KAPAA — Bob Farias and Patrick Lizama have fond memories of St. Catherine School.
“It was good times,” Farias said. “Sometimes, we would ride our bicycles or horses to school.”
Farias, who graduated from eighth-grade in 1960, remembers when nuns were not only his teachers, but also served as pitchers on the baseball field during recess and helped students prepare for their ballroom dance class.
Students didn’t dare misbehave, Lizama said.
“If you got hit in the hand by a nun, you didn’t tell your parents,” he said. “They’d ask to see your hand and hit you again.”
Lizama, a 1956 St. Catherine School graduate, helped out in school maintenance and beautification projects.
“I lived on the corner, so I was always involved in the school,” he said. “I painted the whole school, and I learned how to fix and do things — I was up on the roof, patching it. And I helped build the cafeteria.”
Both were also chosen to ring the school bell, which was a respected position.
“It was an honor to ring the bell,” Lizama said. “There were all these kids in the school, and you were the one to ring the bell, so you were the bigwig.”
A lot has been added to the 11-acre campus since his days at the school, Farias said. “The preschool, kindergarten and rectory weren’t here when I was here.”
When it was first built, the school had two classroom halls and a front office.
Although the preschool and kindergarten building were built in the 1990s, it is still expanding. Recently, the school acquired a portable unit, which will become the front office.
Currently, the office is in the back of the campus. School officials want to move it to the front.
“We want to enhance safety and accessibility,” said Principal Celina Haigh.
There are 18 teachers and nine support staff employed at St. Catherine School.
What sets St. Catherine School apart from public schools is that is based on a foundation of faith, Haigh said.
“The way we do all that we do is a reflection of our faith,” she said. “Relationships are built on respect and compassion. We recognize God’s dignity in one another — teachers, parents, students.”
Religion is also taught in the classroom, added Laura Lindsey, parent and staff member.
“But the real difference is our faith. The faith of our leadership, teachers and families,” she said. “Our faith guides our thoughts and actions and leads us to a higher calling and purpose. The other part of that faith is how it builds our community. We truly care for and about each other.”
70 years strong
There are 205 students currently enrolled in preschool through eighth-grade, Haigh said.
Naomi Noguchi and Gabriel Ballesteros, eighth-graders at St. Catherine School, say their favorite part of the school is the teachers.
“Our teachers allow us to voice our varying opinions in the form of friendly debate,” Ballesteros said.
Noguchi added: “I like the safety, small classes, the personalities of the teachers, and educational field trips.”
This year is a milestone for the school, which will be celebrating its 70th birthday in October.
Rev. Anthony Rapozo, pastor of St. Catherine Church, said it is God’s will that the school has succeeded for seven decades.
“From my religious perspective, God has blessed the school and has sustained us,” he said.
Rapozo, who graduated from St. Catherine in 1984, also said community support has allowed the school to flourish.
“A big chunk of the population lives around the school,” he said. “And some people who graduated here now have grandkids here.”
Farias and Lizama both have children and grandchildren who have walked the school halls.
“It spans generations,” Lizama said. “I wanted my kids to come here so they could have a Catholic education.”
Farias, who has grandchildren in preschool and third-grade, said it’s tradition. “It’s something we do,” he said.
St. Catherine School was built in 1946 and blessed on Feb. 15, 1947, by Rev. Joseph G. Callaghan, the pastor at the time. Classes began in September 1947 for first- through fourth-grades, which were taught by Sisters of the Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Every year, a grade level was added, until the school offered kindergarten through eighth-grade.
In 1969, the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters, from the Philippines, took responsibility for the school. The sisters left in 2000. The school continues, staffed by lay teachers.
In 1992, during Hurricane Iniki, the library was destroyed. Reconstruction included classroom and office renovations, a new library a computer library and an Early Learning Center, which housed kindergarten and preschool.
Coming back as priest
Rapozo, who has been ordained a priest for five years, returned to his roots two years ago. First, as an associate priest.
His assignment was unusual, Rapozo said. “You don’t normally get assigned to the parish where you came from so quickly,” he said. But his placement at St. Catherine was fitting.
“I have roots here,” he said. “So when I say I care about the school, I do.”
In the last four years, Rapozo has dedicated himself to making sure the school is updated and maintained. He has initiated roof replacement, painting and expansion projects.
Last year, Rapozo’s idea to update the microscopes in the science lab led to the expansion of the lab itself.
“I went to the science teacher for a list of things she wanted, and when we came back from break, I had found donors for every item, except the microscopes,” he said.
During Lent, Rapozo asked parishioners for donations to get new microscopes. The goal was to raise $4,000. By Easter, the school received $17,o00, which went to expanding the size of the lab, Rapozo said.
The expanded lab was ready in time for the start of the 2015 school year.
Because St. Catherine operates on tuition costs, maintenance and improvement projects are made possible through grants and private donations, Haigh said.
Recently, the school received $12,000 worth of donations to go toward re-wiring WiFi, which was finished in 2015. The school also received $30,000 worth of private donations toward improving a heating system, Haigh said.
Additionally, through donations, the school has $50,000 to renovate the portable unit, which was donated by Kauai High School.
In May, St. Catherine will host its annual carnival.
“The money we raise supplements every child’s tuition, so it’s vital to the school’s operating funds,” she said. “It’s part of our budget.”
Farias and Lizama are regular volunteers for the carnival.
“I always joke that I’ll be at the carnival — even if I’m in my urn,” Farias said.
Lizama, who took over lighting for the carnival, was told he can’t retire from the job. “When I die, that’s when I retire,” he said.
Rapozo is looking into getting an endowment as a way to help with tuition cost, which is $5,795 a year for kindergarten through eighth-grade.
The endowment will go toward funding scholarships, he said.
“We provide tuition assistance through the adopt-a-student and other programs, but they are reliant on parishioner donations,” Rapozo said. “Donations are dependent on the economy — people donate when they have extra cash. And the endowment won’t be reliant solely on donations; it’s a better way to plan for the future.”
Right now, the school is in the early researching stage for an endowment, which would ultimately be approved by the bishop, Rapozo said.
For Haigh, who has been principal since 2007, the most rewarding part of being involved with St. Catherine School is getting visits from graduates returning to Kauai.
“They come back and express their appreciation for the school, and that’s a great feeling,” she said. “The end line of the school song, ‘St. Catherine will always be my home ground,’ is true; it’s that feeling people get when they come here.”