The Holy Family School of Natchez, Miss., is one of the oldest African-American Catholic schools in the country, but has been in danger of closing due to lack of funds. Principal Sr. Marie Santry of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur took a graduate education course at BC last summer and when she related her school's plight, SOE Assistant Dean for Students and Outreach John Cawthorne and SOE student leaders readily agreed to help.
Two boxes of school supplies and $1,000 in contributions have since been sent, and notebooks, pens and other items are being collected on an ongoing basis for shipment in monthly care packages to the school.
"Holy Family is in the poorest section of the poorest county in the poorest state in the country," said Cawthorne. "They need our support and we are coming together to provide it."
SOE Assistant Dean for Students and Outreach John Cawthorne. Student volunteers Jack Bock '02, Heather Tripp '01 and Jeanenne Angelini '00 can be seen in the background filling boxes with school supplies. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
The Holy Family School, opened in 1890 by priests of the Society of St. Joseph and staffed for many years by Sisters of the Holy Spirit from Ireland, was founded to teach black children in then-segregated Mississippi. It continues in that educational tradition today: All 101 pupils currently enrolled in grades pre-kindergarten through six are African-American, as are the majority of the now largely lay staff. Most are Baptists, attracted by "the strong academic and moral training" offered at the parochial school, according to Sr. Marie, who said graduates of Holy Family have gone on to become valedictorians and civic leaders.
But a chronic shortage of funds has put the school in jeopardy, she said.
"I look into their little eyes and say to myself, 'I've got to keep this place open,'" she said. "It's important that these young children be allowed to be all that they can be."
In response to the school's plight, the Graduate Education Association and Graduate AHANA Association at SOE hosted a fund-raising luncheon in October, while the SOE Undergraduate Senate has worked with the University Chaplaincy to take up collections at Sunday Masses. The SOE Honors Program and SOE Ambassadors also have been involved in the drive.
"These people really need our help and we have the resources to give it to them," said SOE Senate Secretary Heather Russell '00.
Drive organizers are collecting notebooks, pencils and pens, crayons, chalk, glue, instructional games and storybooks appropriate for children in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
Cawthorne is welcoming donations at his office in Campion 104.
"What BC students are doing is a reflection of what they believe and stand for," he said. "Everyone we have asked has said he or she would help. It's a way for this privileged community to do something for those who literally have nothing."
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