1 of 2
Photo by Fred Pollard
Saints Peter and Paul School Principal Harry Cavanaugh has served with the school for three years, but has 40 years of experience on the teaching profession. He says the school remains open thanks to the generosity and dedication of staff, parents and “silent angels” in the community.
2 of 2
Photo by Fred Pollard
The Saints Peter and Paul School gymnasium, currently under renovation. Workers managed to save parts of the original gym floor being replaced, and two time capsules are buried under the new floor.
ALTON – The city would lose a piece of the area’s history and identity if Saints Peter and Paul School closes, Principal Harry Cavanaugh says.
“Many people do not realize what they have here and what the community could lose,” he says. “We have something very special here.”
With a student enrollment total of 106 (16 of those pre-kindergarten), eight full-time teachers, and a number of volunteers, the school “for children of all faiths” relies heavily on the area’s support and the parishioners of Saints Peter and Paul Church.
In a tough economy, that belt-tightening trickles down to donations, something that deeply affects the school’s resources. Cavanaugh admits the school is operating at what sometimes feels like a day-to-day status.
“We are definitely struggling,” he said. “Of course, we would like to get our enrollment numbers up. The school receives 40 percent of its income from tuition, 40 percent from the parish, and 20 percent from the parents club.”
To keep tuition costs as low as possible, Cavanaugh says a small group of dedicated parents, teachers and generous parishioners dig deeply into more than just their pocketbooks to keep the school they love so much from closing.
“The PSA (Parish School Association) especially has really ramped up their fund-raising,” he said. “I have never seen such a small group of people work so hard to keep us running.”
Gym renovations for the school
That dedication and passion has played a large part in the exciting renovations under way on the school’s gymnasium, and Cavanaugh hopes to open the facility to community events once finished.
“We have renamed it Alumni Hall, as we really would like to see it used as a community center,” he said. “We cleaned out the balcony and have ordered a tarp to use for dinners and other activities that could damage the floor.”
Parish donations paid for roof repairs two years ago, but the school found itself with another problem. Due in part to the leaking roof, the gym floor deteriorated to the point of disabling its use for sports activities.
“It is old and part of the original structure,” he said. “You could feel the floor buckle when the students were walking or bouncing balls.”
Coming through once again for the school, parishioners started a campaign and raised money for the costs of a new floor. Cavanaugh says the school then discovered the floor renovation could be turned in to insurance, so the extra money raised can now be used to replace entryway carpeting with tile, new mats for the walls and new paint.
With the smell of sawdust and paint heavy in the air, a renovated gym is now just weeks away, and Cavanaugh says the excitement among students is building. To reflect and preserve the school’s history, two time capsules are buried beneath the floor, one near the front entrance and one under the stage area.
A principal’s purpose, a priest’s perseverance
Three years ago, Harry Cavanaugh was rethinking his decision to retire from a career in education, and reached out to Saints Peter and Paul School.
“I was very pleased when I was chosen for this position,” he said. “I really feel like the hand of God reached out and touched me.”
The former superintendent of schools for the Lebanon, Ill., School District also spent five years at Gillespie School, and before that, 30 years in the Bunker Hill School District.
“I missed the interaction with the kids,” he said. “I am thrilled to be here.”
The addition of Monsignor Kenneth Steffen also has fostered a new excitement into the school.
“When he filled in for our regular priest, we grew to appreciate his faith, his love for the kids, and his love for the church,” Cavanaugh said. “He always had something for the adults or the kids.
“I think he has been rejuvenated here. He attends all of our events and has really been a breath of fresh air.”
The school’s history
The Saints Peter and Paul parish can be traced back to 1838, when Masses were held in a private home in Alton.
In 1843, a new stone church was built on Third Street, between Alby and Easton streets, and a school opened in 1847. In 1857, the new church building was completed, and that same year the Daughters of Charity established a girls’ school on State Street. The Ursuline Sisters of St. Louis later opened a boarding school for girls in 1859, and a school for boys was opened that same year, taught by the Brothers of the Holy Cross. In 1888, the boys and girls were united for the first time in one school.
The current school was built at 801 State St. in 1909. The kindergarten opened in 1947, and in 1978 the school was extensively renovated.
A pre-K program was started in 2012.
Hopes for the future
Among the efforts to remain competitive and relevant in an ever-changing educational landscape, Saints Peter and Paul has implemented new programs and opportunities for students, including plans to bring the computer ratio to 1:1 (“It already is for grades one through eight, but not yet for kindergarten,” Cavanaugh says), and a Spanish program for grades six through eight that is brand-new this year.
While there was some consolidation with the upper grades, Cavanaugh says the school has maintained separation with subjects and lessons, ensuring all grades receive the best possible education opportunities specific to their grade level.
And along with “book smarts,” he says the “street smarts” the students are learning at his school are invaluable to their future, as well.
“Whenever we take the kids off campus, every time, without exception, people ask where we are from because our kids are the most well-behaved they have ever seen,” he said. “That affirmation is wonderful.
“This is working, so let’s not drop the ball.”
To learn more about the school and how to get involved, call (618) 465-8711 or visit the website at www.ssppsch.com.