SOUTHINGTON – When St. Mary-St. Michael School in Derby faced closing in 2010 because of dwindling finances and enrollment, a group of parents, led by Arthur Gerckens, stepped up.
They created a strategic plan, implemented a number of fund-raising initiatives and successfully took the school from nearly closing its doors with 65 students to becoming a viable Catholic school again with 144 students today.
For his efforts to show what can happen when people who believe in Catholic education volunteer their talents, the Office of Catholic Schools (OCS) of the Archdiocese of Hartford gave Mr. Gerckens the 2013 St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award.
The occasion was the 36th annual HOPES (Help Our Parish Elementary Schools) Dinner, held Sept. 22 at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville to honor volunteers who offer their time and talent on behalf of their parish elementary schools.
Also honored were 103 volunteers from 47 Catholic elementary schools, each of whom was presented with the St. John Neumann Award for supporting their schools in a number of ways with their time and talents.
“These are the people who carry the benefits of Catholic education in their hearts at all times,” said Anne T. Clubb, director of enrollment management and marketing for OCS, who coordinated and moderated the event.
Offering the invocation for the celebration, Archbishop Henry J. Mansell expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the volunteers. “We’re here tonight to celebrate the great success of Catholic schools,” he said.
He noted that among the reasons for the success of Catholic schools is their family-like environment.
Attendees also gave a standing ovation to a performance by the combined Catholic Schools Choir of Greater Waterbury under the direction of Joan Tortora.
Accepting his award, Mr. Gerckens, a 1976 graduate of St. Mary, said, “It’s a tremendous honor. It’s been a lot of hard work. But I want to stress that there was a team of people who kept the school viable. When you have a group of people with a common goal, great things can happen.”
Mr. Gerckens said that because of his involvement with the school and the awareness the campaign raised in the community, he went on to be elected to the Derby Board of Aldermen.
He and his wife Patsy have twin daughters, Ashley and Brittany, who graduated from St. Mary-St. Michael School. Both now are freshmen at Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden.
Presenting the awards to recipients were Archbishop Mansell; Dale R. Hoyt, superintendent of Catholic Schools; and Maria Maynard, deputy superintendent.
For the last 36 years, the OCS has organized a HOPES collection at all parishes in September to support the Catholic elementary schools in the archdiocese. It helps to fund grants to elementary schools and supports OCS marketing efforts.
The dinner is held the same weekend as the collection.