By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
NEW HAVEN, Ky. — The 108 children who attend St. Catherine Academy here in New Haven, nestled amid the hills of Nelson County, need not look far for a history lesson. Their school — and its alumni — are full of a faith-filled history written over the course of the last 150 years.
The school celebrated that history and its sesquicentennial with a gathering of classmates and friends Jan. 27.
The 150th anniversary began with a Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, and a benefit dinner called “Portraits of Excellence.”
The banquet is an annual event that benefits the operation of the school, said Jo Renee O’Bryan, principal of St. Catherine.
At the 4 p.m. Mass, Archbishop Kurtz
expressed his gratitude for the support of Catholic schools.
“It’s our occasion to celebrate 150 years of the school. What a glorious 150 years its been,” he said.
He noted the Sisters of Loretto, who for many years taught at the school, as well as the Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph in Maple Mount, Ky.
“Many, many young people have benefited from them. So let’s pray in thanksgiving at this Mass for the gift of our Catholic schools,” he said.
Archbishop Kurtz said there are many reasons for Catholic schools: good education, a firm foundation in virtue, building strong character and development of a child’s skills.
“But the foundation that money cannot buy is the foundation of Jesus Christ in their lives,” he said. “And, it may take that young person who is graduating many years to claim that foundation, but it’s there.”
Father Chris Lubecke, pastor of St. Catherine, said he hoped the benefit dinner would raise $75,000. Last year the dinner raised $54,000. This year, 230 registered for the dinner, up from 170 from last year.
The school’s ultimate goal, Father Lubecke said, is to raise $150,000 during this calendar year.
Together with the “Portraits of Excellence” dinner, there are a number of other fundraisers scattered throughout the year, including a Casino Night in March, the parish picnic in June, an alumni gathering in August, Autumn Fest in September and the feast of St. Catherine in November.
The proceeds, Father Lubecke said, would largely go to support tuition assistance and capital improvements around campus.
“We also want to build up reserves a bit for the school for the long-term future,” he said.
O’Bryan, who has worked at the school since 1996 and served as principal for the last 12 years, said $25,000 of last year’s $54,000 raised went to tuition assistance.
The rest, she said, went to various school improvements, including new doors.
The 150th anniversary, she said, was a testament that St. Catherine is a “strong, faith-based community.”
“We have huge support — time, talent and treasure. You can’t just have the money part. You need everything else that goes along with that,” she said.
Millie Cambron, organizer of the St. Catherine Alumni Association, said she made memories to last a lifetime during her time at St. Catherine.
“We were able to grow academically and socially and share this knowledge of God’s love as we served others in our community. With help from our families, we learned to treat our teachers, bus drivers, staff, classmates and those we encountered with respect,” said Cambron, who graduated from St. Catherine High School in 1968. The high school closed in 1972.
Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph George Mary Hagan, who graduated from St. Catherine in 1953, said the school and community are “very near and dear to my heart.”
“I will always love the dear heart and gentle people of St. Catherine. St. Catherine is nestled in the embrace of the neighboring knobs,” she said.
Kelly Keesy, one of the event’s co-chairs, said St. Catherine “means everything to my family.” Keesy graduated from the eighth-grade at St. Catherine in 1984. Her children are the fifth-generation in her family to attend the school.
“This anniversary shows how the community sticks together. We’ve been through everything together,” she said.
Located at the southern tip of Nelson County, St. Catherine Academy is one of only seven archdiocesan elementary schools outside Jefferson County. Classrooms operate in a mixed-grade format. Kindergarten, first- and second-grade are together; third- and fourth-grade share a classroom; fifth- and sixth-grade are together; and seventh- and eighth-grade are together. Classes split off for certain subjects, including reading and math.
The student enrollment is composed of parishioners from St. Catherine parish, as well as Immaculate Conception Church in Culvertown, Ky.; Holy Trinity Church in Fredericktown, Ky.; St. Vincent de Paul Church in New Hope, Ky.; and St. Thomas Church in Bardstown, Ky. There are also about a dozen non-Catholic students, O’Bryan said.