2017-09-15 / Community

Celebrate Catholic schools

By Molly Lovell-Keely
Managing Editor

BIDDEFORD – A special Mass Sunday, Sept. 17 at St. Joseph Church in Biddeford will be an opportunity for the community’s Catholic school students to come home.

The 11 a.m. Mass, led by Bishop Robert Deeley, will celebrate the 25th anniversary of St. James School, which was formed when St. Andre’s and St. Mary’s schools shuttered their doors and joined students at St. Joseph’s School on Graham Street in Biddeford. Students and staff at the schools voted on the name, “St. James,” because it stood for “St. Joseph’s, St. Andre’s and St. Mary’s Elementary Schools.”

Following the Mass, an open house and reception will be held at the school, located at 25 Graham St.

“It was difficult,” Sr. Terry Gauvin said of closing the schools. “We knew people would lose jobs.”

Gauvin spent 16 years at St. Joseph School and was principal when parish pastors decided to consolidate the schools.

“Each building had its histories and its memories but in the end, everyone came together,” she said, adding that the building on Graham Street was chosen because it could hold the largest population of students.

Gauvin has worked with alum from the various former Catholic schools and members of Good Shepherd Parish on anniversary events to be held throughout 2017-2018.

The last graduating classes at the three schools was in June 1993. Students at Notre Dame de Lourdes School in Saco joined St. James students in 2010.

The Sept. 17 Mass will kick off a year of events that will celebrate the anniversary as well as announce the establishment of the St. James School Endowment Fund, which is meant to provide long term financial stability for the school.

Gauvin said it will not only help with tuition, but teacher’s salaries.

“Tuition isn’t what it was in the old days,” she said. “The sisters only got stipends for teaching at the schools. When the sisters became fewer and fewer, you had to hire lay people who needed just salaries and benefits.”

Ultimately, Gauvin hopes the endowment will make it so more children can benefit from a Catholic education.

Current tuition for a student at St. James School is $4,000 for an active member of the parish.

Biddeford resident Cory Labrie, 40, graduated from St. Joseph School in 1991 and said there was no doubt that he and his wife would send their daughter, Katie, to St. James. She’s currently a first grader at the school.

“It was ingrained in me,” said Labrie, whose parents met at a Catholic high school in Biddeford. “I loved being a student here. You have a real sense of community, of being a family.”

Labrie and his five siblings all attended Catholic school in Biddeford, with three of them at the school at the same time.

“My dad never mentioned the cost,” he said, “ but if all five of us were here at the same time, I don’t know that we all would have gone.”

Gauvin, however, said the Labries are a testament to how families prioritize and make sacrifices for a Catholic education.

“It’s a marvelous thing,” she said.

Families are not the only ones who make sacrifices for a Catholic education.

Gauvin said Catholic school teachers tend to make about $10,000 less a year than public school teachers.

Estelle Beauchesne taught at St. Andre’s School for 19 years and at St. James since its inception 25 years ago.

“Forty-four years,” she said. “The funny thing is, I did my student teaching at the old Emery School. When I found out I was hired at St. Andre’s, there was no question. St. Andre’s was my parish. I was born in St. Andre’s, went to school there. In hindsight, I would have made a lot more money, but there’s something about starting your day with prayer.”

“Any lay person involved in a Catholic school does it out of love,” Gauvin added. “They certainly don’t do it out of money.”

Labrie and Gauvin said individuals often think of their college alma maters when they think about giving monetary donations.

“I had a great college experience,” Labrie said, “but I would gladly donate to St. James before my college.”

“A lot of them have decent endowments,” Gauvin added.

“I loved the four years I was there,” Labrie said of his college, “but I was here for nine. This is where I grew up.”

St. Joseph Church on Elm Street in Biddeford is

the only Catholic Church in the city that remains open; St. Mary’s Church closed in 2009 and St. Andre Church closed in 2011. Notre Dame de Lourdes Church in Saco also closed in 2009.

Labrie, who has spent four years on the school board for St. James, said he thinks the community is still full of Catholics.

“I just don’t think they’re practicing,” he said.

Labrie, several months ago, started to teach a local baptism class on a volunteer basis.

“I’m seeing a lot of young families and their stories are almost always the same. They say, ‘We’ve been away, we had a baby and we want to come back.’”

For 21 years Gauvin worked in Massachusetts in various positions and said the diminishing numbers of Catholics was the same there.

“They think of themselves as Catholics, but they’re not practicing,” she said.

Gauvin, who came back to Biddeford two years ago, said it has been nice reconnecting with former students and their families. Gauvin is Provincial of the American Province of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec and lives at St. Joseph’s convent in Biddeford.

Gauvin spent 16 years in Biddeford after she was only supposed to be at St. Joseph’s School for a year. A Biddeford native, Gauvin will celebrate 50 years as a nun in August 2018.

Labrie said when he heard Gauvin was to return, he asked if it was, “the same Sr. Terry.”

“It was,” he said. “There’s only one Sr. Terry.”

Throughout the years, no matter where she was, Gauvin, now 71, said every morning she “prays for her kids,” which, must number in the thousands by now.

“Some things have changed,” Gauvin said of the local Catholic school landscape. “What hasn’t change though, is the faith-based mission and making a difference whereever you are, however you can.”

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