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St. Bernard School credits prayer

Lisa Dempsey had a simple goal for enrollment this fall at St. Bernard School in Omaha: 16 new students.

She wasn’t worrying about matching attrition from graduation or people moving away. Just 16 new faces, about 10 percent of the school’s enrollment at the time.

In September last year, shortly after taking the job of school marketing and recruitment director, she shared her goal with Father Walter Nolte, pastor of St. Bernard Parish.

And she heard a simple response.

"He said, ‘That sounds fine. But we’re going to pray for 50.’"

Pray they did, with Father Nolte petitioning the Virgin Mary for her intervention and encouraging prayers in pulpit and bulletin announcements at Masses, at staff and school board meetings. Dempsey reminded parents at athletic committee and home and school association meetings, and students and teachers were encouraged to pray.

And St. Bernard School is starting this school year with 49 new faces. Accounting for attrition, that is a net 15 new students, for a student body of 181.

"It’s a testament to our faith and the persistence of prayer," said Dempsey, a member of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha. "We felt it was divine intervention."

Not to say Dempsey and others at the school didn’t work hard.

They advertised Welcome Tuition Grants of $1,000 the first year and $500 the following year for newcomers to grades kindergarten through eighth – and attracted 10 new students and their families. They held open houses at creative, convenient times for parents, including noon every Tuesday from April to mid-May. They used Facebook and other social media, trained parents to be school ambassadors and now are sporting a new catch phrase: "The future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades."

"There’s no silver bullet," Dempsey said of attracting new families to the school. "It’s working what we know."

And adding a little prayer.

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