By MARK DROST
Special to The New Vision
After moving to Casa Grande in August of 1990, I was hired as the maintenance man for St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School and church while I was in college, and on my first day of work I was astonished at how run-down the school was. Having graduated from Loretto School in Douglas, Catholic education is very important to me, and I hated seeing the school in disrepair.
As I spent more time at the job, I learned the school, almost 40 years old then, had seen much better days. But in the late 1980’s, enrollment had fallen and in the Spring of 1990, the decision was made to close the school, except for Pre-School and Kindergarten.
There were a lot of hard feelings with parishioners. Some people felt the school should be open whether it was making money or not (and whether there were 240 children or 10). Others thought the school needed to financially stand on its own, without any help from the church.
I’ve seen the school change a lot over the last 21 years.
I remember the excitement and fear people expressed when the decision was made to re-open a first grade. I remember how excited everyone was the following year when the decision was made to open a 1st and 2nd grade combination class. I remember how a lot of volunteers came out to help put a new fence around the playground, install new coolers on the classrooms, paint the exterior of the building, run new electric lines, etc. I remember numerous teachers, parents and other volunteers having hundreds of fund-raisers over the last 21 years to try and help the financial stability of the school.
When I was asked to serve on the St. Anthony of Padua Foundation Board, I felt I was helping to ensure the future of St. Anthony’s for years to come. I was honored. I have been lucky enough to serve on the Board for 14 years now. The people on the Board are people who have, or had, children attend St. Anthony’s. They know the importance of a Catholic education, and the importance of faith.
Over the years, I have seen my fellow Board members give tirelessly to the school, and these people continue to show me how to live my life.
The main fundraiser for our school foundation is an annual dinner, and the dinners have been held for 16 years and helped us raise well over $300,000. Our first guest speaker was Bishop Manuel D. Moreno and over the years have included sisters, priests and alumni. This year we are privileged to have Father Chris Corbally, S.J., an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory at Mt. Graham, and this year’s entertainment will be provided by a St. Anthony’s graduate, Danny Vega, a student at Arizona State University who does stand-up comedy.
The dinner is also where the “Tony” awards are presented to people who have gone above-and-beyond to help St. Anthony’s over the years. The winners of this award are people who live their faith, and are people who everyone knows because they are so involved in the school and the parish. These are people that you want to model your life after.
A woman came up to me after last year’s event and summed up our dinner best: “This is not just an opportunity to celebrate St. Anthony’s School, or Catholic education, but it’s an opportunity to celebrate being Catholic!”
For me, the Foundation Board is my way of helping to ensure the school does not fall back to its status of 21 years ago. I have seen the school add modular buildings, computer labs, air-conditioning and other conveniences, but all of this means nothing if you have no student enrollment. Our Foundation exists to help ensure we continue to have student enrollment and good facilities for our students.
This year’s dinner will be held on Jan. 28 and if you would like to attend, please feel free to give me a call and I will make sure you obtain tickets. If you can’t attend, but would like to help our endowment or perhaps donate some auction items for the evening, please call the parish office at 520-836-0601 and leave a message for me. I’ll get back with you.
Mark Drost is president of the St. Anthony of Padua School Foundation Board. The school has classes kindergarten through eighth grade.