By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
“It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge,” said St. Katharine Drexel pastor Father Christopher P. Picollo about the inclusion of a Catholic school in the life of the parish that he leads. Located in Burlington, St. Katharine Drexel Parish not only includes two worship sites, but also sponsors St. Paul School, a pre-K through eighth grade Catholic school founded in 1870.
The important relationship between the parish and school is described on the school’s website, which proudly proclaims that it “is generously supported in faith and in action” by St. Katharine Drexel Parish. A testament of that relationship can be found in Father Picollo’s frequent presence and involvement in the school.
“The school has gone through tough times in recent years,” admitted Father Picollo, adding, “but the PTA inspires me to see how hard they work to support it.”
Of his regular visits to the school, Father Picollo said, “I do the best I can. I go in and out, walk the halls, talk to the faculty, just visit. The kids see me walking around and say hello.
“Sometimes, if a teacher requests it, I go in and do a question-and-answer period with them,” he continued, “and maybe further explain one of the Sacraments to the children. Father Mike (St. Katharine Drexel parochial vicar, Father Michael Kennedy) or I say First Friday Masses with them in the church, and on other Fridays, we say a Mass in the school chapel for a certain grade level.”
Weekend Masses provide a key opportunity to “share the good news” of Catholic education with parishioners, both in word and deed.
Father Picollo said, “There’s always something from the school going on in the vestibule after Mass. We put it out there, put a face on it. One year, during open house, we asked eighth graders to get up at Mass and give reflections about their Confirmation preparation.”
School improvements and fundraising events are also shared on the website and weekly church bulletin. A recent parish bulletin lists sales of SCRIP gift cards to local vendors, a bake sale, Bingo and other activities to supplement the tuition and parish contributions. An invitation to a school open house period informs the invitee that St. Paul School has won in the category of “Best Private Schools, Pre-Schools and more in Burlington County,” and trumpets the new STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) curriculum enhancements enabling the students to remain competitive in the educational arena.
The designation of Catholic Schools Week is a time that St. Paul School is given a particular spotlight. “We have one of the older students speak about Catholic education during the weekend Masses,” the pastor continued.
Father Picollo expressed his and the parish’s feeling about being connected to St. Paul School, saying, “We are proud to be part of a school community. No priest ever wants to close a school. We try to do whatever we can to promote a Catholic environment.”
He continued, “The school is part of a greater whole, and makes a strong parish. Families entrust their children to us, we educate the whole child.”
Father Picollo acknowledged, “In this day and age, it is a challenge. My hope is that people will learn the truth: good, sustainable schools are part of handing on the faith.”