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A Vibrant Celebration Leads to an Important Revelation

Written by Manny Fernandez on Monday, 08 May 2017.

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John Staud, Executive Director for the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame, likes to tell a story about the moment he knew that a great number of Latinos could be found anywhere in the Unites States, and that they would be the future of the Catholic Church. About a decade ago, he was at a rest stop in Lima, Ohio. Lima is a small, old German farming town in the middle of rural Ohio. At this rest stop, to John’s astonishment, were signs in both English and Spanish. It was his “aha” moment, and ACE would never be the same.

Fast forward to the present, and the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) is now in its sixth year. Having served almost 200 schools from 41 states, the LEI has proven there is a need to focus on Latino enrollment in Catholic schools not only in states like California, Texas, and Florida, but throughout the entire nation.

South Carolina is a state where, ten years ago, before his fateful visit to that rest stop in Lima, John Staud would have never expected Latinos would reside. But two Catholic school principals from the Diocese of Charleston who came to the LEI in the summer of 2015 are proving that not only is the Latino population strong and growing in South Carolina, but there is a strong desire amongst Latino families for their children to attend Catholic schools. This month, we will be looking at one of those schools.

 

Divine Redeemer Catholic School | Hanahan, South Carolina

 

DivineRedeemerSC 2Peggy Vice came to the LEI in June of 2015 with a desire to reach out to the growing Latino population in her neighborhood in the hopes that she could attract some of them to join her school community. While the English Masses at Divine Redeemer were sparsely attended, the Spanish Mass had an overflow crowd every Sunday. And to Peggy’s delight, the Mass was not just full of people, it was full of energy and life! With a full band that practiced two times a week from 8:00 p.m. until midnight, the music was boisterous and lively. Everyone was singing, children were everywhere, and the pastor heartily engaged the congregation. Each Mass was a true celebration of their Catholic faith. She knew that this community would be a perfect fit for the community at Divine Redeemer. The only question was, how could she get them to attend her school?

Having been born and raised in Southern California, Peggy had been around Latinos her entire life, but until she came to the LEI, she did not realize just how little she really knew about their community, their customs, and their culture. Her attendance at the LEI helped her gain an understanding of how to better relate to the Latinos in her community, how to market the school to that community, and how to use flexible tuition rates to help grow her enrollment.

Peggy is a “do-er”, and upon her arrival back in South Carolina, she got to work immediately to reach out to the Latino community. With an enrollment of only 88 students (10 Latinos), time was of the essence, and Peggy wasted none of it. She went to the Spanish Mass every single week and spoke about Divine Redeemer Catholic School at every Mass she attended. At first, she spoke through a translator, but as time wore on, she eventually transitioned to doing it herself. She also began hosting numerous open houses and informal school tours after Spanish Masses.

With an extremely supportive pastor who told her to do whatever it took to welcome their parishes’ Latino families into Divine Redeemer, and to adopt a new flexible tuition plan aimed at helping families with financial needs, Peggy saw her efforts pay immediate dividends. Latino parents who had never dreamed of being able to send their children to a Catholic school in the United States, suddenly had an avenue to a wonderful opportunity. There were many tears of joy from parents that first summer, and an abundance of grateful hugs.

The results from Peggy and her staff’s hard work and generous hearts have been nothing short of astounding. In just three months after attending the LEI, Latino enrollment at Divine Redeemer School increased from 10 to 54, while total enrollment grew from 88 to 122 students. Peggy’s dream of seeing Divine Redeemer return to a full school, rich with ethnic diversity, was well on its way.

Currently, Divine Redeemer stands at 138 students, 71 of whom are Latino. Such a large jump in enrollment in just two short years did not come without its growing pains, but Peggy believes the school has worked through those and will continue to serve the Latino community and Divine Redeemer’s larger community as well. Unfortunately for Divine Redeemer, Peggy is retiring at the end of the year. But she is working closely with the principal who will take her place in order to continue the important work that she and her team have started. She is confident that the mission of the school will continue in her absence. Peggy will be missed, but the work she started at Divine Redeemer will certainly live on. 

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