National Blue Ribbon Award to St. Vincent de Paul School “team”

Photo Caption: Surrounded by U.S. and diocesan dignitaries after ceremonies Monday, Bishop Jenky and Msgr. Gray hold a plaque recognizing St. Vincent de Paul School in Peoria as a 2010 National Blue Ribbon School.

By: By Tom Dermody

On a gymnasium stage surrounded by banners recalling athletic success, the entire St. Vincent de Paul School “team” of students, teachers, administrators, parents, and parishioners were lauded Monday for their roles in making the Peoria school “one of the finest schools in the United States of America.”

“Your school has become a model for the rest of the country,” said Timothy Tuten of the U.S. Department of Education moments before awarding a plaque recognizing St. Vincent’s as a 2010 National Blue Ribbon School.

At the all-school assembly on Nov. 29, Tuten — director of special projects in the Office of Communications and Outreach — represented U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who two weeks earlier had officially presented the plaque to school and parish officials during national Blue Ribbon ceremonies in Washington, D.C.

Tuten noted that of the 138,000 elementary and secondary schools in the U.S., only 314 received the Blue Ribbon designation of excellence this year.

“We only select the best schools in a period of time,” said Tuten, before presenting the award to Msgr. Jason Gray, pastor, and Dr. James Minick, principal. “You are in very good company.”

Joining the trio on stage were other diocesan and national dignitaries including Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a Peoria native who has grandchildren attending St. Vincent de Paul School.

“What we celebrate today is the St. Vincent de Paul school team,” said LaHood, recognizing teachers and parents as well as students. “All of you should be so proud today.”

Repeating that “you won only as a team,” LaHood then encouraged students and all in attendance to exchange “high five” signs of congratulations with one another. The assembly happily obliged.

“You will remember this day for the rest of your lives,” Dr. Minick told the students in his remarks. He is in his first year as principal at St. Vincent de Paul School.

The morning of celebration opened with an all-school Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Church. In his homily, Msgr. Gray noted the sacrifices required to achieve success in the classroom, athletic field, and workplace, but said at St. Vincent de Paul School “we want you to get that most important blue ribbon of all” — the one that recognizes holiness as a saint in heaven.

“That’s why we’re starting the celebration here at Mass,” he told the students.

In accepting the Blue Ribbon Award at the assembly, Msgr. Gray said “this award rightly belongs to the people who put in the hard work to make it possible. So I recognize the students, faculty and staff of St. Vincent de Paul School. Congratulations. This is your award!”

Msgr. Gray also thanked parents and parishioners for their “commitment to Catholic education and support of our school,” and recognized the “tireless commitment” of former principal Michael Birdoes, under whose tenure the Blue Ribbon application was submitted.

The assembly also included a brief video highlighting the strengths of the school and featuring many student comments, as well as a taped message of congratulations from U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock.

“You are fortunate children,” said Rep. Schock, noting the sacrifices many have made in making the school excellent. While those sacrifices can’t be repaid, he urged the students to honor them by making their own “lifelong commitment to excellence” and positively affecting as many people as possible with their lives.

In addition to the plaque, Blue Ribbon School vertical banners have been hung on the light poles in the school and church parking lot, while a horizontal one above the main entrance to the school notifies all visitors of the designation.

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