Back to School: St. Gregory School opens its doors

The Catholic Miscellany

In a country where Catholic schools are more apt to be closing than opening, the Lowcountry deanery is an anomaly.

In Bluffton, the brand new St. Gregory the Great elementary school opened its doors Aug. 21 to an expected crowd of 155 students from K-4 to fifth grade, with one class per grade level, said Sister Canice Adams, a sister of Sts. Cyril and Methodius and principal.

The school will add a grade each year up to the eighth grade, she said.

St. Gregory, along with St. Francis by the Sea on Hilton Head and St. Peter in Beaufort, makes three Catholic primary schools for the deanery. Sister Canice explained that financial feasibility studies recommend an area have three facilities to serve as feeders before a high school is constructed.

Now that they have the magical number, plans can move forward to build a high school, named after Pope John Paul II,  on land purchased by the Diocese of Charleston on Highway 170 in Beaufort County, close to the Beaufort-Jasper county line.

Sister Julia Hutchison, superintendent of schools for the diocese, said a timeline for construction of the high school has not been established, but the planning committee has the necessary seed money and is currently gathering financial data.

Meanwhile, St. Gregory swapped the sound of construction work for the laughter of children as their new students learned their way around the two-story building.

The first floor is devoted to the school, with classrooms, science and computer labs, a learning center, teachers’ workroom, guidance office and nurse/health room, Sister Canice said. The second floor will host parish offices.

She said the $5-million school could not have been built, and cannot operate on a day-to-day basis, without the support of the parish.

“The parish realizes this isn’t just a school, it’s a parish school,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without the parishioners.”

More than 400 volunteers — and this does not include parents — have offered to serve as librarians, classroom helpers, receptionists, nurses, substitute teachers and more.

Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, director of parish administration, said they had a goal of $48,000 a month in contributions to provide for capital needs.

“There’s been a lot of steady participation,” Sister Pamela  said. “We never lack for volunteers who save us all sorts of money.” 

In addition to the school volunteers, parishioners also have participated in the adopt-a-child program to help pay for tuition, uniforms and books, and have helped fund the library through “in memory of” donations.