Catholic School represents to our region. Anyone who views education as a natural extension of family and community has the option to attend a school that celebrates and encourages spiritual health, faith, and religion alongside math facts and parts of speech. Adults who wish to be an informed part of their child’s education rather than a spectator kept at a distance, can experience a myriad of embedded opportunities to be in classrooms, at events, in conferences with professionals, and participate in offerings through our parent academy presentations. Parents can enjoy a faculty and staff whose conversation begins and ends with what is best for students.
St. Thomas More Catholic School extends a “thank you” and a “welcome” to Chapel Hill and its surrounding community. We enjoy your support, prayers, and collaboration to provide an outstanding school option all families can enjoy. Our parish continues to break down financial barriers for families who struggle to meet the dual demands of local school taxes and school tuition, aiming to make St. Thomas More a Catholic school that anyone can attend, regardless of personal finances. Programming and staffing changes have allowed us to provide a broader base of academic services to serve students on an ever-widening continuum of academic needs.
Come visit St. Thomas More live or online at school.st-thomasmore.org and learn about the school with the cross in your neighborhood as we all celebrate Catholic Schools Week.
Michael W. Ashton is the principal of St. Thomas More Catholic School.