Mesa’s oldest Catholic school poised to embrace long-term future

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Fr. Thomas Bennett, pastor of Queen of Peace, leads a blessing procession from the church through new parish offices and to the largely renovated school Sept. 19. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Fr. Thomas Bennett, pastor of Queen of Peace, leads a blessing procession from the church through new parish offices and to the largely renovated school Sept. 19. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

MESA — The latest school dedication in the Diocese of Phoenix almost couldn’t have happened at all.

Queen of Peace School faced imminent closure four years ago. At the time, the city’s oldest Catholic school had formed students in educational and spiritual matters for seven solid decades. By 2011, several years of low enrollment, decreased parish subsidies, a slow economy, and consequently, a budget shortfall, threatened its future. Donors, who gave in sums small and large, saved the school.

Today, those affiliated with Queen of Peace School have a continued sense of gratitude, further assurance of God’s presence in their lives and a largely renovated campus to show as evidence. There’s a new second floor corridor and updated classrooms throughout, expanded space for administration plus a new playing field and basketball and volleyball courts. A dual celebration Sept. 19 brought together the school and parish communities for a dedication of the new campus and blessing of a new parish administration building and outreach space for the St. Vincent de Paul conference.

“To have this day come from so many people, it just shows how good God is… and how strong God is because He touched people’s hearts,” Mona Griego, principal, said at the end of a special liturgy that preceded the blessing and dedication. “God’s goodness is right there in that building. It’s right here in front of us.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted cuts the ribbon Sept. 19 to usher in a new era at Queen of Peace School. The campus underwent major renovations, moved and upgraded athletic space and created a central gateway for visitors. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, with Queen of Peace pastor and principal on left, cuts the ribbon Sept. 19 to usher in a new era at the school. The campus underwent major renovations, moved and upgraded athletic space and created a central gateway for visitors. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Though only in her second year as principal, Griego has been a Queen of Peace parishioner for over 30 years and had her two children in the school. When her husband died, the loss of income and shortfall of scholarships made it impossible for them to continue.

Griego, a third order associate with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, considers her work at the school her mission from God. The religious community believes that it educates for life.

A preschooler plays in her renovated Queen of Peace classroom Sept. 19. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
A preschooler plays in her renovated Queen of Peace classroom Sept. 19. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

She especially strives to reach families who thought a Catholic education was financially out of their reach. Griego gently invited parishioners to consider enrolling their children and offered scholarships to the parish’s top religious education students.

Enrollment is now at 210 with about 95 percent on some scholarship. New and returning students have gotten more involved in the school via an exponentially growing choir, homeroom jobs that match today’s careers and campus cleanup duty split by grade level.

Current students are continuing a family legacy at Queen of Peace too. Jacque Salaiz’s three daughters are third-generation Knights. They prayed a Rosary at home every week when the school’s future hung in the balance.

“It was really just all our faith,” Salaiz said of what saved the school.

Her mom, 1972 graduate Judy Chacon, agreed. She was grateful for donors, especially the John and Dorothy Shea Foundation, which received a special framed photo as a token of appreciation at the Mass.

“They gave the opportunity for the future of our kids… to plant that seed,” she said, referencing the day’s gospel reading that told the parable of sower and the seed.

In his bilingual homily Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted called the sower Jesus, who sows the living word of God in the field that is the mind and heart.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blesses the second story hallways at Queen of Peace School Sept. 19. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blesses the second story hallways at Queen of Peace School Sept. 19. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

“He sows in the life that is the school and the teachers and the parents. He sows in the life that is the parish,” the bishop said. “All of these are important, especially in the school that is the family.”

He emphasized that the results of sowing God’s word “depends very much on the dispositions of our hearts and our souls. Our reception is vital,” the bishop said.

One fourth-grader in particular shared his love of learning about God with The Catholic Sun. It’s Emmanuel Martinez’s favorite part of going to a Catholic school. He’s already thinking about the priesthood.

“I really like how they touch people’s hearts and encourage them to believe in God,” Martinez said.

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