In honor of the 25th Anniversary of St. Thomas School, Mr. Richard Bergeron has compiled this history of the founding of our school.
St. Ignatius High School closed its doors in 1969, with much sadness and regret on the part of the parishioners of Sanford/Springvale. In those early years of the 1970's, the Catholic grade schools were in the almost impossible situation of trying to survive on their own. At Notre Dame, with grades K - 8, some grades had been combined. To make things more difficult, two of the three Sisters of the Presentation of Mary teaching at the school had announced their intentions to leave their order. They had offered to stay on as lay teachers with higher salaries.
The Ursuline Sisters who had been staffing both St. Ignatius and Holy Family schools announced that they could no longer staff both schools, but did not want to be in the position of choosing one parish over another. It was at this point that the bishop suggested a consolidation of the three schools. This had to be a decision of the individual parish councils.
After much discussion, each council chose to consolidate the elementary schools. This decision was not reached until early April of 1972. That meant that there was less than five months to get a new school ready and opened for the fall. Both the Ursuline sisters and the Presentation of Mary sisters agreed to help staff the school. Sr. Therese Berbue who was the principal at Holy Family was designated to be the principal of this new school.
A new school board was established with the three pastors: Fr. Palardy, Fr. Patenaude, and Fr. St. Armand. One lay person was chosen from each parish to serve on the board. Roland Dubois served from St. Ignatius, Glen Clarke from Holy Family and Richard Bergeron from Notre Dame.
The first meeting of the new board took place on April 14, 1972 at Notre Dame. There were many decisions to be made including where the school would be housed. Holy Family School was chosen. There was to be no tuition that first year, only a book fee of $15.00. Due to the enormity of the task at hand, it was voted to enlarge the board from 6 to 9 members. Jean Tranchemontagne was appointed from St. Ignatius, Donald Jacques from Holy Family and Patrick Demers from Notre Dame.
The second meeting of the board was held on April 27. Fr. Palardy suggested the name St. Thomas in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas the patron saint of scholars. Making all of the decisions about funding, enrollment, staffing, equipment and all of the other aspects of opening a new school was an arduous task for the board. As with any new project, it was difficult to accept changes and plan for the future. This was a time of great stress and frustration as the struggle continued to preserve Catholic education for the children of Sanford/Springvale.
The lay people of the board were so committed to the school, that when $30,000.00 was needed for equipment especially for the cafeteria and other supplies, they used their own collateral in signing a loan. Each of the members signed a promissory note for $5000.00. Talk about faith! These men all had families and business concerns, but was so convinced of the importance of the school they took a big risk. Needless to say, the loan was paid off with no problem.
A major issue arose around the distribution of funding by the parishes of the school. A formula was reached and on September 6, 1972 St. Thomas School opened with a total enrollment of 395 students. There were 6 religious teachers on staff and 6 lay teachers. The average class size was 33 students.
As with any new venture, speculation arose as to how long the school would remain open. There was the question of staffing, since there were fewer vocations, there was a need for more lay teachers. There were also those who felt that the time for Catholic education had passed. Another issue was the task of creating a sense of ownership of the school and collaboration between three pastors and parishes. Many felt that the school would remain open only a few years and then close.
It's 38 years later and St. Thomas School is still open and providing a quality Catholic education. This is due to the generosity, prayers and donations of our parishioners, families and many benefactors. It would be impossible to tally the hours, time, treasure and talents that so many folks have contributed over the fast twenty-five years to our school.
As we look toward Vision 2000, St. Thomas is a model of cooperation and collaboration between parishes. Our school has served as a model for other schools considering consolidation. St. Thomas was the first elementary school in the Diocese of Portland to consolidate.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those who founded the school, served on its various boards and had the vision and courage to follow their convictions in ensuring the continuance of Catholic education for generations to come in Sanford/Springvale.