GORHAM – With benedictions and holy water, Bishop Peter A. Libasci on Tuesday celebrated the opening of Salve Regina Academy, the second Catholic school to begin operating in the North Country since 2018.
Located in the former Holy Family Parish Center, the academy started the new school year with 43 students in pre-K through grade 8 and six staff members — seven if you count the Rev. Kyle Stanton, who as pastor of the Good Shepherd and Holy Family parishes in Berlin and Gorham, is formally the head of the school.
Stanton said the hope for the academy — which, according to its website, “is built upon the vision of an authentically Catholic community of lifelong learners dedicated to discovering all that is Good, True, and Beautiful through a commitment to academic excellence and personal discipleship in the holistic tradition of Catholic education” — is to eventually have up to 80 students and to be self-sufficient.
He said the academy is the realization of the dreams of many people, including himself, Libasci and parishioners who had attended parochial schools in either Gorham or Berlin and who lamented the schools’ demise.
At one time, Berlin had multiple parochial elementary schools and two Catholic high schools, while Gorham hosted a Catholic boarding school for girls and St. Benedict Elementary, said Stanton, a native of Salem who experienced Catholic education firsthand.
“The three happiest years of my childhood,” he said, were when he attended the then St. Anthony of Padua school in Manchester. St. Anthony and the St. Casimir elementary schools were combined and renamed the Cardinal Lacroix Academy in 2018.
A year earlier, Stanton, at the behest of his parishioners and with the encouragement of Libasci, formed a committee to establish the location, curriculum, and culture of a new Catholic school.
The committee ultimately recommended using the two-story, 2,400-square-foot Holy Family Parish Center and did so, Stanton said, because it was relatively new (built in 1988) and because it was deemed the least expensive to renovate and operate. The renovations have cost $150,000 to date.
The Good Shepherd and Holy Family parishes own a total of 12 buildings; the second best choice for the school would have cost around $1 million to convert, said Stanton.
Tuition for Salve Regina Academy is $4,000 per year per student and while scholarships are available, “every family is paying something,” he said, and in that way, “everyone has a little something in the game.”
Salve Regina Academy, Stanton continued, “is a good story from the North Country.”
The opening of the Academy comes less than three months after the Brown School, the last public elementary school in Berlin, closed its doors due to what city and school officials said was years of decreasing educational funding from the state.
While a number of public schools in the North Country are struggling, Catholic schools are experiencing a revival, with the opening in 2018 of the Mount Royal Academy North in Lancaster, which serves students in grades pre-K-8 and is a sister school to Mount Royal Academy in Sunapee.
During a Mass at the adjacent Holy Family Church, Libasci said it and Mount Royal Academy North represent the “planting of the seed” of Catholic education above the notches.
A shopper of second-hand stores, Libasci said he recently visited one such store in Gorham where to his surprise and delight, he found and purchased text books that “I had in second grade” as a student in a Catholic school.
In poring through the book, Libasci said he was struck by how timeless and “priceless” its lessons are.
Stanton thanked the more than 300 people have made financial contributions to help start Salve Regina Academy. Donations to support the academy are being accepted at berlingorhamcatholics.org/donate.