A Catholic school in Bucks County welcomed Archbishop Nelson Pérez last week, just in time for its 10th anniversary and the dedication of a new learning center.

Students, teachers, administrators and parents of St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School (SKD) in Holland filled the pews at adjacent St. Bede the Venerable Church for a March 10 liturgy at which the archbishop presided.

(View a photo gallery of Archbishop Nelson Pérez’s March 10 visit to St. Katharine Drexel School in Holland.)

Formed by the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 2012, the regional elementary school combined the legacy parish schools of St. Bede and Assumption B.V.M. Parish in Feasterville. The respective pastors of those parishes, Msgr. John Marine and Father Michael Davis, were on hand to concelebrate the anniversary Mass.

With an enrollment of more than 430 students from preK 3 to eighth grade, SKD has unified two parish communities in a common mission of “forming Catholic leaders for life,” said principal Laura Clark, highlighting the school’s “tremendous growth” over the past decade.

During that span, SKD was named both a U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School and an archdiocesan School of Distinguished Instruction.

In addition to those accolades, Clark said she had yet another goal for the school: a separate building exclusively for special education and fine arts instruction.

“That was a vision I’ve had since I became principal eight years ago,” she said.

Despite a COVID-related pause, she and the school’s board saw the $260,000 project – which benefited from an anonymous $100,000 donation – through to completion, with Clark cutting the ceremonial ribbon after Archbishop Pérez had blessed the building.

(Watch a video of the St. Katharine Drexel School Choir perform their school song.) 

SKD director of special education Katrina Culhane said the center — equipped with light tables for multisensory learning and a trampoline for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – is a place where students “can reset their minds and bodies” amid the school day.

The building permits individualized instruction while keeping students integrated within SKD, said both Clark and Culhane.

The SKD learning center also enables SKD students to better hone their musicianship, while giving instructor Lisa Quaranto some much-needed classroom space, Clark noted.

“Before this building, we had our music on wheels – our music teacher would travel from class to class with a cart, and meanwhile, she’s storing 25 keyboards in her garage,” said Clark.

Now, the center’s 16 digital pianos, which Quaranto can monitor individually and merge into an ensemble, provide a welcome change from “just playing music online,” said eighth-grader Julia Rankel.

With students writing their own music, Rankel predicted SKD compositions will be featured on the streaming service Spotify “very soon.”

Archbishop Pérez, who toured the school along with mascot Drexel the Dragon, described the facilities as “absolutely beautiful.” After leading Mass attendees in prayer for the people of Ukraine, the archbishop asked in his homily that students name what they liked best about SKD.

Responses included “teachers,” “recess” (which the archbishop agreed should be extended as much as possible) and even “Pope Francis,” whom Archbishop Pérez said he’d “have to call” to advise.

Above all, the archbishop stressed gratitude for the gift of Catholic education, of which parish communities are the primary stewards.

That gift also incurs a responsibility, said Rankel, addressing participants prior to the Mass.

SKD had “created a mission for all to follow: to form Catholic leaders through academic excellence,” she said. “Our mission still remains true and strong today. … May we remember the humble words of St. Katharine Drexel, our patroness: ‘Let us open wide our hearts. It is joy which invites us. Press forward and fear nothing.’”

Students at St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School in Holland greet Archbishop Nelson Pérez during his March 10 visit. (Sarah Webb)