St. Francis Xavier School celebrates 150th year

Saint Francis Xavier School’s 150th anniversary celebration culminated with a festive community-wide gathering under sunny skies on Sunday, September 23. Over 500 people enjoyed a barbecue and multiple activities throughout the weekend.

Sunday’s events began with a Mass at Saint Francis Xavier Church, celebrated by Monsignor Richard Lavalley, Monsignor Wendell Searles and Father Bernard Bourgeois, principal of Rice Memorial High School.  A number of Sisters of Providence, members of the religious order that founded the school, were in attendance as was Mona Faulkner, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese.

“We made a special effort to include songs that would evoke different times in our school’s history,” said choir member Maureen Johnson. “A few parishioners told me they teared up hearing some of the traditional French hymns being sung today.”

The Mass was followed by a barbecue and activities at the school. Stacey Zierak, the parent in charge of the barbecue, was delighted with the turn out. “We went through 200 hot dogs, 250 hamburgers and 180 pieces of barbecued chicken, not to mention huge amounts of side dishes and desserts. Thank goodness so many of our amazing parents and friends volunteered to help!” In addition to the barbecue, the outdoor activities featured a bouncy castle, face painting, a dunking booth and traditional games of chance sponsored by parish organizations.

Inside the school, visitors enjoyed a “mini-museum” set up in the gym. Alumni gathered around a 150 year timeline featuring graduation pictures going back to the early 1900’s. Former students picked out their own classes and also pictures of relatives and friends from long ago. A mannequin wearing the traditional garb of the Sisters of Providence from the mid and early 1900’s welcomed visitors, including some sisters who had taught at Saint Francis. The retired sisters had a “meet and greet” with many former students throughout the afternoon. Claude Lapierre, a 1960 graduate, reminisced about his class of 49 students. “There were 42 desks in the class and Sister Aimee had a table on each side of her desk for 7 more kids. It’s hard to imagine that today.”

The anniversary celebration had commenced on Friday, September 21, when middle school students led a procession from the school to the nearby Saint Francis Xavier Cemetery to place a wreath at the grave of Father Jean Audet. Father Audet, the first priest of the parish, was responsible for constructing the original school and convent as well as the rectory and church. He began his ministry at Saint Francis Xavier as a newly ordained 26 year old and served his entire life there, still residing at the rectory at the time of his death at age 75.

Gabrielle Allbee, SFX student, prepares to cut the cake

On Saturday, friends and supporters of the school gathered at the Winooski Senior Center for a special Anniversary Bingo to benefit the school’s tuition assistance fund. The organizer of the event, Clement Potvin, noted that the school had relied on proceeds from a weekly bingo for many years, using the funds to pay off the mortgage on the school in the 1960’s. “Bingo at Saint Francis was part of many people’s Friday night tradition for years,” said Potvin, “They came because they had fun, but also because they knew it helped the school.”

Principal Jesse Gaudette was delighted with the weekend of events. “We are blessed with such a vibrant community. Over 100 individuals, including a dozen area high school students, volunteered to help, plus we had around two dozen business sponsors. It was wonderful to see hundreds of people enjoying themselves and reconnecting with our school.” Assistant Principal Eric Becker stood nearby wrapped in towels, smiling broadly while trying to warm up after being the star “dunkee” in the dunking booth. A long line of students had spent the afternoon waiting their turn to dunk Mr. Becker “I’m cold and I’m wet, but it was a great day. All I can say is our students sure have great aim.”