Omaha school marks 25 years; dedicated people fuel success

As St. Vincent de Paul School begins its 25th year providing a Catholic education, people familiar with the west Omaha school can look back on many blessings, including dedicated teachers and staff, supportive parents and parishioners, and hardworking students.

Those same blessings continue to make the school successful, said Principal Barbara Marchese.

"What we do every day happens because we all partner together to ensure that our students do well spiritually, academically, socially and in service to others," she said.

Lois Nigrin, a first-grade teacher who has taught at St. Vincent de Paul since the day it opened, said the smile on a child’s face and the chance to touch a life and be a vessel for God keep her at the school.

"In this fast-paced world, so many things change and you cannot possibly teach a child everything they need to know," Nigrin said. "But I feel that if they leave my classroom and have a personal relationship with God, they will be ready for what the world hands them."

The school is celebrating the quarter-century mark one year after St. Vincent de Paul Parish did the same. Both have grown over the years, with the school now at 877 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, making it the largest Catholic elementary school in the archdiocese. Five years ago, the school opened a junior high wing and a preschool that now serves more than 100 preschoolers, Marchese said.

Even while celebrating, students, teachers, staff and administrators are using the opportunity to give back in special ways with gratitude for all the support, love and care they’ve received.

For example, students in each homeroom class are deciding how they can show kindness – in 25 different ways. They’re also collecting loose change, which eventually will be distributed to St. Vincent de Paul’s sister school in Guatemala, a local charity and a fund for a new St. Vincent de Paul Parish Center, Marchese said.

Students plan to write letters of congratulation to priests, religious brothers and sisters and businesses celebrating 25-year anniversaries, and hand out thank-you cards to parishioners after Sunday Masses during Catholic Schools Week in January.

And the new parish center, set to open sometime next year, will emphasize outreach to the community with a food pantry and other efforts, and provide a place for students to support those efforts through volunteering. The center will offer students opportunities to take their generosity to a new level, Marchese said.

"My goal is to help form disciples of Jesus who love their faith and find ways to be of service and support to others," Marchese said. "I believe that our kids are prepared for high school academically and will assimilate easily. I am very grateful for the teachers for all they do to make this happen."

Eric Kaps, an eighth-grader, said he also appreciates the teachers, in part because they are willing to help students inside and outside of the classroom. And the school has helped him become a more responsible, faith-filled person and student, he said.

"I have gained the confidence to not be afraid to try new things," Kaps said. "My faith experiences have allowed me to grow in my faith."

Marchese said she hopes students learn to believe in themselves and what they can accomplish.

"Not everyone has to be a straight-A student," she said, "but I do want them to be self-starters, kind and considerate contributors, and compassionate to others."

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