BC Volunteers Revisit Holy Family School

Another trip to Natchez planned for spring break

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Two vans filled with Boston College students will make a 4,000-mile round trip to Mississippi during the Universityís spring break next month to offer help and supplies to the nationís oldest African-American parochial school.

The volunteers are giving aid to the Holy Family Catholic School of Natchez, Miss., which has served needy African-American children for more than a century, but has been in danger of closing due to lack of funds.

Students and staff at the Lynch School of Education have mounted a campaign to help the struggling elementary school. Since the drive began in the fall of 1998, more than 100 boxes of books and supplies and more than $250,000 in cash donations have been dispatched.

Twenty BC volunteers are scheduled to travel to Mississippi during the spring break, which runs from March 4-12. It will be the third trip to the school by BC students, who first visited in March of last year, and returned Jan. 8-15 during the recent semester break.

Following their 48-hour drive to Mississippi in January, the BC delegation pounded nails and painted walls, tidied school grounds, and bought basketballs and jump-ropes for games with pupils. The volunteers stayed overnight in school classrooms and an adjacent convent.

Their efforts did not go unappreciated. The volunteers were welcomed by Natchez Mayor Larry Brown, serenaded by the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders of the schoolís Honors Choir, and treated nightly to suppers cooked by the ladies of the St. Peter Claver Society and other groups.

The aid effort for Holy Family School has drawn an increasing amount of outside assistance. The Bigelow Middle School in Newton donated more than 1,000 books, and four bookstores ­ Brookline Booksmith, New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton, B. Dalton Booksellers in Boston and Borders Books in Chestnut Hill ­ have adopted classes at the school, to which they have contributed grade-appropriate reading materials.

Parishes of student volunteers have begun their own book drives. One benefactor rang before Christmas to make a $5,000 gift to the school. Four individual donors are providing scholarships for as many as 10 pupils a year at Holy Family at an annual tuition rate of $1,500 per pupil, according to LSOE Assistant Dean for Students and Outreach John Cawthorne, who has overseen the aid campaign.

"Iím overwhelmed at the response," Cawthorne said. "I thought we would go down and do some good things. But people have been coming out of the woodwork, only too happy to help."

The Holy Family School was founded by priests of the Society of St. Joseph in 1890 to teach black children during the era of segregation. Today, all 125 pupils in grades K-6 are African-American, and most are not Catholic but Baptist, attracted by the schoolís strong academics and emphasis on moral training. Graduates of the school have gone on to become valedictorians and civic leaders.

But a chronic shortage of funds has put the school in jeopardy, according to the schoolís principal, Sister Marie St. Joseph of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Sister Marie reports the school is short of such supplies as storybooks, chalk and erasers. But she says dollars are needed most of all to ensure the school remains in session.

Donations of school supplies or money may be sent to either of the following addresses, with checks made out to the "Holy Family School":

John E. Cawthorne
Assistant Dean for Students and Outreach
RE: Holy Family Donation
Lynch School of Education
Campion 104
Boston College
Chestnut Hill MA 02467
Sister Marie St. Joseph, SND
Holy Family Catholic School
8 Orange Ave.
Natchez MS 39120
(601) 442-3947


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