By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. — While most Catholic school teachers and administrators may never know what impact or effect they’ve had on the students who have filtered through their classrooms, Denise Peixoto, principal of St. Mary-Sacred Heart School in North Attleboro, received confirmation via an unexpected and much-appreciated pledge of support from an alum.
Upon learning about the school’s recent addition of four modular classrooms to accommodate students in grades six, seven and eight, the former St. Mary-Sacred Heart School grad — who wished to remain anonymous — pledged to match, dollar-for-dollar, any and all donations up to $100,000 to offset the costs of the project.
“I guess he had heard that some of the project had run over-budget and we were working at trying to add to our growth fund to help defray some of those costs,” Peixoto told The Anchor. “He approached Susan McConville, our development coordinator, and he told her he felt this was a way he could help give back to the school. He came here as well as all of his sisters and brothers and he really felt the school helped to form him into the person he is today, because he’s a very successful businessperson.”
The generous offer couldn’t have come at a better time.
Noting that the school’s enrollment has been steadily increasing over the last seven years, Peixoto said she worked with the diocesan Catholic Education office to put together a temporary solution to the space confinements by adding four modular classrooms for the middle-school-aged students, replete with Internet service, interactive projectors and Apple TV.
“About four years ago, we added two modular classrooms,” Peixoto said. “That got us through a few years as far as needed extra space; but because of our enrollment we needed more space for this past September.”
With initial cost estimates in hand, work proceeded in earnest this past summer so the four new classrooms would be ready for occupancy at the beginning of the school year.
“As with any project, you expect certain costs and then other things creep in,” Peixoto said. “So we notified our parents at the start of the school year and put notices in our parish bulletin that the project had cost this amount, this is what we’ve been able to put towards that, and any donations that would be made to our growth fund would be used to defer those (additional) costs.”
Peixoto said the school’s anonymous benefactor must have read about their need for additional funding and that’s when he stepped up to the plate.
“It’s my understanding that he’s helped his college and high school before, but it’s very rare that anyone comes forward to do any type of matching fund for an elementary school,” she said. “It was very overwhelming for me, but as he has said to us: this school help set the foundation for him.”
Instead of making an outright donation to the school, however, the donor felt that a matching-fund challenge might inspire others to give back a little to their alma mater as well — and that seems to be the case.
Having announced the drive in October, in just three months’ time they’ve already surpassed the halfway mark to the $100,000 goal.
“We’re encouraging families, if they haven’t yet given, to consider donating,” Peixoto said. “The date that (the donor) has set is February 28 and that’s when we’re going to end the matching drive effort.”
Peixoto remains optimistic that they’ll reach their goal by February 28.
“I think we’ll make — I hope we will,” she said. “Everyday a few more checks come in here and there. It’s been an overwhelming response and it’s not something we’ve ever done before, so we really didn’t know what to expect as far as a response. But we’ve gotten donations from as small as $1 to those in the thousands; and it’s not only our current families who have given: it’s been grandparents, alumni and family members of alumni, and a lot of parishioners from St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart parishes have responded wonderfully and quite a few have asked their employers to match their donations as well.”
Peixoto said it’s encouraging to see donations from parishioners who don’t have or never had a child enrolled in the school.
“Just to see them respond in that way to help us really does show that we truly are a part of the parish, we’re not just a school that’s removed from the parish,” she said. “The parish really does consider us to be a part of their family as well.”
Although the bulk of the money raised will be used to pay off the remaining balance on the modular classrooms, Peixoto said whatever money is left over will be put back into the school’s growth fund for future expansion.
“The modular classrooms are more of a temporary solution, so if our enrollment continues the way it has been, we’re going to have to continue working with the diocese to determine what direction to go in,” she said. “Whatever matching funds that come through that don’t need to be used to pay for the project are going to be put away to be used for any permanent solution or whatever direction we’re headed. The modular classrooms we have now will tide us over for a few more years, but if the enrollment continues on as it has been, I’m going to run out of space again.”
Admitting a lack of space is “a great problem to have,” Peixoto said this certainly speaks well for the confidence that parents have put in St. Mary-Sacred Heart School and Catholic schools in general.
“What I hear a lot from families is they’re looking for a place where their child feels safe and where the parent feels safe dropping off their child for the day,” she said. “In addition, we are able to introduce and reinforce the same Catholic values that they teach in their homes that, I think, is sorely missing from a lot of families. We use Catholic values to teach the whole child, so we develop a whole person academically and Spiritually — it’s not just reading, writing and arithmetic.”
Peixoto sees the anonymous alum’s generous offer as “a true gift to our elementary school and a testament to what we do.”
“We’re very blessed, because when we went over-budget on the project, we’ve had wonderful vendors who have been waiting patiently for their payment,” she said. “We figured we’d work through it, but when we were at our darkest hour and realized we still owed this much, that’s when Susan came to me and said she had just received a call from an alum. So when one door shuts, another one opens — God will provide.”
And while Peixoto certainly respects and understands the donor wanting to remain anonymous, she thinks hearing about his benevolence might set an example for others to follow.
“I think getting the message out about our alum might just inspire and help somebody else — whether it’s our school or another Catholic elementary school in our diocese,” she said. “It may spark someone to think: ‘You know, they did help lay the foundation for me, so how can I give back in some way, shape or form to the Catholic school that helped form me?’ Maybe it will inspire someone to do something similar for their own Catholic elementary school.”