School library blessing highlights a decade of success


COLUMBIA — More than 10 years ago two educators made a promise that one day the library would be the focal point of their once struggling Catholic school, today a Blue Ribbon winner. Because those two women were Margaret Adams, Ph.D., principal of St. John Neumann in Columbia, and the school’s librarian, Kay Steck, their new library is not only the focal point of the school today, but also a source of pride.

But this state-of-the-art library and computer center would not have been possible without the help of the entire St. John Neumann community. Beginning with the generosity of Richard Anton, who upon his death left the church $375,000; Father Fredrick Masad, pastor of St. John Neumann, was able to pay off an existing debt to take on a new one for building a 5,400-square-foot addition to the school. The new space includes the library, computer lab, classroom and hall. Many others  parents, grandparents, parishioners and friends in the community  also contributed their special skills to the project, which was completed this September.

For example, longtime school supporter Nancy Allen, who was the first art teacher at St. John’s, painted murals throughout the library. Other artists were Nancy Vandiver and Kathy Duncan, who had parent volunteers assist them in completing their illustrations. A beautiful sculpture of Mother Teresa, donated by the Cooke family, adorns a shelf of books in the young children’s reading section.

Steck and Karen Zimmerman, who job-share as librarian, used their master’s degrees in library and information science to design the library space to ensure that multiple activities could occur in the library without disruptions. Children gather every morning to hear stories read by teachers while others can work on research projects or check out books.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important parent involvement has been for us,” said Steck, who credits parents with painting, entering data for the library’s automated system and for donating books.

“We started with 4,000 very old volumes of books, and now we have approximately 12,000 new volumes,” she continued, explaining that initiatives like the “Birthday Book Program” have helped fill the shelves. In this program, parents donate a book to the library for the child’s birthday. A nameplate is placed in the book in honor of the student and he or she is first to check the book out of the library. To assist with the opening of the library, the school also sponsored a one time only “gold” and “silver” name plate for donors who contributed a certain amount of money toward books.

As for the computer lab, Laura Mackey, the technology coordinator and school’s computer teacher, set up and networked the entire lab with the help of her two children, David, 14, and Amanda, 13, who were once students at St. John Neumann. Mackey, a self-taught computer troubleshooter, has worked hard to assist in the blending of computers in all facets of education. On the brightly colored monitors in the new lab, she currently had third-graders creating computer-generated Jesse trees and second-graders conducting an Advent word search.

“Our next goal is to purchase ‘New Frontier,’ a curriculum from the Catholic Teacher Magazine that focuses on the integration of computers with the entire school curriculum,” Mackey said, something she and the faculty have been trying to accomplish on their own.

The architect and builders also deserve thanks for their efforts. The architect, Robert Simkins, a parishioner of the church, donated an overwhelming amount of his time. The builder supervisor, Ed Brennen and Puzzuti Construction, also were especially cooperative and sensitive to the needs of the school, according to Steck.

On Dec. 4 the diocese joined the St. John Neumann family in celebrating the completion of the library/computer lab wing with Bishop Robert J. Baker and Gary Gelo, superintendent of schools for the diocese.

“I am especially grateful to Bishop Baker for coming to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving and blessing the new library and computer lab,” said Father Masad, who was also appreciative of the assistance of Father Tim Lijewski, master of ceremonies for the event.

During the Mass, Bishop Baker reminded everyone to thank God for the good things that happen in their lives. “We gather today to thank God for some good people, especially the Anton family, who donated their deep faith and generosity to the church,” said the bishop. He then asked the students, “What has God done for you?” Some of the responses were “He made me,” “I don’t get colds often,” and “He gave me talents.”

Bishop Baker, touched by the sharing of those talents during Mass by the singing, reading and participation, asked the students to write their own Magnificant that he said he would use for his meditation during the season of Advent.

After Mass, the bishop, assisted by Father Lijewski and Father Masad, blessed the new spaces while the entire school and guests gathered in the library. A reception followed the blessing ceremony.

No one could be more pleased than Adams with the completion of the new addition. When asked the secret of her success in “rallying the troops” to donate time, talent and treasure, she pointed to three things. The first is the Friday morning prayer service she has with parents. It provides an opportunity to share prayer intentions. She also believes that showing contributors in a concrete way where their money is going makes them more willing to help. The final action for success, according to Adams, is giving to others. Each year, St. John Neumann assists struggling Catholic schools in the diocese by purchasing books and other necessary supplies.

“When I first arrived more than 10 years ago, I knew God meant for the school to be here and to be a success. This is why he has blessed us with so much,” she said, as her mind already races to new ideas such as eventually turning the new classroom into a small chapel since a church is not on the premises.