First students “make history” at new St. Jude Catholic School

Photo Caption: Father R. Anthony Lee presents hard hats to 3-year-old pre-schools students as part of their initiation into the “St. Jude Builder’s Club”

By: Jennifer Willems

Before he cut the maroon ribbon that stretched across the doors that led to the classrooms of the new St. Jude Catholic School in Peoria, Father R. Anthony Lee, pastor, told the students that they would be opening many doors in the coming year — including the doors of their hearts.

They did just that as they crossed the threshold on Aug. 18 by picking up building blocks bearing the names of the virtues they would develop during their years at St. Jude’s: faith, hope, love, charity, service, courage, justice and peace. As their parents and grandparents looked on, the 49 students carried the blocks into their new classrooms and settled down to the first lessons of the academic year.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Bob Nault, president of the school commission at St. Jude’s. “We finally started our school.”

He credited the energy of Father Lee and Winnie Pratt, principal, as well as the people of the north Peoria parish who got behind the project to make St. Jude Catholic School the 49th elementary school in the Diocese of Peoria.

“A lot of people put a lot of time, effort and prayers into this,” Nault told The Catholic Post.

Parishioners continued praying for and with the students as they gathered in St. Jude’s Church on the first morning of school “to ask God’s blessing on our teachers, students and parents as we enter this journey,” Father Lee said.

He prayed that all who entered the doors of the school would be enlightened in some way and touched by the grace and love of God.

“Remember this day — you are making history,” Father Lee told the students.

To reinforce that message and remind them of their responsibilities to grow strong in faith and knowledge, each class was called forward so the students could be inducted into the St. Jude Builder’s Club.

“These young people are the first students in our school and will be forever recognized as the students who blazed the trail for all future students to follow,” Pratt said before asking the first-graders to come and stand before the altar.

Each pupil received a white hard hat emblazoned with the school’s name and logo from Father Lee, who blessed the children by sprinkling holy water on them. The kindergarteners and 4-year-old and 3-year-old pre-school students followed suit.

In his remarks, he told the students that if they studied hard, they would be able to exchange their builder’s hats for mortarboards at their high school graduation.

St. Jude Catholic School is only scheduled to take the students through the eighth grade, however. Father Lee said the plan is to add one grade each year, with a new school building on the horizon when the current first-graders reach sixth grade.

In the meantime, pastor, principal, parents and parishioners beamed as they watched the future of their faith community walk into their classrooms.

“Thanks be to God,” Pratt said.

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