Mary Simas describes herself as a “lifelong St. Paul’s person.” As someone who attended its school, goes to the church and now works on the planning committee for the school’s …
Mary Simas describes herself as a “lifelong St. Paul’s person.” As someone who attended its school, goes to the church and now works on the planning committee for the school’s 100th year anniversary celebration, Mary and her husband, Paul, have watched the parish and school’s development over multiple decades.
“My parents went there, his [Paul’s] brothers and sisters went there, my brothers and sisters went there and a lot of our nieces and nephews have gone there, so it’s multi-generational, and we want to keep it [the school] alive,” said Mary.
St. Paul School, located on Broad Street, was the first Catholic school established in Cranston. Its church was dedicated in 1907 with the school coming about 15 years later. In the original layout, the church and rectory were between today’s school and the new, larger church. In 1951, a third floor was added to the school to accommodate an increase in students. At one point, the school included ninth grade, however, today it is pre-k to grade eight.
The 25-person planning committee has created numerous events spread throughout the year to celebrate the anniversary. The hope is to bring alumni and parishioners together to celebrate the anniversary and acknowledge the role the school played in the community over the past 100 years. This year they’ve held a special mass with Bishop Thomas Tobin in September, heard from renowned Catholic speaker Dr. Peter Kreeft in October and held a religious book sale in November. Looking ahead, the committee will hold a luminaria in March and a 100th year anniversary gala next September.
Principal Cindy Richard said the school hopes to have 1,000 people at the gala. This culminating celebration on Sept. 15 will be held at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet and include gifts baskets and a silent auction for guests – two of the auction items will be Maxwell Mays prints of St. Paul School.
Funding raised from the celebration will go toward supporting the school and ongoing maintenance. Paul said the school completed a number of updates to make it competitive with other institutions. The school recently upgraded its electronic media by wiring every room for Smart Boards and making tablets available to students through a new network. St. Paul School also has a new phone system, changed its lighting and upgraded the heating systems.
“We’re trying to keep this school where it’s relevant today and relevant going forward,” said Paul. “An old building is only as good as what you bring into it to teach in today’s standards.”
One of the planning committee’s tasks is building its alumni base. Some of the former students’ addresses go back 50 years and are outdated. Since the school hopes to have as many alumni as possible at the gala, committee members are trying to locate these individuals. Mary added that the school doesn’t have the married names of many the graduates. She said anyone who would like to update their current name and address can email firstname.lastname@example.org or herself at email@example.com.
Since hearing about the 100th anniversary, individuals have shared memorabilia with the school as well as snippets of what they remember from their time there. Cindy received the September 1986 Catholic Digest edition with an article featuring St. Paul School. Additionally, one individual sent Mary a list of all sisters who taught at the school during the 1940s and 1950s.
As past students themselves, Mary and Paul shared how the school has changed over the years. Mary came from a family of 12 kids and began first grade at St. Paul School; she graduated from eighth grade in 1968. In those days, there were two classes of each grade – sometimes with roughly 40 students in one class.
“One of the things about being brought up in a Catholic school was it wasn’t just about the education,” Paul, who came from a family of 10 kids, said. “It was behavior; it was about respect for others.”
He chuckled when talking about the nuns keeping them in line.
“It was discipline, but it was structured discipline in a sense there were expectations,” Paul said.
Paul believes parents send their kids to places like St. Paul School because they are looking for that type of structure and discipline. After graduating from St. Paul School in 1968, Mary attended St. Xavier. When Paul graduated two years later, he went on to Hendricken High School.
Just like all schools have had its trials, St. Paul’s School is no different. In more recent history, Paul shared that in 2009 there was a time where there were plans to merge St. Paul School with St. Matthews. At one point, it was decided that St. Paul School would close, however, the church made the argument to the Diocese that St. Paul School was up to date on its fire code requirements and St. Matthews would have to do some expensive upgrades. At the time, the Diocese wasn’t loaning money for updates. This code requirement made it so St. Paul School remained open and St. Matthews closed.
Mary and Paul are looking forward to seeing people they haven’t seen in years and celebrating where we came from and where they are going. Cindy reflected that those who started the school 100 years ago would be happy to see school is still alive.
Father Thomas Woodhouse, the pastor at St. Paul Church, is hoping the gala will help many of alumni reconnect to the school, the parish and each other, especially after dealing with the isolation brought on by Covid.
Woodhouse said he is blessed to be the pastor of St. Paul parish and school during this celebration.
“Although I did not grow up in Edgewood, (or in Rhode Island), I am impressed that our school has been a fixture in this village for such a long time, and I pray that our efforts will enable St. Paul’s School to be around for another 100 years,” said Woodhouse.
Moving forward, Cindy said the school’s number one priority is adding to technology curriculum, supporting the building’s ongoing maintenance needs and enhancing the school’s curriculum. Cindy noted that one special component of the school is the strong sense of community and faith. She said parents want a safe environment where their children will be known on an individual basis; today the school has 145 students. She said the school has a strong early learning foundation ages three through second grade. While they do struggle with their middle school program due to large offerings by competing schools, the school is working on partnering with St. Raphael’s Academy to enhance its middle school programs.
Cindy said she’s had people approach her and tell her their experiences about being a St. Paul’s student. There was one young man who said hi and told her how St. Paul’s prepared him for La Salle Academy in Providence. She added that teachers who have graduated from the school come back to guide the next generation of learners. Cindy said the teachers go above and beyond and will stay after to tutor students if they need assistance.
Mary added that alumni have always come through for the school – such as when the school needed a kindergarten and a 1937 alum made a major donation for the kindergarten to take place.
The planning committee is also looking to recruit the younger generation of individuals to develop who will take this over in the future. Paul said the large church was dedicated in 1929 during the Great Depression.
“If you look at the commitment these people made back in that day, all we have to do is manage what they left for us,” Paul said.
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