CHANDLER — Seventy years ago, Fr. Joseph Patterson realized the primarily Hispanic children in his congregation were not being well served by local segregated schools.
The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, were already teaching religious education classes at the parish.
That’s how the school known today as St. Mary-Basha began back in 1944 with 123 students in a small school on Williams Field Road.
The school has been celebrating its 70th anniversary during the 2014-2015 school year with a number of events, culminating in a Mass with Bishop Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix Jan. 30.
“Think of all the persons we have to thank, those who at the beginning made all the sacrifices,” Bishop Olmsted said. “All the teachers and parents and especially all the young people here who have come to make good friends and worship God together and understand our faith together — that’s what we’re celebrating here today.”
Terry Ryan, who attended St. Mary-Basha with his 10 siblings and graduated from the school in 1973, has been the sixth grade teacher for the last 11 years. Like many members of the faculty, all of his children also attended the school. Through the years, some 35-40 members of the Ryan clan have been a part of the school community. Kay Ryan, the third-grade teacher, is Terry’s brother-in-law. His brother, Deacon Joe Ryan, frequently preaches at school Masses.
The biggest change over the last several decades, Terry said, is that now families come from more than 20 miles away to attend the school.
“It pulls in people in from Maricopa, Ahwatukee, and even Pinal County,” he said. “The best thing about St. Mary-Basha is seeing the generations of kids coming in and the quality stays the same. The faith component is awesome.”
Terry still recalls how he learned about the Eucharist from his second-grade teacher, Sr. Macrina.
“I remember her telling us what a powerful gift we were receiving. I had no doubt it was the Real Presence because of the way she taught us,” Terry said. “When I catch my mind wandering or getting distracted, I remember that.”
The Eucharistic Lord and the Kingdom of God were the themes explored by Bishop Olmsted at the anniversary Mass.
“The fullest time and place where we enter into the Kingdom of God is what we are doing right now, the Mass,” Bishop Olmsted said. “The Eucharist— that is why we are here.”
Solilia Cabrera had tears in her eyes as she expressed her gratitude for the school. Accompanied by her two preschool age daughters and expecting her fifth child, her two sons attend the school. One is in second grade and the other is in kindergarten. This is the family’s second year in the school.
“We had my first son in a public school and when we came here, the first thing we noticed was the morning prayer, something we didn’t have in the other school,” Cabrera said. “That was beautiful. I was very moved to see them standing around the statue of the Virgin to start their day. That’s what I want for my children.”
Brenda Wolf has grandchildren who attend St. Mary-Basha. Their father is an alumnus.
“The fact that you can talk about Jesus, you can say that Christmas is Baby Jesus’ birthday and celebrate those things for what they really are versus have a winter holiday party I just think is fantastic.” Wolf said. “We need Jesus in all our schools.”
At beginning of the all-school Mass, students carried items to the foot of the altar that symbolized different elements of their community. A candle, representing Christ, the light of the world, was brought forth, along with a Bible, a yearbook, a basketball and football and a globe.
The 465 students in the school each signed a large thank-you card they presented to Bishop Olmsted at the close of the liturgy.