Catholics celebrate school’s first anniversary

A procession of priests, nuns, Knights of Columbus and parishioners followed the bishop Sunday morning as he led them from Mass to the fledgling Catholic school next door.

They gathered before the columns gracing the front of the building at 2170 E. Maule Ave., near Eastern Avenue and Sunset Road, dressed in their Sunday finery, and prayed alongside their holy men of Saint Gabriel the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church and Saint Gabriel Catholic School.

They are the churchgoers. They are the friends and families. They are the faculty and staff. And they are the groups of eager, fresh-faced students.

“We had our kids in different private schools before we came here, and it just doesn’t compare,” Merideth Hadersbeck, the mother of a second-grader and a fourth-grader at Saint Gabriel Catholic School, said at the school’s first-year anniversary dedication ceremony. “I honestly don’t have trouble getting the kids up to go to school in the morning.”

Bishop Gerald Dino led the prayers and dedication, asking their diety to “bless and sanctify this house.” He led a procession through the building, blessing each classroom, before going on the balcony and blessing the parish and the congregation.

After the blessings, the school’s staff and faculty joined the priests and bishop in a ribbon-cutting ceremony sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, which the school is a member of.

The ribbon, cut by Dino, was given to principal Octavia Houtekier-Boyd to keep in the building.

“It was quite an idea 15 months ago, and it’s even more of a dream today,” Houtekier-Boyd said.

Ribbon-cutting ceremonies can mark any special occasion for a Chamber of Commerce member, and often falls on anniversaries.

“We come out to do things in the community, it’s what we do,” Larry Duncan, a member of the Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting committee, said. “It doesn’t have to be a grand opening. It could be something like building a new school.”

Saint Gabriel Catholic School, which goes from kindergarten to fourth grade, started off last year with 17 students. This year, it provides primary education for more than 60 students, Houtekier-Boyd said.

“Last year was more the honeymoon period,” she said. “This year there were more growing pains.”

The classes are capped at 24 students, and the two youngest classes have aides that assist the teachers.

And the school is still growing.

“It will be gradual growth,” Houtekier-Boyd said, stating the school hoped to add a gym, a science lab and an outdoor play area, among other things, including a new grade each year until eighth grade.

“We don’t necessarily want to be the biggest school,” she said. “We want to be the best.”

Several parents said the school’s faculty and staff dedication, the small class sizes and the curriculum make Saint Gabriel Catholic School stand out above the rest.

“They’re like family,” said Lodi Egho, another mother of two students in the school. “They take care of each other. We love the school, but the important thing is the kids are happy.”

The privately funded school, not attached to the church or diocese, has some other unique qualifications.

It has both Roman Catholic and Byzantine Catholic qualifications and is identified as a universal Catholic School. The school is striving to be an Apple Distinguished School, using Apple technology, including an iPad for every child for in-school use, and the renovated building it is in was once used for rocket research by NASA, Houtekier-Boyd said.

“The valley is a very big valley,” she said of the school’s origins. “We wanted to respond to the need of a good quality Catholic education. Just getting people to come out … that was probably the biggest challenge.”

Contact reporter Rochel Leah Goldblatt at 702-383-0381 or

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