St. Joseph School in Bryan celebrates years of learning
By Mary P. Walker
In the fall of 1894, St. Joseph Catholic School (SJS) in Bryan opened in a one-room schoolhouse. Today, 120 years later, the school system serves 340 children and young adults. Its three campuses offer daycare for infants and early learning programs, as well as elementary, middle and high school classes preparing students to excel in college, the military or other endeavors.
During a time when many parochial schools have closed, the only Catholic school in the Brazos Valley has grown in size, reputation and outreach. In addition, the SJS system has the only parish-operated high school in the diocese and is the only parish-based Catholic school system in the state of Texas that serves infants through high school students.
Msgr. John McCaffrey, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, and Jennifer Pelletier, president of the school system, credit SJS’s success with its strong Catholic foundation, the commitment of the area’s parishes to Catholic education, the family atmosphere of the school and a dedicated staff.
The school’s underlying mission is to help students become saints. As reminders of this, there are statues, crucifixes, faith-based artwork and other religious symbols throughout the facilities. Academic subjects are taught from the perspective of discovering and understanding the truth in a world created by God.
From a very young age, children attend Mass twice a week, pray, study the Bible and explore the truths of the faith. As children grow older, they learn to be lectors, hospitality ministers, altar servers, music ministers, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, and perform charitable works in the community.
After Mass, middle and high school students have a break before resuming classes. Many choose to spend the time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, praying a rosary together, or receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.
When people speak of the school, they speak of the family atmosphere. While St. Joseph Parish operates the school, many students from other parishes attend, as well as non-Catholic students. These families praise the welcome they receive. The school has become a community resource where people form bonds of friendship across geographic, socioeconomic, ethnic and parish boundaries. To be as welcoming as possible, the parish strives to keep tuition affordable.
This family atmosphere extends across generations. Many of today’s students can look to their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings as former students. There are also former students professionally employed by the school system, including Jim Rike, elementary principal, and Jackie Keller and Monica Jones, teachers.
All of the teachers with young children in daycare entrust them to the St. Joseph Early Learning Center.
“It is one of my greatest joys to walk the halls of the Early Learning Center and see all of the little children whose parents work for the school,” Msgr. McCaffrey said.
St. Joseph Parish is committed to the school, which was run exclusively by religious sisters until the late 1950s. With fewer sisters available, the parish accepted the transition to a staff of lay people.
Because the school is integrated into the life of the parish, resources invested in the school benefit all youth, whether they attend or not. For example, catechists offer religious education classes on the campuses, and the youth minister and director of religious education have offices in the school. All parish children receive first holy Communion and confirmation together. The parish youth group, Keysis, encourages all middle and high school students to participate. Also, parishioners are invited to school activities, such as athletic events and concerts.
The bedrock of any school is its teachers. “What sets us apart is the quality of our teachers who have chosen to teach at a private, Catholic school where they know they will make less than at the public schools, yet they are willing to make that commitment because they care as much about forming the souls of their students as they do about having them pass a test or rack up the best list of college acceptances,” Pelletier said.
Msgr. McCaffrey agreed. “The choice to teach at a Catholic school is a vocation, and we are so grateful to these dedicated teachers and to their families who support them in this important vocation,” he said.
Along with spiritual and academic growth, the school focuses on forming the whole person through athletics and extracurricular activities. An inclusive and competitive athletic program encourages all students to participate, and students are welcome to try a new sport at any age even if they have never played.
More than 90 percent of the students in grades six through 12 participate in organized sports, band or choir, and half of those participate in multiple sports and activities.
“Our students work well together and support one another both in and out of the classroom and in the athletic arena as well,” Msgr. McCaffrey said.
The highlight of the school’s 120-year anniversary will be centered on the Eucharist. Bishop Joe Vásquez and local priests will concelebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving Jan. 28 at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph Parish. Former students and any who would like to celebrate this milestone are invited to attend.
For more information about St. Joseph Catholic School, visit the website at www.stjosephschoolbcs.org.