St. Rose of Lima celebrates 50 years of Catholic education

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WARWICK — St. Rose of Lima School celebrated an important milestone this year, marking its 50th anniversary offering Catholic education to the students of Warwick and beyond.

The school was founded in 1966 by the late Pastor Msgr. John W. Struck as a parish school of St. Rose of Lima Church, now merged to become Saints Rose and Clement. That first year, the school opened its doors to 175 students in grades five, six and seven, a number that went up to 230 when the school added an eighth grade the following year. In the early days, it was staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph under the direction of Principal Sister Mary Christopher.

Today, the school serves about 250 students from pre-K through grade eight, most of them from the greater Warwick area. It continues to be a parish school of Saints Rose and Clement, with many of the families attending Mass around the corner on Long Street and maintaining a close relationship with Father Matthew Glover.

According to Kim Izzi, who has served as principal since 2014, St. Rose of Lima is a true community school, complete with multiple generations of former students in some families.

“I find that when someone has graduated from St. Rose, they still feel very connected,” said Izzi, who has three children of her own at the school. “For an elementary school, I think the connection stays with people in the sense that they see [themselves] as an alumni of the school and they continue to make it a part of their adult lives.”

Stacy Wildenhain has been at the school since 2001 and has seen three pastors and three principals take their turn at leading the close-knit community. Wildenhain started out as a parent volunteer with two sons at the school before becoming a teacher’s aide and now teaches pre-K through grade five. She recalls that when her oldest son started, there was a waitlist for Kindergarten.

“I was so impressed with the academics that I jumped at the chance to be here,” she said.

Though much has remained the same, like the academic rigor and the dedication of parents who work closely with teachers to offer the best education for their children, Wildenhain has observed some changes over the years. Among the largest, she said, are the stricter security measures as gun violence and other crime around the country force higher standards for the protection of kids during school hours.

“When I first started as a parent, I could walk in, see my kids, bring them lunch, eat with them,” she recalled, adding that none of that would be possible now.

Sarah Powers, a school counselor and resource teacher who has taught at St. Rose of Lima for nine years, has also watched her three children grow up at the school. Though she wasn’t sure at first whether she wanted her kids to attend the same school where she taught, her first year at St. Rose of Lima quickly changed her mind.

“They love it. I love just how these kids grow up together. I can remember sitting at my first awards night thinking, I want this for my kids,” said Powers. “It’s such a close community here.”

In addition to the sense of community, she also appreciates the central role that prayer plays in the school day and the students’ closeness with Father Glover, who teaches Latin to the eighth grade. A parishioner at Sacred Heart Church, West Warwick, Powers considers a nurturing faith environment important for her family.

“I really feel like I became closest to my faith when I was in college, so to be able to give that to my kids a little bit earlier makes us very happy,” she said.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary, St. Rose of Lima welcomed alumni and families to a gala at the Warwick Country Club in November and hosted a brunch with alumni as well as former pastors and principals earlier in the year. According to Izzi, the school looks forward to continuing to expand its offerings for students as it meets the changing demands of modern education.

“I think what we want to do is continue upgrading our technology and we’ve done that a lot. I definitely want to continue with that,” she said. “And we’ve added a lot of different co-curricular activities to the school, from robotics to cooking lessons. Those are things that are fairly new.”

Izzi also noted that the school’s early childhood program is growing at a time when the educational advantages of these programs are increasing their popularity with parents across education sectors.

“Our early childhood is just bursting at the seams. I think a lot of it is that when you have a pre-K program or a Kindergarten program in an elementary school, you can offer a lot more,” she said.

The school also recently renewed its accreditation from the New England Association of School and Colleges, a process that requires reapproval every 10 years. St. Rose of Lima was the first Warwick school, public or private, to obtain the accreditation in 1996. Still, Izzi says it’s the graduates, more so than the accolades, that demonstrate the school’s true potential.

“I definitely think it’s people who graduate,” she said. “There’s definitely a connection that just stays with them. And I see that when I run into people.”