St. Vincent de Paul school celebrates 60 years of student-focused growth

One school has seemingly mastered time travel and even offered a glimpse of the future.

Sr. Camille Cuadra, D.C. who taught at St. Vincent de Paul in 1960 and is back on staff escort Isabella Lopez and Daniel Padilla, the school’s youngest kindergarteners, as they bring up the gifts during the school’s 60th anniversary Mass Oct. 19. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

By pairing as Mass gift-bearers a religious sister who taught at St. Vincent de Paul in 1960 with the youngest kindergarteners currently enrolled, the St. Vincent de Paul school community traipsed six decades of history. Adding to the celebrations were the dedication of one classroom per decade for memorabilia during an open house, pre-schoolers singing the school’s learning expectations — which intentionally form an SVdP acronym — and a ceremonial groundbreaking for a multi-use building.

Students, alumni, faculty and staff also ushered in the Maryvale campus’ near future by pondering the type of legacy they’d like to leave. It was all part of the school’s 60th anniversary celebration festivities Oct. 19 united under the theme, “Remembering Our Past, Building Our Future.”

The gathering brought together people of all ages, from across the Valley and as far away as Payson and North Dakota. Fr. Kyle Metzger was a middle school teacher 15 years ago before discerning priesthood. He now serves as vocations director in Fargo, North Dakota.

This mosaic sits behind the baptismal font at St. Vincent de Paul Parish. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

An alumni choir, seven priests with connections to the school and plenty of families filled the longstanding church, built just seven months after the school opened. On their way out of Mass, alumni could see the mosaic behind the baptismal font which school and religious education students help make in the 1960s.

They also saw dozens of St. Vincent de Paul’s current students lined up outside in perfect uniform donning “I work for God” plastic construction hats. They pointed crowds to the school’s south side where the campus’s first gym, performing arts classrooms and other vital resources could open as early as December 2020. Crowds gathered within the spray-painted lines.

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares blessed the ground with holy water and prayed that each step of construction progress with God’s blessing so that the building opens to become “a sign of hope and praise of Catholic education.” The building will somewhat mirror Centro Santa Cruz, a gym and classroom building that opened at St. John Vianney in Goodyear two years ago.

Besides the first gymnasium, St. Vincent de Paul leaders are excited to be able to better offer arts and STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning, all with the faith wrapped around it.

“Our schools are not public schools with religion class added to it. Our lessons are God is the master of the universe,” said Enrique Diaz, principal.

Fr. Mike Boyle, C.M., delivers his homily during a special 60th anniversary Mass for St. Vincent de Paul School Oct. 19. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Fr. Mike Boyle, C.M., who was pastor in the ’70s and then a temporary pastor in 1981, touched on that during his homily. He reflected on the importance of leaving a legacy and challenged the crowd to think about the legacy current students and alumni are leaving the Church 30 years from now.

“We’re here to teach them better — that not only is there artificial intelligence, but there is divine intelligence and it’s around us,” Fr. Boyle said.

Frank Adamo, class of ’67, remembers Fr. Boyle encouraging the boys to do a one-week exploration of the seminary. He and friend Tom Holtrup, class of ’69, did. Both formally discerned priesthood for several years, too.

Back in school days, the men recalled the days the church and playground were separated for boys and girls and a fondness for Family Fun Day that brought the parish and school together for carnival-like activities.

“The whole parish revolved around the children,” Adamo said.

In a way, it still does. Jim Robins is in his 30th year as physical education teacher and boys coach. As a product of Catholic education in the diocese, he strives to help others grow as Catholic athletes. His advice to students: stay true to yourself and keep working hard and keep God close to you.

Vincentian Sister Cabrini Thomas, director of the school, said the children know they belong to St. Vincent de Paul in name and spirit. From preschool to eighth-grade, students know they’re called to be: Service-oriented; Vincentian-active Christians; Demonstrating responsibility and respect; and Proficient learners.

“If you claim that you’re Vincentian, then you have to watch out for your neighbor and take care of one another,” Sr. Cabrini reminds students. The Daughter of Charity who taught sixth-grade at the school in the ’70s, sees that extend to the families. Then or now, she said the family spirit hasn’t changed.

“I felt that willingness to do whatever they can do to help the school is still there.”

Beyond technology, student needs emotionally and psychologically have changed, something she sees as standard across schools. Sr. Cabrini said students already have wrap-around services, but offices in the new building will extend that to the parents by providing office space for a social worker, immigration lawyer and tax advisor.