Second in a series of profiles of the five Catholic Partnership Schools, the others being Holy Name, Sacred Heart, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral, all in Camden. The stated goal of the Partnership is to develop “already good schools into great schools” because education holds the greatest promise for breaking the cycle of poverty.
Opening in 1927 with three grades and 82 students, St. Cecilia School in Pennsauken was initially staffed by three Franciscan Sisters of Allegany to teach the children of the town’s predominantly Irish settlers. Twelve years later, when families from Poland and Italy moved into the area bringing up the school’s enrollment, the school was expanded to eight grades.
In June 1940, St. Cecilia’s graduated its first eighth grade class of 12 students. Today, the school has 200-plus K-8 students, a mix of Hispanic, Caucasian, African-American, and Vietnamese students coming predominantly from Camden and Pennsauken.
Along with religion, math, language arts, social studies and science, St. Cecilia’s offers extracurricular programs like student government, music, tutoring, service projects, special education, boys’ basketball and cheerleading.
St. Cecilia’s School is a member of the Catholic Partnership Schools initiative, which aims to revitalize five Camden-area schools with “increased enrollment, funding, and emphasis on excellence,” reaching out to corporate and individual sponsors, and staffed with personnel experienced in the fields of development and enrollment.
“For over 80 years St. Cecilia School has been a beacon of hope and stability drawing on an increasing multi-cultural, ethnic and religious commun ity in Pennsauken and the city of Camden,” said Father William Moore, pastor of Mary, Queen of All Saints, the school’s parish.
Referencing the word “hope,” school principal Sister Alicia M. Perna stated that the biblical definition of the term means “confident expectation.”
“Hope is not just a word, but a state of mind” at St. Cecilia, she said. “St. Cecilia’s is a good school, and my hope is to make it a great school.”
“Our job is to create critical thinkers, who are successful for the rest of their lives,” Sister Alicia added.
With a model that aims in sustaining the Catholic school in Pennsauken, the challenge has been set, but school educators are confident St. Cecilia’s will continue to be an anchor in the community for years to come.
With a new science lab, smart board, federal food program and computerized learning center, the school “has become better equipped to meet the many needs of our students and families,” Father Moore said.
“We must continue to explore every effort to keep the promise and hope for quality Catholic education alive for the most vulnerable of the children and families in our community,” he said. “What we do here might well serve as a model and support for the future of all the schools within our diocese.”