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Building Community at Holy Angels

by Kenna Arana

Image of Holy Angels Church

Holy Angels Catholic School knows the transformative power of community.

The PK-8 school in Indianapolis, a long-time partner of the Alliance for Catholic Education, has come together time and time again to ensure that despite changes in education—and even changes to the physical school and church buildings—Holy Angels remains one family.

Holy Angels has partnered with Notre Dame ACE Academies for the past several years, and ACE Teaching Fellows have taught at the school since 2016. This year, ACE 28’s Matt Staley will return for his second year teaching third grade, and he’ll be joined by ACE 29’s Catherine Scherer, who will teach fourth grade.

Sister Gail Trippett, the parish director, credits the partnership with helping to strengthen the community culture that is one of the hallmarks of Holy Angels. “That culture has a lot to do with empowering students and creating an academic environment where learning is possible,” she said.

Image of student reading in front of mass at Holy Angels Church

Through the work of faculty and staff members like Mary Kate Taulman (ACE 21, New Orleans) and Matthew Gring (ACE 18, Tucson and a member of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program’s 13th cohort), Holy Angels has also seen great improvement in how their students are performing academically. “Over the past couple of years, we’ve focused our professional development on literacy,” said Taulman, who serves as an instructional coach. “Each teacher works one-on-one with a coach, and as coaches, we meet once a week to discuss trends that we’re seeing across all teachers.”

This support for teachers has yielded demonstrable growth in student learning, including increases in math achievement of 37 percent, 20 percent in reading, and 32 percent in language usage.

While students’ academic growth is something that Holy Angels is committed to improving, the faculty and staff are also focused on supporting scholars’ mental and emotional well-being. As the director of scholar life, Gring works with students to help them manage their behavior. “I will do anything to help our scholars succeed,” he said. “I provide behavior support, check in on our scholars who may need support with peer relationships, and check in with teachers to see how our scholars are doing in class.”

Recently, Holy Angels underwent a physical renovation, with the building of a new church on campus. The new Holy Angels Church recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its dedication.

Before the new church opened, the school had not had a church on campus for over 10 years. However, the parishioners of Holy Angels remained dedicated.

“Parishioners were donating, saving money, and giving through fundraisers for years and years,” Taulman said. “We’re committed to revitalizing our community and neighborhood, so we’ve talked a lot about how that begins in the school, with the faculty, staff, and our scholars.

“One of the things that’s so exciting about the new church is that it feels like a physical manifestation of how hard the parish has worked to make this a reality,” she said. “Through the vast majority of the history of the church and school, there has truly been a commitment to make sure that the educational ministry of the church is represented here and to help as many children as possible.”

Image of students in mass at Holy Cross Church

Although the majority of Holy Angels scholars do not identify as Catholic, the mission of the Holy Angels community remains the same. “We do what we do because we are Catholic, not because our children are,” Tippett said.

The new church is a symbol of the school’s Catholic identity and mission and provides an opportunity to teach scholars more about the Catholic faith. Holy Angels used to celebrate Mass in the cafeteria, which made it challenging to set Mass apart from the regular happenings of the school day.

“We’re very excited to be able to walk across the parking lot and go to Mass in a church building,” said Taulman. “For our scholars who aren’t Catholic or maybe don’t attend services at home, it’s different to celebrate not in the place where we eat and spill milk and play basketball, but instead in a church building.”

First-grade teacher Linda Douda started preparing her students to celebrate Mass in the new church building well before the church was officially dedicated and open. “I taught my first graders about how we celebrate Mass and they created brochures about things you would find in a Catholic church,” Douda said. “Sister Gail took us into the new church and the kids were awestruck by the holiness, and I want them to be able to feel that every week.”

This year, Holy Angels celebrated weekly Wednesday school Masses in the new church. “One of the most memorable Masses of the school year was Ash Wednesday,” said Principal Justin Armitage. “A number of community members came to celebrate Mass with our school community and were so impressed by the reverence our scholars exhibited throughout the entire Mass.”

The entire Holy Angels community is filled with joy and gratitude for the presence of the church. “Having a church really puts the Catholic in Holy Angels Catholic School,” said second-grade teacher Yvette Waterman.

The presence of the church will continue to cultivate community at the school, parish and beyond. “Having a church means having a space where we can meet together as one family, teach about our faith, and celebrate the sacraments,” Taulman said. “It helps us cultivate community with our neighborhood, our parish, and our school.

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