A wide variety of communities come together to form our collective community of Osceola County, and one of them is our Catholic community. Within our county, we have two private Catholic schools: St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Cloud, and Holy Redeemer in Kissimmee. Both schools are Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade and have been fixtures of our community for several decades. St. Thomas Aquinas opened their school doors in 1989, and Holy Redeemer opened theirs in 1994.
Father Kent Walker and Principal Maura Cox from St. Thomas Aquinas and Father Tim LaBo and Principal Gloria Del Orbe from Holy Redeemer sat down with Osceola Woman and gave us some insight into their schools, Catholic education, and how the strong bonds within their community create strong members and leaders of the community.
A common theme between both schools is that they truly emphasize educating a child’s whole being and not just their mind.
“We treat our children as the body of Christ, and teach them to have hands and a heart that serve,” Mrs. Cox said.
She and Father Kent went on to elaborate on how they strive to “integrate, not compartmentalize” when it came to the curriculum.
“When it comes to faith formation, it is not just religious, but also spiritual. We educate the whole child-body, mind, and spirit,” Father Kent added.
St. Thomas Aquinas serves 320 students, who have contributed 5,834 service hours to our community. In addition to that, Mrs. Cox said that by teaching the students to treat everyone as they would treat Christ himself, the students often take it upon themselves to find ways they can help serve others in need in the community on an individual basis.
Father Kent and Mrs. Cox were incredibly passionate when talking about the importance of each child feeling loved and cared for. The inclusive and inviting atmosphere sticks with students even after they go on to high school and has alumni wanting to remain involved to the extent that they are developing an alumni database. All teachers are certified, and the staff view their occupation as “a position of ministry, not a job.” This statement can be verified by the longevity of the staff at St. Thomas Aquinas; the average teacher has been there 12 years.
The atmosphere at Holy Redeemer is very similar. Father Tim stated that he wants everyone to feel a “sense of invitation and warmth.” The community strives to teach the children to exhibit a strong character, regardless if they are in the classroom, in the church, at home or in the community.
“Educating the whole person is important,” said Mrs. Del Orbe. “This includes the body, mind, and spirit.”
Mrs. Del Orbe also expressed how rewarding it is to journey with the children as they grow “physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.”
Holy Redeemer has 427 students and an institutional relationship with the University of Notre Dame.
Every person has a story, and their behavior correlates to their story. Father Tim said one can often tell when children have issues going on at home. When problems arise, the entire faculty comes together to create a village of support for not only the child but also for the rest of their family.
Father Tim and Mrs. Del Orbe have a very strong pastor-principal relationship, which provides the school with a strong sense of unity and partnership. They meet regularly to discuss how to continually improve the school and better serve the children, families and community.
“Build not only for today, but for the future as well,” said Father Tim.
The commitment shown by the administration serves as an example to the students that commitment to their community is an incredibly important value, and that commitment to your community must be a focus.
Another way this is taught to the children is through all the volunteer work they do. Students not only collect food to provide to the needy, they also take it to the food pantry themselves and assist in the unpacking and distribution of it. Recently, 8th grader students unpacked more than 1,800 food items at a local food pantry. Mrs. Del Orbe said it is important for students to serve in such capacities in order to better understand the “behind the scenes” aspects of serving others and the significance of “stepping beyond yourself.”
There is a common misconception about private schools being exclusive, and St. Thomas Aquinas and Holy Redeemer shattered that myth. Both schools constantly strive to make every student, parent, teacher, and alumni feel welcome and cared for. They work hard to instill a sense of being in the students and teach them to be aware of others and search for ways to positively impact their community. Beyond creating a sense of safety and security within their own walls, both schools have the same attitude of inclusiveness to the entire outside community.
Both schools also understand that tuition can often be a “make or break” factor when it comes to enrollment, and each offers scholarships to help offset the cost. In fact, 68% of the students at Holy Redeemer are there on scholarship.
St. Thomas Aquinas and Holy Redeemer will be joining thousands of other Catholic schools nationwide to celebrate the benefits and contributions of Catholic education during Catholic Schools Week, January 28-February 3. The weeklong event features a variety of activities at the school, kicking off with Open Houses.
St. Thomas Aquinas is hosting an Open House on January 28th from 1-4pm. Members of the National Junior Honor Society will be conducting tours of the school to anyone from the community who wishes to learn more about the school or how they can become involved.
Holy Redeemer is having an Open House on January 28th from 10am-1pm, in order to increase community involvement and awareness.
Still, the main proof of the lasting impact these two schools have on their students is expressed through the testimonies of the students and alumni. Mrs. Del Orbe and Father Tim shared that they once had a student whose family moved to Venezuela before he could graduate from Holy Redeemer. Although his time at the school was considerably short, he stayed in touch with them after he moved and went on to write a book. He is excited to come back to Kissimmee and share his success and his story with the community that touched his life permanently.
At St. Thomas Aquinas, Danielle, a kindergarten student, and Jenna, an 8th grade student, share how they feel about their school. “I love it,” Jenna enthusiastically expressed, adding that her favorite part of St. Thomas included “the experiences I have had–fun, learning, and great teachers.” She plans to go to Celebration High School for the IB program and aspires to be a surgeon.
Danielle said her favorite part about her school was, “Church, and how nice everyone is.” Danielle also mentioned how she enjoyed that St. Thomas had fewer students in the classroom than the school she briefly attended. She wishes to be a “doctor teacher” when she grows up.
St. Thomas Aquinas and Holy Redeemer were both very open, welcoming, and informative, and their respective pastors and principals were very enthusiastic in furthering the community involvement in their schools. They are excited for Catholic Schools Week to kick off and are ready to highlight their students at their Open Houses!