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

St. Patrick, Spokane: ‘no one is left out of the family experience in the school’

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 7, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Dorothy Gallagher (top, left) is principal of St. Patrick School in Spokane. Father Dan Barnett (top, right) is the parish’s pastor. (IR photo)

All Catholic Schools have characteristics in common, of course, but each one also has a unique “personality.” St. Patrick School, in northeast Spokane’s Hillyard community, has a personality one might describe as bright, friendly, creative, community oriented, and – for lack of a better word, “hopping.”

Parents, teachers, administrators and volunteers all share an intense commitment to the school and its future. Unsupervised by an adult, two smiling, enthusiastic 4th grade girls recently guided a visitor on a tour of the school and its grounds, and the girls were both well informed and exhibited considerable quiet pride in their school.

St. Patrick first opened its doors to the children of the parish on Sept. 14, 1914. At that time, the original wood frame church doubled as a school for 50 students in grades 1 through 5. Two Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary traveled each day from Holy Names Academy – a hop, skip, and a jump east of Gonzaga University – to teach the students.

In 1921, construction began on a new two-story brick structure, and the new school building opened its doors to 190 students in September of 1922. The faculty consisted of eight Holy Names Sisters, and a new convent was built for them at the same time.

As enrollment increased, a new primary grades building was opened in 1956.

In 1960 a new fire escape was added to the south side of the main building, and in 1962 the school library opened.

In 1922, the first St. Patrick’s Parent-Teacher Association came into existence and functioned until, in the 1940s, it was replaced with a Mother’s Club, which sometime in the 1950s became the Home and School Association. Today, this organization is known as the Holy Family Association.

Parent-teacher conferences were introduced in 1959.

By 1960, St. Patrick School was nearly bursting at the seams with its largest enrollment ever: 510 students. The first grade was eliminated in 1961 as a way to come up with more space, but a first grade class returned four years later, in 1965. In 1968, the main school building underwent a complete renovation.

In 1970, the school began taking advantage of a federal aid program in order to provide a hot lunch program for the students. Twenty years later, the school added a breakfast program.

In 1973 the faculty consisted of three women Religious and five lay teachers, and the principal was a Sister, too. In 1979, to help increase enrollment, a private kindergarten and pre-kindergarten opened in the primary classes building. By 1983, the original flat roof on that building proved impractical, so that year parish volunteers added a new slanted roof. Two years later, in 1985, the school formed the St. Patrick School Alumni Association.

For nearly 80 years, St. Patrick School was fortunate to have Holy Names Sisters as principals. In June of 1992, the first lay principal was hired. In June, 1993, the library was dedicated as a media center in honor of Holy Names Sister Dolores Ann McDonald, a long-time teacher and librarian at the school. In the summer of 1993, a city park was constructed next to the school’s Primary building, and ever since that time the park has been used as the school’s playground during school hours. In September of 1995, the private pre-kindergarten program was integrated into the school’s daycare program, and in September of 1997 the private kindergarten also became part of St. Patrick School. Both the pre-school and kindergarten are all-day programs.

This year, the enrollment at St. Patrick School has been 175 students, and the faculty is made up of 10 and a principal, all laity. For 92 years, St. Patrick Catholic School has faithfully served the families of St. Patrick Parish.

Dorothy Gallagher is completing her second year as principal. For 10 years prior to that she taught 7th and 8th grades at Spokane’s All Saints School.

“I admired the work that Kathy Hicks has done as principal at All Saints,” she said, “and I felt very called to this position at St. Patrick; I didn’t just do it, I felt very called to it.”

Gallagher grew up in Deer Park and attended public schools there. She later earned her bachelor’s degree at Eastern Washington University, and from Gonzaga University she earned both a master’s degree in computer education and an administrative credential.

“Some members of my family are alumni of this school,” she said. “I have a lot of roots in this parish and in St. Francis Xavier Parish,” where she was baptized and where “members of my family have been parishioners … for almost 68 years. It was just my parents and my immediate family that lived in Deer Park.”

Gallagher views the school as “one big family. It’s unique in that many of the people who are here have connections to people who used to be here. There are lots of ties. Also, the school is unique in that a lot of people who went to school here, the alums, are very involved. It’s a focused community when it comes to family. When someone comes here, the goal is that no one is left out of the family experience in the school.”

Gallagher highlights one of the school’s unique characteristics: “about 50 percent of our kids are not Catholics. That really is the most unique thing about this school. Keeping that in mind, we don’t give financial assistance only to kids who are Catholic. Anyone who comes to our school can qualify for financial assistance, and much of that financial assistance comes from the parish, and that assistance is going to non-Catholics. There is no discrimination, and no one is told ‘No’ when they need help.”

Having such a high percentage of non-Catholic students is one result of the parish’s commitment to offer the school as a ministry to the wider world beyond the parish, she said. “The school is a direct ministry of the parish. If it’s good for Catholic kids, then it’s good for all kids. When parents come and say that they want to register their children, the first question is not, ‘Are you Catholic?’ Instead, we say, ‘You have a child. It’s our responsibility to help you.’ We have so many non-Catholic kids because we believe that’s what we’re supposed to do.”

At the same time, “we are working very hard to make our Catholic identity stronger,” she said. “We are a Catholic school and it is very evident when you walk in the door. We work hard every day to truly be Catholic, and we know that to do this we need to embrace the world. So everyone is welcome here.”

She identifies the annual auction held by the school’s alumni association as the most successful fundraiser each year. “It’s very successful because our alumni put it on. It’s held at Gonzaga Prep in March. When we’re talking about fundraising, the thing you need to understand about St. Patrick is that a large portion of our budget comes from our parish. St. Patrick Parish is incredibly committed to this school. The parish gives the school $101,000 a year for operations. But when it comes to fundraising, we do all the things that other Catholic schools do – we do a run-a-thon, and so forth – but we are trying to look at fundraising as development. But really, fundraising isn’t just about asking for money; it’s about developing relationships, and when we develop relationships and people feel they have a place at the table, that is when we’re successful.”

The pastor of St. Patrick and St. Francis Xavier parishes is Father Dan Barnett, who also serves the diocese as vocations director. Father Barnett’s involvement in the school “is something very, very special,” said Gallagher. “He takes ownership of the school. The support of the school, and the success of the school, depends on many things, including our wonderful teachers and the support of the parishes. People who have never had children in this school support this school, people both inside and outside the parish, people all over the Northwest, not only financially but in prayer and other ways. That’s huge. But our pastor is very involved, and he believes strongly that it’s our job to educate kids. He takes that very seriously. He knows that he’s always welcome here, and sometimes he just drops in unannounced.”

She cited one example of his participation in the school ministry: a game he plays with the older students. “It’s called ‘Stump the Priest.’ The kids write down their questions,” she said, “and he spends time with them answering those questions. He works with them.” The pastor also assists with the spiritual development of the students, through participation in school retreats. “We work very hard to include him in whatever we’re doing,” she said.

The school is unique among all the Catholic schools in the diocese for a relatively recent development: the presence in the parish of Sisters from the Missionaries of Charity, the Religious community founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta “We are very blessed because our children have the opportunity to be in contact with the Sisters,” said Gallagher. “The Sisters are becoming more involved in the school. Today our children worked with them on a presentation, and the Sisters are helping them. The Sisters and I are just beginning a conversation about service, and since their mission is to help the poorest of the poor, they are going to be our advisors on a service component in the school. One of our strengths already is that all year long, our children are involved in service, but we are going to ask the Sisters to be involved with the children.”

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