In Your Midst


Nov 2002

It’s Monday morning at St. Therese School, and a group of young students has just finished leading the rest of the school in a start-of-the-week prayer service. After the service and the often-repeated reminder to “Live the mission” of their school, the students troop back to their classrooms, eager to start the week in earnest.

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St. Therese, Principal Eileen Gray reflects, is a place where “we use our Catholicism as a way of living.” The school’s location in Madrona near downtown and the Central District, and its reputation as a faith-based community where all are welcome have made it the most diverse of the five Rainbow Schools (St. Edward, St. George, St. Joseph, St. Paul, and St. Therese). Its 224 students in grades Kindergarten through 8 are drawn from all ethnicities and income levels, and return home each day to 44 different ZIP codes around the Seattle area. And though only about half of St. Therese students are Catholic, the school’s mission to help students live lives of faith and service applies equally to all. “We embrace everyone,” Principal Gray notes, “and the result has been that families from all over want their children to attend here.”

St. Therese celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, then, as something of a “destination school,” a magnet for families from Federal Way to the University District. But the school wasn’t created with this goal in mind. It was founded in 1927 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace to serve the neighboring community and to complement the newly constructed church. The school was housed in a modest, masonry structure that was tucked behind the church so as to honor neighbors’ requests that the new school fit into the neighborhood as unobtrusively as possible. The resulting architecture has made the school a little difficult to find, the principal laughs, but has meant that it was a good neighbor from the start.

Today, that close relationship with the neighborhood continues. The sixth grade Earth Science class, for instance, works each year with the community and City of Seattle departments to beautify the nearby Madrona Woods that stretch down the hill to Lake Washington. Students clear invasive weeds, pick up trash, help with landscaping and planting, and study the soil types, plant conditions, and habitats created within the woods. And St. Therese students and their families served the community in a very visible way during the summer of 2001 when the parish hosted Tent City, an encampment of homeless people, in its parking lot.


The children of St. Therese school and 
parish join in the new your Gospel choir.

In addition to serving their neighbors in Madrona, St. Therese students also reach out to people from around the world, celebrating their own diversity through a variety of special projects with people from different countries and cultures. To help a Sister School in South Africa, students are ambitiously collecting coins and used books this fall to raise the money to purchase books for the school’s library. (They have managed to purchase 250 books so far, and are hoping eventually to buy 1,000). And they’ve joined with St. Therese parishioners to support a Sister Parish in Mexico. As parent and St. James parishioner Lorraine Thomas notes, this notion of community is central to the school’s identity. “There’s a real emphasis on developing empathy and kindness for each other,” she says, both for those who live nearby and those who are far away. “Community is a reality at St. Therese, not just a buzz word,” she goes on. “We struggle together and we celebrate together.”

Academic excellence is another central part of the school’s mission, continuing a tradition that has shaped the school since its founding. The school has focused recently on developing a strong science and math program for its older students, to prepare them for high school and college. In science, especially, classes are quite different from those held at St. Therese in the 1920s.

Today, eighth grade students study not just biology or chemistry, but the latest advances in biotechnology in a program that links them with researchers at Amgen and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. St. Therese teachers collaborate with the experts to develop hands-on experiments to help students master basic concepts and explore the complicated questions of the appropriate uses of science and technology in society.

St. James currently has six children enrolled at St. Therese through the Rainbow Schools program, in which parishes such as St. James that do not have schools of their own support a group of five central Seattle Catholic schools. These students will travel from Monday morning prayer services to eighth grade biotechnology within the modest school building in Madrona, all the while exploring the meaning of community with people near and far.

Mary Bourguignon is a Cathedral parishioner and a religious education volunteer.

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