Twenty-five years ago, in August of 1993, the founders of St. Joseph’s Catholic School took a leap of faith and opened with only 13 students enrolled (all 9th graders) and a mere $800 in the bank. On Saturday, February 3rd, 2018, our school community threw a big party to celebrate 25 years of providing Catholic high school education in the Upstate. (Of course, SJCS added a middle school in 2003.)
Over 500 people attend the special Mass with Bishop Guglielmone, Father Newman, Fr. Duncan, and Fr. Andrew Fryml (Class 2008), who was a very inspiring homilist. 868 people RSVP’d for the party that followed in the gym and featured stirring remarks from Dr. Joby Moon, husband of founding board chair, Mrs. Margaret Ann Moon, and the bestowal of our first ever alumni Alumni Awards on Juliane Laskowski (Class of 2006), GP McLeer (Class of 2006), and Andrew Fryml (Class of 2008). Rod McClendon was the MC for an evening that included food trucks, a beer garden, and a line-up of bands all with ties to St. Joseph’s Catholic School. Lauren Gragtmans (Class of 2005) came all the way from New York city to perform. Brandon Blaso (Class of 2010) played the drums for Randamonium. And the front man of the headlining band, The Winter Sounds, Patrick Keenan, was in the first class at St. Joseph’s. I had fun showing Patrick the Red Door and taking his picture next to the brick with his name on it.
What began in a little house on Augusta Road has blossomed into a nationally recognized regional Catholic school located in the heart of Greenville County that now enrolls nearly 700 students in grades 6 through 12. Now in my 18th year as headmaster, I have had the honor of knowing and working with most of the women and men who have helped to make this school into the beacon of fine Catholic education that it is today. When I think of all the faces over the years, whether as trustees, volunteers, or teachers and coaches, who dedicated so much of their time, talent, treasure, and energy, it fills me with wonder, gratitude and humility at what a relatively small group of people can do when they believe in a common mission and are willing to sacrifice for it. It was a sheer delight to see so many of these men and women at the 25th Anniversary Mass and party. Looking out at all these faces that night, I was reminded of something I had just read by Fr. Spitzer about Heaven. “Jesus uses the image of the messianic banquet to convey the love and joy of the Kingdom of Heaven. (Heaven) will resemble a perfect banquet with all the foods we like, with all the people we would want to be with, and they will all be like family to us.” The 25th Anniversary Celebration felt like a little taste of this.
The founders of St. Joseph’s had a vision for establishing a school that would educate students who would make a difference by living lives of intelligent and creative service inspired by the love of God and love for others. As Mrs. Margaret Ann Moon liked to say: “Our graduates are destined to change the world.”
Throughout this 25th academic year, my thoughts have often been on our graduates. Are they living up to the hopes and expectations of our founders? With our oldest graduates still under 40 years old, it’s admittedly a little premature to tell what kind of lasting impact our graduates are going to have on Greenville, the state of South Carolina, and the country, let alone the world. Yet, as I talked to many of our graduates at their annual Christmas social and read through the nominations for the Alumni Awards, it’s evident to me that they are already on the right track to living up to the founders’ vision.
To this point, I have had unexpected encounters in recent months with graduates and heard stories about others who are already changing the world for the better. For example, I recently bumped into one graduate who told me that she is Greenville Middle School’s Teacher of the Year; another who is a theater teacher at Pickens High School; another who heads the Embrace Program at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic School; and countless others who are teaching at diocesan and public schools throughout the region, the state, and the country. Imagine their surprise, for example, when two St. Joseph’s graduates (members of the Classes of 2002 and 2011) discovered recently that they are teaching at the same Catholic school in Kentucky!
Then, there is the young lady who is watching her dream since middle school of building a home in the Upstate for unwed mothers finally come true. I am especially proud of the young man who as a college student donated his bone marrow to someone he didn’t know because he signed up with his college baseball teammates for the Be The Match program and discovered that his marrow was the perfect match. That same pride extends to the all-conference, senior captain football player at Carnegie Mellon who would tell you that one of his greatest joys in college has been getting to know Mikey, a young boy with a serious heart condition, through his involvement with Team Impact at The Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. A member of my senior staff told me earlier this year that she ran into a SJCS graduate at the GHS emergency room, where our graduate is working as a doctor. This young doctor is one of countless graduates who are or are in training to be doctors, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, and physical therapists. Then there are those who are using their considerable talents to enrich the arts locally, statewide, and nationally, including the Executive Director of the SC Arts Alliance and the associate producer of the Broadway production of Anastasia.
When it comes to impacting the business community, there are a whole host of young women and men who are beginning to make their mark on Greenville. For example, I bumped into one young man with his wife and two small children recently at a sporting event who told me that he is now the Chief Operating Officer of Tribe 513, and we talked about his classmate who is rapidly developing a successful local real estate company and their mutual friends who are working with him. A few days after that I was with a friend whose cancer research center recently joined forces with GHS. He told me how impressed he was with the SJCS graduate who was responsible for publicizing the new partnership.
Finally, there is the impact that our graduates are having on the Church. Countless graduates are teaching or have taught in parish religious education programs and helped lead their parish youth ministry programs. Our graduates have also been well-represented in Lucis Via, the state’s young adult ministry, as both leaders and participants. Then there are those men who have answered the call to the priesthood and religious life, including our most recent graduate to be ordained a priest of the Diocese of Charleston (Class of 2009), who is serving his first assignment which includes being the part-time Chaplain at Cardinal Newman School in Columbia. Two other SJCS graduates are currently in the seminary preparing for the diocesan priesthood, and Brother Augustine (formerly Phillip from the Class of 2009) is a Benedictine Monk in Norcia, Italy.
What pleases me most, however, is what I see every Sunday morning at Mass. From where I sit at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, everywhere I look I can see our graduates participating in Mass. They are there with their parents, their new spouses, and in some cases, they are juggling small children, such as the member of the Class of 2006, who often sits directly in front of me with her husband and three of the cutest young children you’ll ever see.
So, yes, when I think about our graduates, I do think they are beginning to fulfill our founders’ vision of changing the world for the better. A few of them are doing this in what we would consider extraordinary ways, but most are finding a way to change the world through doing ordinary things with great passion and love.
In closing, in this anniversary year, I’m also mindful of all the things that didn’t go right and the mistakes we made over the years. I personally wish I had a few do-overs in order to try to retain good teachers and staff who got away, and I’d like another chance at how I handled a few discipline situations. In thinking of these and other regrets and missed opportunities, I’m reminded of something else our founding board chair used to say to me often: “We’re not doing this, God is.” Literally, thank God! For if we were left up to our own devices, I’m certain that we’d have never made it to this milestone year. Thank you to all in the community who made these 25 years possible through your generous support. May you take satisfaction in the fact that St. Joseph’s Catholic School is changing the world for the better one graduate at a time.
Keith F. Kiser, Headmaster of St. Joseph’s Catholic School