Saint Anthony School, in San Antonio, celebrated a milestone in its history on Feb.9, when the Rev. Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of Saint Petersburg presided over a Mass and dedicated the school’s new building.
“It was just so beautiful,” said Sister Alice Ottapurackal, the school’s principal.
In addition to the bishop, there were 13 priests and four deacons taking part in the Mass.
“You should have seen the excitement in the faces of the children. I don’t think they ever saw so many priests,” Ottapurackal said.
In fact, there were so many that six-year-old student Kolbe Williams, said, “I couldn’t really count them.”
Eight-year-old Colton Courtade enjoyed the school’s celebration and the picnic afterward.
But he was especially pleased to be an altar boy.
“I was serving with them (the priests). It was an honor,” Courtade said.
Both children and adults alike said they are pleased with the new brick building, which was designed to architecturally match the existing brick building, constructed in 1922.
Some of the new building’s advantages are the larger classrooms, better lighting and improved technology, they said.
“It’s bright and cheerful,” said 8-year-old Catalina Espada. It has more space and is organized well, she added.
First-grade teacher Franchesca Blocher, is delighted with the new building.
“Oh my goodness, it’s awesome. This is my 17th year at Saint Anthony. It is a true blessing to have this new classroom, this new building.
“The children are so excited to be in the classroom. They love coming in every day. I love coming in every day,” said Blocher, who commutes from Land O’ Lakes to teach at Saint Anthony School.
“Having all of the classes together in the same building, it really is very nice. We can travel through the building and see the older children and they can be an example for my students,” Blocher said.
Katie Kenny, 6, said she’s new to the school this year and is really enjoying the experience.
She said she likes her new friends, her teacher, and the new building, too.
Like many of the younger children, 6-year-old Ryan Potthast is impressed by the lockers that sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders have in the new building.
Potthast also thinks it’s cool that the school has an elevator.
Parents are also impressed.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Mary Kay Connor, whose daughter, Meg, is in second grade.
Connor has been associated with Saint Anthony School for 16 years. Her daughters Katie, Anne Marie and Claire already went through their elementary school years there.
The new building allows the school to increase the size of its enrollment from a maximum of 225 to a maximum of 270, Ottapurackal said.
“We still have only one class per grade,” she said, but the larger classrooms can accommodate more students.
It also features a new science lab, Ottapurackal said.
The school serves kindergarten through eighth grade. It doesn’t have early childhood because another Diocesan school nearby offers that, the principal added.
She also noted that the St. Petersburg Diocese’s Forward in Faith Capital Campaign made it possible to build the new building.
Next on the agenda is remodeling of the old building, Ottapurackal said.
The library is now sharing space with the Spanish class, but it will be moved to the old building once that is remodeled.
Once that project is done, the cafeteria, library, computer lab, Spanish, music and art will be in the old building, the principal said.
The old building is being used for art and lunch now, but once the renovation begins, the parish center will be used for art and lunch.
The dedication festivities drew hundreds of people, including former graduates of a school that has served generations of families since its inception in 1883.
It’s a community that takes tremendous pride in the school and is always willing to help, Ottapurackal said.
In fact, on moving day which was held Jan. 6 over the Christmas break, volunteers — including students — stepped forward to help.
“It’s just amazing,” she said.
The school didn’t even have to hire a crew.
“That’s the beauty of this community,” Ottapurackal said. Besides providing free labor, they even brought equipment and boxes to use in the move.
“Even the children were carrying their books,” she said.
She smiled broadly, as she described the day of the school’s dedication.
“We had Mass, then a dedication ceremony outside the building, then right after that an open house and then a reception back in the parish center. Our children had a picnic in the park.
“It was just a beautiful day,” she said.
Even the weather cooperated, Ottapurackal said.
“We didn’t have rain until everything was over.”
Published February 18, 2015