Bishop blesses growing school that bears two names — for now

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Bishop Thomas Olmsted processes from Immaculate Conception Church to St. Joseph/Immaculate Conception School for the school’s blessing ceremony on Sept. 18. (Lisa Dahm/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Thomas Olmsted processes from Immaculate Conception Church to St. Joseph/Immaculate Conception School for the school’s blessing ceremony on Sept. 18. (Lisa Dahm/CATHOLIC SUN)
St. Joseph / Immaculate Conception School

The school serves Catholics in the Verde Valley and Sedona. Click here for more info.

COTTONWOOD — With arms raised and singing “He is Exalted,” the 197 students of the newly named St. Joseph/Immaculate Conception School filed into their new building and formed a square around the perimeter of the open center courtyard during the a blessing ceremony on Sept. 18.

St. Joseph School students, faculty and staff moved onto their new campus at Immaculate Conception Parish last November, but they are now beginning a slow name change from St. Joseph School to Immaculate Conception School. The transition will end following a completed accreditation process sometime in March of 2017. For now, they’re using the combined name to help ease the change for all. The blessing was the first formal move toward the new name.

Bishop Olmsted blesses St. Joseph/Immaculate Conception School in Cottonwood on Sept. 18. (Lisa Dahm/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Olmsted blesses St. Joseph/Immaculate Conception School in Cottonwood on Sept. 18. (Lisa Dahm/CATHOLIC SUN)

“‘He is Exalted’ is a great song to sing today because the reason that Catholic education makes such a difference in our lives is because it helps us to praise and thank God,” said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.

The bishop celebrated the 10 a.m. Mass at Immaculate Conception, then led a procession over to the new school.

“When we build a Catholic school, it is very important for the mission of the Church,” Bishop Olmsted said during his homily. “It says something about how deep is our commitment and how deep is our conviction. … To form them well in the faith is the greatest gift that you can give them.”

It’s a gift that parishioners from St. Francis Cabrini in Camp Verde and St. John Vianney in Sedona commute long distances to receive. Both parishes gave their blessings for the name change, said Fr. David Kelash, pastor of Immaculate Conception.

“We need to pass on our faith,” he said. “It’s not just about learning ABCs, math and science. There is no separating our faith from our lives. It’s good (for students) to have a core of how to live their faith and how to integrate their faith into everyday life.”

Jackie Kirkham, principal of St. Joseph/Immaculate Conception School, speaks at the school’s blessing ceremony on Sept. 18. Fr. David Kelash, left, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Cottonwood, and Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted accompany her. (Lisa Dahm/CATHOLIC SUN)
Jackie Kirkham, principal of St. Joseph/Immaculate Conception School, speaks at the school’s blessing ceremony on Sept. 18. Fr. David Kelash, left, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Cottonwood, and Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted accompany her. (Lisa Dahm/CATHOLIC SUN)

The burgeoning school started 11 years ago with 14 students in a donated former ranch house located about two-and-a-half miles from the parish. Now, with 197 students in the new campus on the grounds of Immaculate Conception Parish, the K-8 school has a waiting list in its three lowest grades — 11 deep in one class. Students come from as far away Camp Verde and the Village of Oak Creek Canyon, both 40-minute drives.

“I have had the pleasure of working here for the past three months, and I can assure you, every day the Holy Spirit is present,” said principal Jackie Kirkham. “I witness it during morning prayer, through the interaction of students and teachers, through the curriculum that our students are learning, and through the volunteers who donate countless hours to keep our school running.”

Her husband Greg Kirkham was the principal for the past eight years before retiring.

Bishop Olmsted enters St. Joseph/Immaculate Conception School in Cottonwood to bless the campus on Sept. 18. (Lisa Dahm/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Olmsted enters St. Joseph/Immaculate Conception School in Cottonwood to bless the campus on Sept. 18. (Lisa Dahm/CATHOLIC SUN)

Jeana Cranmer, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception and one of the founders, has been on the board since its inception. At the luncheon in the parish hall following the school blessing, she remembered the school’s beginnings when she, her husband, and two others sat down in her living room and dreamt up the idea for a Catholic school in the Verde Valley.

“You don’t do it for yourself,” Cranmer said. “When you walk into the classroom and they start their day with prayer and it continues, you know you are spending your time wisely.”

Jill Barteau, the school’s pre-school director, has a son who attended from preschool through eighth grade, and just graduated last year.

“What I love most about the school is we are a family,” Barteau said. “We always have been. I know the name of every child in the school. I love that our big kids like to spend time with our little kids. I just love everything about it.”

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