NORTH MYRTLE BEACH—Holy Trinity School, which is in its inaugural year, found out pretty quickly what it means to be a family-oriented parish school.
Collette Ott, principal, said even though they are in the country, about 10 miles from anything else, volunteers come out every day to help. Some are certified teachers who lead extracurricular classes, others make meals for the faculty each week, provide tutoring, handle lunchroom duty, or just spend time with the children.
The priests and parishioners from Our Lady Star of the Sea Church have also become a big part of school life.
“Every day a priest or a deacon is out here, and it’s so refreshing to the children who get to know them,” Ott said.
They took on an even bigger role at the school when Sister Anna Marie had to return to her motherhouse, and Holy Trinity was suddenly without a religion teacher.
Father Robert Higgins, administrator of Our Lady Star of the Sea, Father Jacob P. Joseph, parochial vicar, and Deacon Peter Casamento took over the classes.
“How many schools do you know of where two priests and a deacon teach religion?” Father Higgins asked. “These kids are going to know their stuff whether they like it or not,” he added with a laugh. “And maybe we’ll get a couple of priests out of it too.”
The priests also celebrate weekly Mass, and Ott praised them for their wonderful, gentle services.
The school has 22 students in pre-kindergarten through third grade, and Ott said most of them are either 4 or 5 years old. She said they had to acclimate the youngest children to sitting in class before they could even begin holding Mass.
Father Higgins called them very lively liturgies. He said it can be a challenge, but the goal each time is to teach reverence, respect and decorum while keeping the service alive and having it speak to the students.
Ott said the priests and deacon visit the school for other reasons, too, such as birthday parties.
“Father Bob has cake radar,” she joked.
Despite their small student body and faculty, Holy Trinity operates like any other school, with Spanish class, book fairs, a butterfly garden, and field trips.
Ott said all the children love Spanish. When they learned the names of animals, the teacher, Rachel McDonald, made it fun and interactive by painting the students’ faces to resemble different creatures.
She said they have also enjoyed being part of such an active parish, which includes the school in all its activities, and vice versa. The Home and School Association works closely with the church on fundraisers and building school and community spirit. She said their next big venture is the Family Fun Run on April 24.
Recently, about 190 people went to a production of “Tiny Tim” to support third-grader Alijah McDonald, who had the lead. Father Higgins then treated everyone from the school to dinner.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie because we’re so small,” Ott said.
Father Higgins noted that the church has 2,600 families and said about 95 percent of them are senior citizens. He said the children and older parishioners have really bonded and become like a surrogate family to each other.
Next year, they are looking forward to adding the fourth grade, and may even have some fifth-grade students, Ott said.
The diocese is also actively pursuing the return of religious sisters to the school. Father Higgins said they are in contact with the Nashville Dominicans, who already have sisters at St. Mary in Greenville and St. Francis by the Sea in Hilton Head. The order would send at least three sisters to serve schools in the Pee Dee.
Holy Trinity’s complex, which sits along the Waccamaw River, was formerly the home of Livingstone Baptist Church and Faith Christian Academy.
The diocese, under Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, purchased the property in November 2008.
Father Higgins said that decision turned out to be a real God-send, because without it, Our Lady Star of the Sea would have been without a home while their hall was under construction.
He said they would have been forced to go on hiatus or rent a building. The new hall will be completed by Easter.