Step dancers at St. Jarlath School provided entertainment before the dedication of the Oakland school's St. Francis of Assisi Garden of Learning. Also in attendance: a bus from the University of Notre Dame.
CHRISTINE SCHRECK/SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC VOICE
Celebrating a garden, and Catholic education
A dream of a garden has come to leafy life on what had been a long expanse of asphalt behind St. Jarlath School in Oakland, just beyond the shadow of Interstate 580 above it.
One May morning, that achievement was blessed and celebrated, with the help of one bishop; a soft-spoken widow; student dancers and drummers, poets and essayists; and one big blue and gold bus emblazoned with the name of every Catholic school in America.
Catholic education and the many friends that nurture it were the honorees of the day.
"God is awesome," Principal Rodney Pierre-Antoine said, welcoming students and guests to the playground.
Among the guests were representatives from the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education. Two of the teachers this year at St. Jarlath are part of the program, which assists schools with limited resources across the country by training teachers and principals. The principal is a graduate of the leadership program.
To celebrate its 20th year, last October ACE set out on a 50-city tour of dioceses it serves. Oakland, where ACE teachers also work at St. Elizabeth High, St. Elizabeth Elementary and St. Martin de Porres schools, has benefited from ACE teachers for the past three years.
Oakland was the 46th stop.
Sister Barbara Bray, SNJM, superintendent of the Oakland diocese, told the students that schools, like children, need friends. "The University of Notre Dame is our friend," she said. "They want to make sure schools like St. Jarlath's are going to be here now and for a very long time."
ACE, in turn, honored two organizations that assist students locally. Holy Cross Father Lou DelFra, who serves as director of spiritual life for ACE, presented a University of Notre Dame Champion for Education Award to the BASIC Fund, which provides scholarships for inner-city children in the Bay Area.
A University of Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools was presented to Family Aid-Catholic Education (FACE), which provides tuition assistance to low-income families in the Diocese of Oakland to attend Catholic schools. ACE honored the work of John and Bobbie Wilson and their family.
The garden, with its newly planted peppers and tomatoes, dwarf citrus and olive trees, was dedicated as The St. Francis of Assisi Garden of Learning in memory of James F. Howard.
Sandy Howard had read about St. Jarlath School and the principal's hope to add a garden to the site. She donated the funds for the project, which included collaboration with students on the garden design. Her husband was a graduate of St. Bernard School and St. Elizabeth High School.
"I know Jim would be truly delighted," she said as she toured the garden, in which clay plates, designed by the students, serve as stations of the cross.
Mrs. Howard, who was joined at the event by her sister-in-law, Mary Howard, said, "I just thought this was a nice elementary school he would like to support."
Before dedicating the garden, Bishop Barber said he wanted to remind the students of a few things: "Your mother and father love you very much. That's why they sent you to this school. Your teachers love you. That's why they get jobs at this school. These benefactors love you very much. That's why they've contributed to your education here. All the students who came on the bus from Notre Dame, and Father Lou, and all our special guests, they love and care for you very much," he said.
"Know how special you are in the sight of God."
At the conclusion of the blessings, Pierre-Antoine told the group, "Today is a happy day. God is awesome, all the time." Then he invited them all — students, guests, benefactors — to dance. And many did.
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