By Mary Stone
“Be it known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school. He is the unseen but ever present teacher in its classes. He is the model of its faculty and the inspiration of its students.”
— Holy Name School Mission statement
Located in Ketchikan—nicknamed Alaska’s ‘First City’ due to its extreme southeastern position in the State—Holy Name Catholic School is currently the only Catholic school in the Diocese of Juneau. For nearly sixty-five years, and through many challenges and changes, Holy Name Catholic School (HNCS) has ministered to the academic and spiritual needs of the families in Ketchikan, providing a Christ-centered educational option that welcomes students of all faiths.
HNCS had its beginnings in the parish hall of Holy Name Catholic Church in downtown Ketchikan on Main Street in 1946. In 1960, the parish moved to its current Jackson Street location, where it built HNCS even before the church. The school was completed in 1965. The Church was ‘temporarily’ housed within the fourth grade classroom and the school library until 1985, at which time the present Church building was constructed. Johanna Collins, Holy Name parishioner and current school administor, shares that teachers describe the school with its beautiful, bright, spacious classrooms overlooking the Tongass Narrows waterway, as “Holy Name Heaven.”
The school was originally staffed by the Sisters of Saint Joseph (of Peace) who also operated the local hospital. The Sisters’ health care organization, PeaceHealth, continues to operate Ketchikan Medical Center, although religious sisters are no longer assisting at the school. At one time, Jesuit Volunteers (JVC) served as teachers as well, but as with most U.S. Catholic schools the norm now is for paid lay teachers.
HNCS has primarily focused on Preschool through 6th grade education offerings, and over the years has enrolled as many as 100 students. Today the school is hoping to survive as an independent religious school, unassisted by public school funds, by focusing on the earlier grades, new forms of youth catechism, and a renewed commitment to Catholic education. This year HNCS is excited to welcome 56 students, 27 of whom are in the Preschool program.
“At Holy Name Catholic School, we offer something public schools cannot . . . faith formation integrated into the daily lives of the students and teachers, using Christ as our role model. Students treat one another with respect. They also learn respect for the community and their environment. “ – HNCS scholarship brochure
According to Youth Ministry Director Nicole Miller, among the many new and exciting things happening at HNCS is their Religious Education program. Two new components have been added this year to continue to nourish and grow the spirits of Holy Name’s littlest students. Children in preschool through 2nd grade will be participating in weekly sessions of the Level I, Montessori-based program known as Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS).
“With a hands-on approach to faith formation, CGS is unlike anything we’ve been able to offer in the past, and the children will be given an opportunity to encounter Christ in a unique and beautiful way,” shares Nicole.
In addition, she continues, third through sixth graders will be using a discipleship-based series—‘We Believe’ by Sadlier Press—full of engaging activities, to assist and lead the older children toward a deeper understanding of God’s great love for them as well as a greater knowledge of their Catholic faith.
One of the many factors that complicate a family’s choice to attend Catholic Schools is the financial component. HNCS continues to work to provide scholarships for those families in need of assistance. In addition, explains Fr. Pat Travers, there are some options available for HNCS families to access public school funds.
“Despite regulations… that prohibit any use of public funds to support religious schools, Holy Name students have been able to participate in certain benefits offered by the public schools, as long as Holy Name School is not directly involved. These include certain health and special education services, the use of public school buses, and participation by our students in public school athletic programs. In addition, many HNCS students are cross-registered in the virtual school programs offered by the Ketchikan and Craig City School Districts, which provide supplemental instruction and funding for certain educational expenses of our students. For example these programs will pay for the fees charged by dance schools or sports teams in which our students participate; this assists in ‘leveling the playing field’ financially for HNCS families.”
HNCS is proud to offer a Catholic education that “assists parents in rearing their children to be good, respectful, and kind citizens, who are prepared to enter middle school with a strong sense of purpose.” A HNCS scholarship brochure states that “Holy Name students go on to be academic and social leaders in middle school, high school, and beyond. … Most earn scholarships, and go on to college.”
Although operating without an official school principal this year, HNCS is benefitting from the additional assistance of ministers, parish volunteers and committed, caring staff. Newly assigned Deacon Mike Galbraith—who will be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Juneau on October 23rd—is assisting with the day-to-day school administration this fall. In addition, Fr. Pat Travers, who previously ministered as Holy Name’s pastor from 1999–2007, has returned to Ketchikan after serving as pastor of St. Paul’s in Juneau for 8 years, and is assisting in the guidance of the school. Johanna Collins – School Administrator, Nicole Miller – Director of Youth Ministry and CGS catechist, and Kathleen Svenson are among the many Holy Name parishioners that are working to ensure that Catholic education continues to be an option in Ketchikan.
HNCS has been greatly assisted and encouraged each year by their annual Alaska Day Auction and Gala dinner in October. Despite the huge effort to organize and pull off this major fundraising event, the community of Ketchikan continues to support it enthusiastically. Last year the gala netted $45,000 for the school, and in some years that number has been as high as $85,000. Major benefactors coming from within and outside of the parish community continue to be a blessing for the school and its mission.
Despite the combined difficulties of operating a small, private, religious school in a remote location in Southeast Alaska, Holy Name and the Diocese of Juneau are committed to continuing their ministry of Christ-based education for the Ketchikan community. Your generous contribution to the Diocesan Special Collection for Holy Name School will ensure that this new year will be a Spirit-filled and joyful one for Holy Name students and families!