St. Vincent, St. Pius X and Vianney high schools receive national recognition for top academics, Catholic identity

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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The mid-day sun blanketed the courtyard at St. Pius X High School in Festus as students milled about on their "lunch hour," a time of day that includes more than just lunch.

This year, students were introduced to a new schedule of sorts. Instead of tacking on extracurricular activities before or after the school day, they're held smack in the middle of the day, with regular classes held in the morning and afternoon. It was an out-of-the-box idea that school president Karen DeCosty read about in a national magazine for principals. Students also use the time to visit one another, pray in the school's eucharistic adoration chapel or receive extra help from their teachers. This year, three new school clubs emerged, including the resurrection of a campus ministry.

It's this kind of thinking that has led the archdiocesan Catholic high
school to be recognized for its excellence. This week, St. Pius X was named by the Catholic Education Honor Roll as a 2014 School of Excellence by The Cardinal Newman Society. St. Vincent High School in Perryville and St. John Vianney High School in Kirkwood also received the honor.

Honor Roll schools receiving this designation are marked by the integration of Catholic identity throughout all aspects of their programs and excellence in academics, according to a statement from The Cardinal Newman Society. This year, 71 schools were named Schools of Excellence, and an additional nine were designated with an Honorable Mention. The Cardinal Newman Society noted that this is less than five percent of the Catholic high schools in the United States.

Founded in 1993, the mission of The Cardinal Newman Society is to promote and defend faithful Catholic education.

"Since competition began in 2004, the Honor Roll has been a helpful tool for administrators, families, and benefactors in recognizing the quality of a Catholic high school education," said Patrick J. Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society. "The Honor Roll schools are a reminder that Catholic education is getting better every day — not only academically, but in the renewal of Catholic identity — and we are delighted to see the increased level of competition among the schools that participated in the program this year."

DeCosty, president of St. Pius X, said faith at the school is integrated in many ways.

"Every school day and every class begins with prayer," she said.

Mass is offered at the school every day, with an all-school Mass held once a month. Seniors serve as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. Penance services are a regular part of the school routine, and the adoration chapel is open to students at any time of the day. The chapel especially has been a haven for those students who are having a rough day and need a quiet place to reflect and pray, said DeCosty.

"No matter how loud it is around here, it always seems quiet in the (chapel)," she said.

At St. Vincent High School, the foundation of the educational program begins in the elementary grades, according to Patricia Hensley, head of schools. St. Vincent High School, along with St. Vincent elementary and junior high schools, are the parish schools of St. Vincent de Paul Parish.

"It is a testament to our K-12 faculty, our parents who support our educational program, our students who invest themselves in learning, and a parish community that understands and reinforces our mission, 'United in Christ and guided by the spirit and educational values of St. Vincent, we transform each student through the power of faith and knowledge,'" said Hensley in a statement. "The core of our educational program is built on our Catholic faith with a focus on respect and responsibility in a nurturing environment. We develop the whole person: mind, body and spirit."

At St. John Vianney, principal Tim Dilg said the school is always looking for practical ways to implement Catholic identity to a student base that is about 97 percent Catholic.

Each Friday at the all-boys Marianist school, classes take turns gathering together to pray a living Rosary. Other examples include a daily Communion service that is offered, praying the mid-day Angelus and a pro-life club, which won the archdiocesan Bishop McNicholas Award last year.

"We provide holistic Catholic education — academically, spiritually and personally," said Dilg. "Catholic identity is immersed into all aspects of the school."

"The real reward however is not the national ranking, it's the confirmation that Vianney is doing an exceptional job of preparing all students for spiritual and academic success," Dilg said in an earlier statement. "This achievement validates the tremendous work of our school community and will serve as extra motivation to continue to build a school of excellence for many years to come." 

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