Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Cataldo School demonstrates ‘a great sense of community’

Story and photos by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 23, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Group interaction plays a part in the course of learning. (IR photo)

The stately old brick structure that is Cataldo School was built in 1915 to house St. Augustine Church and School, plus a convent. The building is planted squarely on an uneven rocky promontory on Spokane’s South Hill. The result is that to go from just about anyplace in the school to anyplace else in the school, you can expect to use stairways both up and down in order to get to where you’re going.

Of course, there is far more than stair-climbing going on at Cataldo School.

The building that houses Cataldo’s 325 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, its 43 preschool three- and four-year-olds, 19 fulltime and seven part-time teachers, and two part-time preschool aids, was originally St. Augustine School.

In 1972, St. Augustine Parish joined two other parishes, Sacred Heart and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, to share one school, called Southside Catholic Schools. The first four grades were located in the old Sacred Heart School, and grades 5-8 in the old St. Augustine School.

Subsequently, the two parts of the school program were re-named Cataldo Primary School and Cataldo Middle School. The name “Cataldo” comes from Jesuit Father Joseph M. Cataldo (1838-1928), who is considered to be the founder of Catholic education in Spokane and, indeed, in the entire Inland Northwest.

Finally, in 1984 the two schools combined in the old St. Augustine building with its present name. All three parishes continue to send students to and provide support for the one school.

For going on 11 years now, Cataldo’s principal has been Richard Pelkie, who came to the school after 31 years as a public school teacher, principal, and district administrator. While growing up in Canada, he attended Catholic schools himself, in Edmonton, Alberta.

Pelkie says that he hopes that anyone who visits Cataldo School will feel “that sense of community. One of the strongest assets we have is that we’re a kind of large extended family. People are here because they want to be here, because they like the educational program that we have. They like our teachers, and they are here to support us, and we like them. It’s just a big, happy family.”

Pelkie remembers his first day as a teacher in a public school, all those years ago.

“When it was time to start the class, I stood up and said, ‘It’s time to get going,’ and I raised my hand to my forehead to make the sign of the cross, and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, no, I can’t do that.’ One of the greatest advantages, I feel, of being here at Cataldo is that we can practice our faith. As a staff, we pray together at 7:30 each morning. We have our morning prayer over the intercom at about five or ten after eight each morning, when classes begin. We have our weekly Mass, and the students are active in that. It’s a great sense of community, particularly from a spiritual aspect.”

Everyone gets involved in the religion curriculum at Cataldo, of course, but religion is far more than one of the subjects the students study. As with all Catholic schools, at Cataldo, they don’t just talk about religion; they practice it. Everyone from students to parents and teachers gets involved in weekly school Masses. “The parish priests take turns presiding at our Thursday school Mass,” Pelkie says. “Two classes plan each Mass, so it could be the second grade and the sixth grade. The children are altar servers, and they do the introductions, the music, and the readings and prayers of petition, and they bring up the gifts.

“Not only do the kids study religion daily,” says Pelkie, “but we want them to become involved in their religion, to learn to practice what they learn. We have small efforts at community service in the lower grades. At Christmas time they’ll go and sing Christmas songs at retirement homes and so forth. By fifth grade, however, every student will have the opportunity to help with Meals on Wheels – and that’s an enlightening experience. In sixth grade they have a local community service project, maybe go over and sort the Sunday bulletins for St. Augustine Parish, or if we need something done here (in the school) we’ll call on sixth graders to come and do it.”

Service is a bit more formalized for the seventh and eighth grades, he said.

“We send our students to various agencies in the community every third Wednesday of the month, and they spend half a day helping in whatever institution they’re sent to. The Sisters of the Holy Names have a retirement community out by Spokane Falls Community College, and we send kids over there, as well as other retirement homes. They go to the food bank to stock shelves. They go to the House of Charity, and they’re never in direct contact with the people who go there, but they’re in the back helping to prepare meals and things like that. We really want the students to become involved and learn that they can give to the community. And they’re better kids because of it.”

Computers are part of the classroom resources at Cataldo School, Spokane. (IR photo)

Cataldo’s ratio of Catholic to non-Catholic students has changed in the last few years. “We’re getting more non-Catholics now,” Pelkie said. “When I first got here about 13 to 15 percent were non-Catholic; now it’s probably 25 to 35 percent.”

The parents of students at Cataldo Catholic School agree to donate 20 hours a year to the school. “But we don’t have to keep track,” he said. “I could stand out there in the hall and say, ‘I need somebody to do...’ and parents will immediately say, ‘I’ll do it, I’ll do it,’ not even knowing what we’re going to ask them to do.”

Brigid Krause is the school’s development director, a position she qualified for by being an air force officer’s wife and helping out at schools in the various locations where her husband was stationed over the years. Later, she became volunteer coordinator at Cataldo, and subsequent to that she was asked to take on her current responsibilities.

“Considering our community here,” Krause says, “we have quite a few parents who work outside the home, and it’s really amazing how even though they work they come in here to help out, sometimes even on their lunch break. A Catholic school really has to be family-run – it’s a family effort with the volunteering and the donations.”

Like all Catholic schools, Cataldo holds fund-raisers every year.

“We try to stick to three rather large fund-raisers per year,” says Krause. “We do a magazine subscription drive, which does very well. We also do our annual giving campaign, which kicks off in October, so we take pledges in the fall, and they have the whole year to give. Then we have our auction each spring, which is our largest fund-raiser. The last couple of years we’ve made over $100,000 with that.”

Cataldo gets its grades 5 through 8 band program through Gonzaga Preparatory School, which provides a band teacher to Catholic schools for an annual fee per student, which Cataldo passes along to the parents. A regular music teacher provides music instruction for all grades, and Cataldo also has a vocal music teacher. “We have a young lady there who is really outstanding,” says Pelkie. “Each year she raises the ante and the kids get more involved. She puts on a wonderful Christmas concert each year, and periodically over the course of the year she’ll feature, say, the first and second grade kids in an evening concert for the parents, then at other times for other grades. In the spring of the year she gets the older kids, and she gets a really interesting program with them. It had a jazz theme last year. And they don’t just stand there and sing, they sing and dance. It’s a fun event for the kids. To see those older boys in the upper grades going through their routine, it really goes well.”

The school also boasts an extensive volunteer-run art education program. “It’s a six-week program called Art Enrichment,” said Krause. “Some very talented and educated moms put together a whole art curriculum. Each grade focuses on one major artist, and they study that artist for six weeks, so by the time they leave Cataldo they will know quite a lot about at least six or seven artists. In seventh and eighth grades it’s an elective.”

“It’s very educationally sound,” said Pelkie. “It’s scope-and-sequenced all the way through, so that what the student does in the first grade is very particular to the first grade, and what happens in the second grade picks up where the first grade left off, and it carries on all the way through.”

“At the end of the six weeks,” said Krause, “each student produces something that utilizes everything they’ve learned, and then we have an art show for the parents to come and see.”

Cataldo is also computer-equipped to a high degree, thanks to grants in recent years from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “The down side of that,” says Pelkie, “is that we have to keep those computers going and updated. Trying to raise money to keep computers going is a real challenge.”

His final words on Cataldo, however, are short and to-the-point: “It’s a wonderful school.”

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