At a time when many Catholic schools are shutting down or partnering with other parish schools, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Regional Grade School in Herrin has outgrown its old space and moved into a larger, state-of-the-art building.
The parish officially opened its new grade school Jan. 21, with the celebration of Mass and a blessing and dedication by Bishop Edward K. Braxton.
The building of the school, which houses 277 students, took five years from concept to completion.
Many parishioners credit their pastor, Msgr. Kenneth J. Schaefer, for their thriving parish.
Principal Stacy Faye Myatt called Msgr. Schaefer a “father figure” who is truly the glue that holds the parish together. “He is our rock. He is so welcoming to everyone. If he sees someone new in church he stops and talks to them and makes them feel welcome.”
“Father Ken is a wonder priest,” said longtime teacher Mary Edna Russell. “A lot of people are drawn to the parish because of him. He really makes our faith come alive.”
In a letter to parishioners, Msgr. Schaefer spoke of creating a space for the next five generations yet to be born and building on the five generations who have gone before. Said Msgr. Schaefer, “It is our faith in Jesus Christ, our hope in eternal life, and our generosity that motivates us to provide this space for our children. “
Msgr. Schaefer noted that the core reason for the Catholic school is to “create a place where faith in Jesus can be nurtured.” He said future generations will look back and admire their courage and vision, and see their commitment to their children as an act of love and devotion to the Gospel of Jesus.
“May we inspire future generations to be equally dedicated and committed to passing on the faith that we have received,” he said.
In his homily, Bishop Braxton called the opening of the new school a “divine adventure of discipleship.” Said the bishop: “All of this work by all of you is in response to the call of Christ to ‘come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’”
Added Bishop Braxton: “Everything about this new school is to continue the work of forming a true wisdom community, to be formed, informed and transformed in Jesus Christ.”
Students moved into the new school on Jan. 5. Students and faculty packed up their textbooks and paraded to the new school lead by fire trucks and the Herrin High School marching band.
For the first time in many years all the staff and students are under the same roof, from Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade.
Before the new school opened OLMC students were housed in three separate buildings, all of which had structural issues. The school also had to turn away students in the past because of a shortage of classroom space.
The new building boasts such features as indoor and outdoor collaborative learning areas, a safe shelter for storms, a learning resource center, a science lab, and a small chapel.
OLMC School History
The first school was built in 1912 for the children of our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish. School enrollment was 104 pupils in the three-room school.
The Sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ arrived to teach in 1914. In 1940, the present school was built with a library and cafeteria. In 1950, the gymnasium was built while Msgr. DeGasperi was pastor.
The first Kindergarten was started in 1973. In 1981, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School was fully accredited through the state. Over the years, computer labs were added, mobile classrooms moved onto campus, playground equipment was purchased.
Growth, recession, renova¬tions, new structures, lightning and wind damage have all been part of the history that has formed the school and parishioners.
In 2001, what is now Cabrini Hall, was purchased and seven more classrooms were added.
A Pre-Kindergarten was inaugurated in 2006, along with improvements to the gym and existing buildings.
The school’s centennial was celebrated in 2012. Shortly after the centennial, it became obvious that the 1940 structure was nearing its life expectancy. The building is not handicap accessible, and it is filled with asbestos products from the 1940s. It became evident that a new school was on the horizon.
January 21, 2018, is the culmination of five years of planning and work.