A celebration of Catholic education in the Grand Valley

By Ginny Revel
2016 marked the centenary of Catholic education in the Grand Valley on the Western Slope. The “odyssey of bricks and mortar,” as Father James Plough characterized the journey, began with St. Joseph’s parish school.

This three-story stone building, erected in Grand Junction in 1914, opened in 1916 with two furnished classrooms. Sisters Mary Agatha and Mary John of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kan. (the same religious order that staffed the local St. Mary’s Hospital) were the first teachers.

St. Joseph opened another school campus in 1951, and provided Catholic education through 1974. Somewhat concurrently, Immaculate Heart of Mary parish had a school at the “old” location of 7th St. and Bookcliff Avenue from 1962 to 1974. In 1974 St. Joseph and IHM consolidated their schools to form Holy Family Catholic School.

Immaculate Heart of Mary parish had subsequently moved to a newly built church “up the hill” on land donated by the Saccamano family. In 2003 Holy Family Catholic School opened on that same campus, accepting students from all the valley parishes and continuing to the present day.
Together, the St. Joseph parish schools, the IHM parish school and the Holy Family Catholic School have provided 100 years of quality Catholic education in the Grand Valley.

Why Catholic education?

Father James Plough, retired pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Grand Junction, recently published the fourth volume of his collected homilies, “Plough Shares.” One of the introductions contained therein, entitled “Holy Family Catholic School Today” and written by principal, Jake Aubert, details the mission of both the school and Catholic education in general.

Aubert writes, “The purpose of Holy Family Catholic School (HFCS) and Catholic education is student formation and the nurturing of souls. Holy Family’s focus is developing an environment where students learn to encounter Christ as part of their daily life.”
One of the Holy Family teachers, Chris Goldworthy, believes that because the school and curriculum are God-centered, the students are given a solid moral and ethical foundation as they prepare for the transition to high school and beyond. “A strong Catholic education will help them make appropriate decisions for their life goals and achievements later in life,” he stated. Principal Aubert is convinced that the efforts of the entire Holy Family educational community work together, not only to provide quality learning for the students, but also to cultivate them into complete citizens, ready to become productive members of society.

One goal of the teachers and staff is to guide the children in developing a Catholic identity, marked by an internal social conscience modeled on the virtues of love of God, neighbor and respect for all. Perhaps this is best summed up in Aubert’s advice to the students: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” He is convinced that a true moral compass is one “gift” Catholic education provides its students. Not to forget the importance of sharing and spreading the Catholic faith, Father Plough feels Holy Family and Catholic education provide a special opportunity for the students to be missionaries of the Gospel. In the Holy Family promotional DVD, “Century – A Celebration of Catholic Education,” he draws a parallel between the values espoused by Pope Francis – mercy, compassion, justice – and those same values being the hallmarks of Catholic education.
The students especially recognize this responsibility. One student commented, “The teachers lead by example, constantly referring to the Gospel…always (being) kind and considerate, and always teaching us how to act.” Likewise, another remarked, “We are able to learn about God at school. This helps us spread the word of God.”

Yolanda Bellgardt, a Holy Family parent, shared her view of the importance of Catholic education. “Holy Family Catholic School is an extension of our family….. (and) my girls are in a school environment where their faith is incorporated daily in their education – a Catholic education…(which) challenges and inspires them to always do their best, promotes self-discipline and reinforces respect and love for everyone.” Holy Family Catholic School continues the long tradition of excellence in Catholic education by giving Grand Valley students a strong and varied educational background and helping them to realize that God is beautiful and is the center of everything.

Principal Jake Aubert, however, is already setting his sights beyond the current centenary celebration. As he remarked, “It’s fun to reflect on the history and achievements of HFCS but I’m even more excited to look toward the next 100 years and the possibilities that Catholic education will open up for those students and their community life.”

Copies of “Plough Shares – Volume IV” are available by contacting Holy Family Catholic. The cost is $10 per copy which benefits Holy Family Catholic School.