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Christian spirit advancing mission at St. Patrick Academy

PROVIDENCE — It’s for students like Karolyn Richardson that St. Patrick Academy was founded.

To view more photos, please click hereEven with its annual tuition being less than half the cost of the next least expensive Catholic high school in the diocese, Richardson, a junior, who resides with her mother and brother in the Silver Lake section of Providence, would not be able to afford the faith-based education she is getting on Smith Hill, in the shadow of the Statehouse, without financial assistance.

Faced with a shortfall of $2,000, half of the school’s annual $4,000 cost of attendance, the prospect for a third year at St. Patrick Academy seemed bleak for the intelligent, articulate and personable young lady, whose mother is currently studying in a college nursing program to provide a better life for her family.

Then, as often seems to happen at the school, an anonymous donor stepped forward to help, covering the balance of her tuition.

“I’m so excited I’m here,” said Richardson as St. Patrick Academy kicked off its third year as a Catholic high school last week.

She has never once taken for granted the incredible opportunity she has been given to attend a Catholic high school.

“It’s small, and you’re not a number here,” she said. “They know you and the faith. They teach you the way of Christ.”

Richardson said that her plans are to attend college and study nursing, just like her mother.

When in 2009 it was faced with declining enrollments and mounting bills, St. Patrick Parish made a bold decision in converting its venerable elementary school — the oldest Catholic School in Rhode Island, dating back to the early 1850s — into a Catholic high school, one of the few remaining parish high schools in the country.

Three years later, the school has a total of 57 students enrolled as freshman, sophomores and juniors, and looks forward to graduating its first senior class in June 2014.

“This year, we have a full freshman class — 30 kids with a waiting list. We’re feeling very optimistic about the future,” said Principal Bruce Daigle.

For those 30 spots, the school received more than 50 applications, which speaks to the demand for an affordable Catholic education.

The principal is projecting the enrollment to reach 85 in the next academic year, with a target of 100-110 students, the limits of what current resources can accommodate.

“I’d say we’re very much on track,” Daigle said of the plan for the school.

At the same time, the principal acknowledges that there are risks to what they are working to accomplish at the academy.

“There’s a great deal of risk here,” Daigle said. “This is not a sure thing.”

He noted that so much responsibility for the school’s success lies with the faculty, who’ve given 100 percent of their efforts to the task.

“They’ve all thrown themselves into God’s hands,” he added.

While it is an immense challenge to operate a school on a very limited budget, Father James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Parish, is encouraged by the increasing number of applicants, especially for this year’s freshman class.

“People want to come here. They can see that we are a very good school. We have everything in place. We just need to keep building on our ministry,” Father Ruggieri said.

The pastor joined Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in celebrating a Mass at the school last Friday.

“We really cannot accomplish anything of value without God’s help,” the bishop said, giving a nod to the divine intervention that has carried St. Patrick Academy along in its mission. “There’s nothing more important than your faith in Jesus,” he added.

Carmen Boucher said that when her daughter Bethany was researching where she wanted to attend high school, St. Patrick Academy topped her list.

While traveling from their home in Woonsocket to school in Providence adds time and miles to their commute, mom says the Catholic education she is receiving at St. Patrick Academy is well worth it.

It’s affordable, it’s safe and the faculty are wonderful,” Boucher said. “We feel very blessed to be here.”

In keeping with its mission of providing a high-quality, affordable education for as many families as possible, St. Patrick Academy charges a yearly tuition of $4,000 — far less than the $11,500 it actually costs to educate each student. The school’s Development Office is tasked with raising the difference through private donations and grants.

The academy has a reference library, technology lab, a state-of-the-art science lab and a religious studies room to be used by the students. It offers three years of Spanish language instruction, has wi-fi connections throughout and a few Smart Boards. Providing a co-educational, college preparatory program, the academy also offers guidance counseling, tutoring, a basketball team, clubs, career awareness and academic support services. It also offers a summer mentoring program.

Without a doubt