33 students receive diplomas at initial St. Kilian commencement
For students of St. Kilian Parish School in Cranberry Township, their newest tradition is just two weeks old.
Thirty-three eighth-graders were the first to receive diplomas from the Catholic grade school that opened in September 2008. Faculty, administrators, staff, parents and the Rev. Charles Bober, pastor, planned each step of the May 31 commencement.
They took the best of what they had seen at other Catholic graduations and tweaked the different parts of the ceremony, which included a Mass, the distribution of diplomas and a reception.
“I wanted some real meaning to it,” said Jane Pampena, principal of grades 5 to 8, “not just something trendy.”
The pastor selected “O God Beyond All Praising” by Gustav Holst as the processional for the students and 15 teachers who took part in the ceremony. Pampena, of Marshall Township, wanted “Pomp and Circumstance” by Sir Edward Elgar.
The graduation was a landmark event because St. Kilian is the first new school to open in the Diocese of Pittsburgh since 1964.
The diocese — which has 99 schools, according to its website — has been closing and consolidating schools in areas where attendance has dwindled.
St. Kilian, one of two large parishes in the Cranberry area, had about 1,500 school-age children, according to the diocese, but no parochial school. The school fulfilled a need.
In the rush to reserve a place in the classroom for their children, some parents slept in their cars overnight when the school began accepting registrations.
It also serves other southern communities, including Mars and Seven Fields.
The school opened preschool through fourth grade in September of 2008 with 150 students and each year afterward added a class.
It now enrolls 600 and is at maximum capacity, Pampena said.
“We are the newest and largest school in the diocese. We are meeting a real demand,” said Pampena, who noted that the school has added programs, such as a program for gifted students.
Mary Gentile Boburczak, Mass cantor and middle school language arts teacher, created a project called “The Gift of Age” to teach the value of a person no matter their stage in life.
The eighth-graders interviewed elderly friends and relatives, and then presented their work to their families and guests.
“It was an awesome event,” said Pampena, who has been at the school for two years.
Both activities now are a part of St. Kilian's graduate traditions, as is the walk-through, a practice that was staged two days before commencement. Signs and flags lined the hallways as the soon-to-be graduates walked through the building. A bell sounded as they went from level to level with the younger students watching.
“They were shining that day,” said Pampena. “One kindergartner asked, ‘Are we gonna do that, too?'”
With practice done, the teens reviewed the old time capsules they had made in the fourth grade, their first year at St. Kilian. The next day, it was off to Washington, D.C. It was the parish school's gift to them, Pampena said.
And there was more giving during the actual ceremony when the graduates presented statues of the Blessed Mother for the two eighth-grade classrooms. A part of their legacy also is the new statue of St. Francis of Assisi that stands outside the building.
On this memorable occasion, the pastor's sermon was Christ centered.
“I wanted the homily to be both a reassurance of hope and a challenge to faith. The focus described the graduates in terms of potential,” Bober, who has led the church for 11 years, said. “I raised the point of why some potential is fulfilled and some is not … and I suggested that those who walk in the light of Christ realize their potential, but those who prefer the dark seem not to.”
Mary Hampe, of Coraopolis, an eighth-grade technology and homeroom teacher, gave each graduate a white candle, representing the hope they would “be the light of Christ in the world,” as Pampena explained.
“The most unforgettable moment for me during graduation was when I approached the podium to recite the First Reading at Mass,” Hampe said. “As I read through the verse, I made a point to look directly at my students sitting there in the front few rows. I wanted to make eye contact with each one of them as I read. Seeing their faces, excited and hopeful for what the future may bring, brought such a feeling of peacefulness over me…. ‘Well done,' I thought. ‘I will never forget you.'”
Many of the graduates will keep the Catholic tradition at North Catholic, Oakland and Central Catholic, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and Vincentian high schools.
“I'm proud of that. They value their faith,” Pampena said. “We have the best of both worlds here — high academics and a wonderful dimension with the Catholic faith. We're full force here.”
Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Rick Wills contributed to this report.