All Saints was second home for military family

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MIDDLETOWN — Veterans Day is not only a time to remember the sacrifice of those who fight for their country, but also a day to be thankful for the supportive families and communities that await the service men and women on the home front.

For military families, many of whom move frequently depending upon orders, such support is invaluable.

Jeff Ward, who has served in the Navy for the last 23 years, said that of the time his family spent living in Rhode Island, they found great community support at their daughter’s Catholic school here.

Given its proximity to the Newport Naval Base — located three miles away — All Saints Academy has a history of welcoming military families with open arms.

Ward and his wife Karen found All Saints to be an environment that provides uprooted military children a place to settle into quickly and inspire their daughter, Elizabeth, to reach her full potential.

“They were so welcoming from the first day,” Karen Ward said. “Elizabeth’s prospective teacher and the principal greeted her when we went to register and just made us feel like a part of the school. Everyone reached out and helped us get acclimated. The other military families helped us get settled and made us feel like we belonged.”

Elizabeth Ward, now a senior in high school, attended the second, third and fourth grade at All Saints before her family had to relocate from Middletown to Memphis, Tenn., where they remained for a year-and-a-half before they moved to Hampton, Va. When Elizabeth was in eighth grade, the Wards found out they would be moving yet again, this time back to the Ocean State.

“I was sad to leave Virginia, since I had a group of friends I was very close to, but going back to Rhode Island felt like going back home,” she said. “After getting settled, I had my first day back at All Saints and a good portion of my classmates were kids I had gone to school with in the second through fourth grade. I was thrilled to find that two girls that had been my best friends before were still there, and it was like I had never left. I was able to jump right back into the All Saints community.”

Because her class was so small, Elizabeth shared that the young students had a special bond.

“I think that’s the word that best describes All Saints: a family,” she said. “Its size contributes to that. Since it is so small, everyone knows everyone else, and everyone really cares about each other. It’s rare that you find a school population that is so close, and I was very sad when I graduated from All Saints. I still feel a connection to All Saints Academy to this day.”

Jeff explained that it is always a challenge to move his family, start a new job, and oftentimes deploy overseas, but he felt great comfort knowing the support his family received from their Catholic school.

“I get great peace of mind knowing our daughter is at a good school, getting a solid education in a supportive environment that reinforces the Catholic and Christian values we live by at home,” he said. “Knowing our daughter is attending good schools, like All Saints Academy, enables me to focus on doing my job well and safely.”

Nearly a third of the school population are military families, said Dr. John Finnegan, principal of All Saints Academy, who explained that the school offers many transitional activities to help support those families.

“Military families, by and large, seem to like private and parochial schools because of the lack of bureaucracy,” he said. “They like the academic rigor, the safety and protection, and the moral compass that we offer. We are a comfortable fit for a lot of people.”

Karen Ward, who attended Catholic schools for much of her elementary years, said that she enjoyed the family atmosphere and what the faith-filled environment had to offer.

“When Elizabeth came along, I knew she would go to Catholic school because I believe very strongly in a Catholic education,” she said. “Also, with all the moving we would potentially be doing, I knew that Catholic schools would give her a consistent environment no matter where we lived.”

“It [All Saints] is a very cooperative environment,” she added. “The big kids help the younger ones and they too all work together. As they say in the Navy ‘All hands on deck’ and when All Saints Academy puts on an event it is truly ‘All hands on deck.’”

The Ward family left the Ocean State in the summer of 2011 to return to Hampton, Va. Although Elizabeth was able to remain until the end of the eighth grade year and graduate from All Saints, it was bittersweet.

“She stayed involved as an alum helping at functions, etc. until we moved, but we do miss it,” Ward said of her daughter. “All Saints is a very special place. In our ever-changing military lives, having a school like All Saints was invaluable. It is one place that lives up to its name. It is truly filled with All Saints.”