BURLINGTON – Students walked through the doors at 515 Hillcrest Ave. as usual Aug. 23. With a front lawn full of welcome signs, Blessed Sacrament School was ready for its first day and a big change.
Principal Maria Iniquen-Gomez stood in front of the children at morning assembly and gave them some good news. Not only was enrollment up to 285, but history was being made.
“Today we open our doors to our middle school … it’s like moving into a new house,” she said to cheers from students and teachers alike.
After saying prayers and singing You’re a Grand Old Flag, students processed out of the gathering space. Those in grades four and under remained in the Hillcrest building, which was purchased in 1995 and has been home to the school since. Those in grades five through eight put on their backpacks and walked half a mile on sidewalks to their new building at 400 W. Davis St.
Originally built in 1951, that property is a two-story, brick building situated next to the church. And it has a long history with the parish. It housed Blessed Sacrament School from 1951 until 1995. In recent years, though, it was rented to another organization.
To serve the students and allow for enrollment growth, leaders, including Father Vincent Rubino, O.F.M. Conv., pastor, decided to renew the space and rededicate it to the parish, this time for the middle grades of BSS and the faith formation students of the parish.
“It’s the culmination of several months of hard work,” he said of the renovation. “It feels like a foundation … if we hadn’t renewed this building, we would be turning kids away for our school.”
The building is named the Blessed Sacrament Middle School Koury Education Center, in honor of longtime benefactors and friends Maurice Koury, a BSS alum, and his wife, Ann, who attended the prayer service and blessing of the building Aug. 23. Maurice died in 2016 at the age of 86.
The space offers 10 classrooms, a new smart lab, a science lab by Lab Learner, a gymnasium and other spaces to serve the 120 students who currently learn there, said Joseph Charamut, who manages finance and facilities for the parish and school.
During the prayer service teachers recounted the history of the school, including details about the diocese’s 1928 purchase of property on W. Davis Street for a future parish to be called Blessed Sacrament.
They talked about the orders of women religious, such as the Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of Notre Dame, who served the school prior to 1975, when, they said, it became the first Catholic school in North Carolina to be operated by a staff of all lay people.
They discussed the arrival of the Conventual Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate Conception in 1988, past Lewis Award winners, Blue Ribbon and STEM distinctions and how the school was facing low enrollment around 2012, when the Kourys made a $1 million dollar donation to help keep the school open.
They also discussed other challenges, such as the pandemic and virtual learning, to help those gathered understand the school’s history as it moves into the future.
“All learning must have as its final purpose to bring us to a knowledge of the truth and to the worship of one true God,” said Gomez during her remarks. “Today we ask God’s blessing on this school of seeking, learning and teaching what is true. As a community of faith, we benefit from the completion of this facility.”
NC Catholics NOW visits two Catholic schools in the diocese experiencing growth this year! Blessed Sacrament School in Burlington moved its middle school students into a new building and Infant of Prague School in Jacksonville did something similar, while also adding high school grades.