Private school to move into rectory

By  Samantha Hermack, Youth Speak News
  • October 20, 2008
{mosimage}SAINT JOHN, N.B. - After five successful years, Divine Mercy Catholic School in Saint John is getting ready to move its small family of 80 students into a much-needed larger home in the renovated rectory of St. Peter’s Church.

In 2000, a group of Catholic families decided to form a faith-based private school for their children. There was not a single private Catholic school in all of New Brunswick at the time, and even now Divine Mercy is only one of two in the province.
Judy Burnham, the school’s principal and one of the founding members, said the parents felt they could “do the same things as the other private schools, but with Catholic teachings.”

“We had Bishop Faber MacDonald’s full support, which made our job a lot easier,” Burnham said. “I had already been a teacher in a public school, as well as a home-schooling mom, and we only needed one more teacher to start with. Even though the pay is a lot less than what teachers receive at a public school, we didn’t have any problem finding somebody that was interested.”

So a prayer group was started, searching for ways to make this dream a reality. After three years of ardent prayers, things started falling into place. In 2003, 25 students and two teachers squeezed into two rooms in the basement of St. Peter’s Church.

“I used to tell the students that if God wanted the school to continue, He would find us a new home,” Burnham said.

Burnham taught the older grades while Myriam Ryan taught the younger ones. But every year the numbers grew and the school had to change location and add teachers to accommodate the new students. Currently Divine Mercy has four teachers and 80 students from Kindergarten to Grade 9, and in January will move into a larger and permanent home at St. Peter’s former rectory, which the diocese bought for the school.

Students at Divine Mercy must start off every morning with a half hour of prayer, during which students learn about the saints and church teachings. Burnham said it really brings students closer together.

 “The younger students see the older ones there, singing about God and praying, and know that God must be really cool,” Burnham said.

Catechism is also taught within the school, and much of the curriculum comes from Christian textbooks.

“Seton provides top-notch Catholic texts and workbooks, A Beka supplies us with high-level Christian material and many Canadian distributors add Canadian content to our curriculum,” she explained.

Despite its small size, Divine Mercy has had a huge effect on its students.

Gabrielle Burnham, the principal’s daughter, was a student there since its opening, but entered her first year of public high school in September. She finds the difference quite astounding. Not only is there the obvious size difference, but even the expectations from the students are different.

“In public school it’s like the teachers don’t expect you to do well, academically or behaviourally,” she said.

She finds that the bar was held much higher at Divine Mercy, where good behaviour and genuine effort is expected from the students. Another thing she misses is the closeness that a small school has between its students, and the great connections she had with the students not only of her own age, but from younger grades as well.

“When we went places, we would all look out for each other. The younger ones looked up to us, and we felt protective of them,” she said.

Once a month Divine Mercy students undertake mission projects, visiting veterans, elderly sisters or citizens of a local nursing home. As well as visiting, the students also make soup for the soup kitchen, help needy families around Christmas and raise money and pray for charities such as the pro-life ministries. Because of this strong environment of faith and charity, students often graduate with well-developed faiths, as well as being academically well prepared.

The cost of tuition for each student is $3,000 per year. The school raises other funds through its group of benefactors and through fund-raising events.

(Hermack, 16, is a homeschooled Grade 11 student in Grand-Bay Westfield, N.B.)

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