ST. FRANCIS CATHOLIC SCHOOL CELEBRATES 25 YEARS OF FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE
It’s a time for looking back and planning for what’s next as St. Francis Catholic School celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
The school that began with 45 pre-K and kindergarteners is now graduating its 20th eighth-grade class and principal Brian Pope has been witness to each of those ceremonies.
Pope began as a substitute teacher at St. Francis and is grateful to have experienced the same kind of personal and career growth as he witnessed among the hundreds of SFCS grads.
“Our motto for this milestone is ‘25 Years of Growing Together in Faith and Knowledge.’ It’s truly the lifestyle here and what drew me here and keeps me excited about leading the growth here along with Father Mike Oenbrink, our Parish Pastor,” Pope said. “The biggest comment we hear from parents and kids is that is a home away from home, and in that environment, we celebrate our successes together, work on our shortcomings together and grow together.”
The idea of St. Francis began when Bishop of Charleston David Thompson asked now-Monsignor Martin Laughlin to start the same kind of Catholic school on Hilton Head Island that he launched in Beaufort.
The concept proved to be a hit with the community, as first and second grades were added in 1997, doubling the enrollment to 95 students. Through the years, a new school building, gym/all-purpose center, fine arts center and playground were added to the campus to facilitate a full K-8 experience with enrollment currently at 215 students.
“Catholic schools offer three core principles — quality academics, a safe environment and Catholic identity and faith formation for parents who want to have their kids raised in the Catholic faith,” Pope said.
Non-Catholics are welcomed at SFCS, and while required to go to mass and worship activities, all faiths are welcomed and encouraged.
Pope, who has been principal since 2012, said he is proud of the school’s efforts to make a Catholic education attainable for all, with over $200,000 in financial aid and discounts provided this year alone to families. This is possible thanks to the relationship with the St. Francis parish and donations from parishioners and the parish thrift shop that helped build the school’s annual fund.
“We are so blessed to have the Parish support and the guidance of Father Mike and Monsignor Laughlin. They have made it clear that if a child wants a Catholic education, we will make it possible,” he said. “It has allowed us to focus on keeping tuition affordable and work to keep raises in the cost of tuition as small as possible in increasing accessibility.”
Pope and his staff have worked with Father Mike to build a comprehensive strategic plan to ensure the school is ready for the needs of tomorrow’s students and the growth that will help the school sustain and thrive through its 50th anniversary.
“Our numbers dipped to around 170 back in 2011 and 2012 and have experienced steady growth since then with enrollment now consistently well above 200,” Pope said. “We’ve done a lot of self-assessments and taken a look at what’s needed to meet the needs of our kids and our families as the landscape ahead of them is ever changing.”
While the school has evolved its technology to help train students, Pope said the school has been steadfast in teaching virtues and morals that are more important than ever as students have access to an endless flow of information and influences.
“We don’t vilify technology. We spend October teaching good digital citizenship,” Pope said. “But we also know the tech and the applications we teach now will completely change by the time these kids hit the job market. But engaging higher levels of thinking of truthfulness, gratitude, kindness, these concepts are timeless and so important to preparing our kids for the world ahead of them. Teaching them how to think, work with others and treat others, that’s the difference we can make in their lives.”
Pope said growing the school’s endowment and building alternative forms of funding will be key to the next 25 years for SFCS. The school can currently accommodate 250 students, though more growth would require additional faculty.
“The enthusiasm for a Catholic education and the involvement of our parents and the community has allowed us to grow,” Pope said. “Whatever form that growth takes in the next 25 years, our foundation will always remain grounded in faith, integrity and scholarship.”
For more information on St. Francis Catholic School, visit sfcshhi.com.