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St. Helen Catholic celebrates 50 years
St. Helen Catholic celebrates 50 years
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
It may have had its origins in a humble setting, but it has evolved and expanded to become one of the area's top-ranked schools.
This year, St. Helen Catholic School in Newbury is celebrating 50 years of providing parochial education to the area's children.
"From the moment children enter our school, they are surrounded by an environment that fosters peace of mind and heart," Principal Christin Alfieri said. "In this age of uncertainty, we provide a safe and certain course that will give your child a chance to make a difference in the world. St. Helen School is the special place that can pave the way for future success."
This past July, the Geauga County Commissioners honored the school with a resolution, noting that the school ranks in the top 10 percent of schools in the nation, based on May 2011 Iowa testing scores.
To date, the school has graduated 1,025 students.
But, for all its successes, it was a slow rise to the top.
Sister Alfieri said the school was an offshoot of the St. Helen Church, which got its start in 1949 in a former barn. She said photographs from that early period show parishioners pushing cars out of the mud parking lot.
It was in the late 1950s that the Sisters of Notre Dame arrived in Munson Township to start the first Catholic school in a makeshift building, Sister Alfieri said. The sisters that began that school would play an instrumental role in St. Helen Catholic School history.
As Geauga's communities grew there was a need to begin providing Catholic education to the growing population and St. Helen and St. Mary in Chardon chose to form their own schools, borrowing the sisters from Notre Dame. Sister Alfieri said Sister Mary Harold Helms served as the first teacher and principal for the Newbury school.
St. Helen Catholic School officially opened its doors Sept. 9, 1961, with a fifth-grade class of 23 students. Today, it has an enrollment of 245 children in preschool through the eighth grade.
The official opening was dedicated with a Mass that was celebrated by the Rev. James Moran, who would have a profound effect on the school's national image.
Sister Alfieri said the Rev. Moran, a former Marine and boxing champ, believed that kids were too soft at that time.
"He believed that children have got to learn that life is full of bumps and bruises," she said.
Part of that philosophy remains today as the school teaches its students to be independent thinkers who are able to cope with life's challenges, Sister Alfieri said.
One day, she said, the Rev. Moran went to a bike shop, seeking a bicycle built for two. Instead, his interest turned to a unicycle there. He would keep the unicycle for about two years, using it strictly as a playground novelty, she said.
The Rev. Moran, who believed in discipline for children, also believed in allowing them to have fun. That philosophy would evolve into a unicycle riding drill team that would put the school in the national limelight.
That team would become nationally known, appearing in such events as the Rose Bowl and Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades. "It put Newbury on the map," Sister Alfieri said.
She said the school became known for the four Rs, reading, writing, arithmetic and riding. Students were often seen riding their unicycles down the school halls and playing basketball on them.
The teams would eventually disband in the years following the Rev. Moran's passing.
While the school has moved into the computer age with state of the art I-Macs in the computer lab and classrooms, a mobile lab with MacBooks and interactive white boards, Sister Alfieri said, there are some things that never change. "Our basic code is the commandments," she said.
Students continue to attend Mass every Friday. Often, the pastor celebrating the Mass speaks to the children on issues facing them, she said.
Sister Alfieri said the school has remained true to its philosophy where "faith makes the difference in education."
Not all students enrolled are practitioners of the Catholic faith, she said, but some have converted to the faith after attending. Sister Alfieri said many of the parents also have converted.
The school has planned a series of events to celebrate its golden anniversary.
On Sept. 10, the school will host a 5K walk-run at Punderson State Park in Newbury Township. A celebration Mass will be held 11 a.m. Sept. 11 and will be followed by an open house from noon to 3 p.m.
A Golden Gala Auction and Reverse Raffle is planned for Nov. 12 from 6:30 p.m. to midnight.
Next year, the celebration continues with an art, music and enrichment festival that is planned for March 12, 2012, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. That will be followed by a spring musical "Annie" May 17, 2012, from 1 to 7 p.m.
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