The power of prayer and the push for extra fundraising has prevailed for a longtime Mesa Catholic school that no longer is on the brink of closing.
Queen of Peace Catholic School, 109 N. Macdonald, which needed to raise $250,000 by March 15 to stay open for the next school year, had raised $230,000 as of Tuesday morning and will remain open. Although another $150,000 is needed for the 2013-14 school year, church leaders are confident those funds also will be raised, according to the Rev. Charlie Goraieb and Sister Dorothy Zeller, principal of the school.
Last month, Goraieb told school officials that due to economic conditions, the parish no longer would be able to fund the school and that funds were needed in time to renew teachers’ contracts for the 2011-12 school year.
School officials received word on Thursday Queen of Peace would remain open after receiving a $100,000 donation from John and Dorothy Shea, owners of Shea Homes, and large contributions from the Diocese of Phoenix and another local parish. Donations ranging from anywhere of $5 or more also added up, and Goraieb announced the good news in church on Sunday.
“Thank God,” said Mary Ann Martinez, a secretary at the school, who was the first of three generations to attend Queen of Peace. “God is rooting for us. He’s one of our cheerleaders.”
Goraieb said, “Without these funds to buy time, we would’ve had to close. We’re grateful to those who got the word out about our situation and to everyone who made contributions. Now, we’ll be able to stay open next year, and with the momentum we have going now, we are confident we’ll be able to stay open the year after next and believe we’ll be self-sustaining after that. We have a long history. The school has been a very important part of our parish and community.”
The remaining $20,000 for the school to stay open for next year is needed before June 2012 and another $150,000 by June 2013, according information from Queen of Peace.
A classroom renovation project is on track to be completed for next year to place the school in the Antonio Perri Center, but a $5 million project for the construction of new school buildings is on hold.
The school, which has 155 students in pre-K through eighth grade, 10 full-time teachers and a part-time librarian and a gym teacher, is independent of the diocese and has been facing declining enrollment for the last several years. Last year there were 178 students enrolled at Queen of Peace, down from 200 three years ago.
Queen of Peace’s roots as a church go back to 1912, when the Franciscan brothers started Sacred Heart, a mission church on Country Club Drive south of Main Street. Queen of Peace School opened in 1940. The church now serves 2,600 families.
“This school means a lot to a lot of people and parents,” Zeller said. “It means seventh-graders who thought their school was going to close will get to graduate next year.”
Goraieb and Zeller made the announcement of the school remaining open amid the sounds of students screaming and laughing on the playground.
“This is my home away from home,” seventh-grader Dominic Moreno said of the school. Moreno, 12, who plays basketball and football for Queen of Peace, has been attending the school since kindergarten. “There’s a lot of memories here. I didn’t want to see the school close.”
Jackie Winston, also a seventh-grader, said, “Because it’s a small school, it’s very welcoming. I have a lot of friends here.”
Tuition at Queen of Peace is $4,000 per year, with discounted rates for second and third students from the same family. Annual operating costs for the school are $850,000 per year, Goraieb said.
To help make up for any shortfalls in the future, school officials will campaign for increased enrollment and the school community will expand fundraising efforts, Zeller said.
Queen of Peace will hold its annual dinner and silent auction at 6 p.m. on March 19 in the hall on the church campus.
Alex Villalobos, 18, a member of Queen of Peace Church who graduated from the school and now is a film production student at Mesa Community College, recently completed a video about the importance of the school and posted it on YouTube.
“Thank you to everyone,” Villalobos said. “It was God and the community that helped us stay open, and that’s what we needed.”
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