Celebrating the completion of its facade restoration, St. Luke Elementary School in Whitestone hosted a building blessing and the raising of the flag with Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto Nov. 23.
The school’s nearly 600 students, teachers, parents and parish staff joined guests who were braving the cold during the ceremony, which included music by the chamber orchestra of St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows. The Prep’s principal, Patrick McLaughlin, and president, Brother Leonard Conway, O.S.F., were among the guests as well as Deputy Inspector Thomas J. Conforti, commanding officer of the 109th precinct.
Bishop Chappetto said the renovation shows how much the school cares about its 100-year-old building.
“Today is a sign that St. Luke’s school is in much better condition and it will be around for a long time to come,” he said.
Msgr. John Tosi, pastor, and Barbara Reiter, principal, said the building improvement says a lot about the school’s commitment to Catholic education.
“It’s a sign of new life,” Msgr. Tosi said. “Our Catholic identity is very important to us and we want to provide a safe environment in which our young people can grow.”
The renovation included replacing the front windows of the main building, redoing of the terra-cotta decorations, removing a tower and cleaning years of dirt and dust from the front of the building. It made the building safer and more inviting.
“The building was surrounded by gates and fences and locks,” Msgr. Tosi explained. “We took that all down and we put completely new landscaping.”
The much-needed renovation was expensive and it was the school’s parents who raised 98 percent of the money over the years. This, Msgr. Tosi said, shows their “sense of community, the value of Catholic education, their love for the school and the parish. We are very proud of our parents.”
For more than 105 years, St. Luke’s has provided students in Queens with a Catholic atmosphere that nurtures the growth and development of the whole person: intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Msgr. Tosi said the school is a community of parents, teachers, students, administrators and the parish.
St. Luke’s was established by the Sisters of St. Dominic and parishioners in 1910. Students used to meet in the church’s basement until the main school was built in 1916. Since then, two wings had been added as its population grew. Currently the school has 600 students from two-year-olds (tiny tots) to eighth grade, making it one of the largest schools in the diocese.
“We inculcate in our students values of Christian living, trying to talk to them about things like bullying and how you treat one another with respect,” Msgr. Tosi said. “It’s woven into everything we do.”
That’s apparent during any typical morning, when students see their smiling teachers and the principal and pastor greeting students, said Daniela Volpe, eighth-grade teacher.
“When you think of St. Luke’s School, you think community, you think welcoming, you think inviting, ” she said. “There is overall happiness, an overall feeling that this is the place we feel right in.”
Flora Arestin, an eighth grader, agreed.
“Even though we are a big school, we are a tight family,” Arestin said. “The education here is amazing. Teachers are very well-qualified,” and always willing to help you.
She added that just as a family constantly changes for the better, the school needed the renovations to grow. “It’s just a really good thing for our school and it just brings new people,” she said.
The Nov. 23 ceremony included the blessing of the new facade, readings and petitions by students – including praying for the Sisters of St. Dominic who founded the school – and the raising of the flags, as the orchestra played the national anthem.
Toward the end of the ceremony, Bishop Chappetto gave St. Luke’s students some homework: to thank their parents for their sacrifice in sending them to the school.