WILMINGTON — Over the years, as Catholics and Catholic schools have left Wilmington’s downtown, one presence has remained constant. St. Peter Cathedral School has been a fixture in West Center City for 185 years, as have the Daughters of Charity, who have staffed the school since 1831.
The school is celebrating those 185 years with a renewed push to get those associated with the school invested in St. Peter’s again. St. Peter’s has reached out to alumni, former teachers, the local business community and others to let them know what the school offers to families from Wilmington and elsewhere.
“We’re the first Catholic school” in the diocese, said Sister Donna Smith, the principal. “We need to recognize that we are the first and we’re still here. A lot of people don’t know that we’re still down here, and that’s sad. We serve a lot of different kids and a lot of different ethnicities and religious backgrounds, and we teach the Catholic faith.”
One event to be held in conjunction with the anniversary is a 5K run/walk on May 22 on the riverfront in Wilmington. All proceeds will go toward educational programs at St. Peter’s. Registration is open through May 16 at www.races2run.com. For more information, contact the school at (302) 656-5234.
Sister Donna said, like many Catholic schools, St. Peter’s is struggling with a shrinking enrollment.
“A lot of families struggle because of tuition, so my big thing is to get more tuition assistance,” she said.
The school’s population is diverse, with some students living within walking distance but others coming from as far away as Elkton, Md., and New Jersey. Some students have parents who work in Wilmington. The majority of students are referred to St. Peter’s by word of mouth, Sister Donna said.
Paul Collins, a New Castle businessman, graduated from St. Peter’s in 1937 and keeps up with his alma mater to this day. He said the look of the school hasn’t changed much over the years. One reason, he said, was a very strict priest who used to be stationed at the cathedral.
“I guess one of the reasons the school looks so good today is that when we left every June, that place was polished,” he said.
Once the school’s finances are on more solid ground, Sister Donna said, decisions will be made on how to proceed. A development person is in charge of setting up events for alumni, and the school has been contacting local businesses to work on different things.
“We’re involved with the Grand Opera House. Different organizations know us. We also have a Vincentian service club. They have been working in Quaker Hill. We’re doing more outreach with the Vincentian service club,” Sister Donna said.
Collins, 92, recalled when the school was located across the street from its current location, where the convent is, although he attended just the one building. His sister, 98-year-old June Collins Love, split her schooling between the two buildings. Paul Collins said St. Peter’s means a great deal to the Wilmington community.
“It always was a great school, and it’s still a great school. It deserves all the support it could possibly get,” said Collins, who said he has shared fundraising ideas with Sister Donna.
Through the years and various locations for the school, the one constant has been the Daughters of Charity. Today, three sisters work in the school — Sisters JoAnne Goeke and Kathy Cevette — and two other sisters live in the convent, which used to be an orphanage.
“It’s really neat to think that we’ve been here for 185 years, that it’s been the same community for 185 years,” Sister Donna said.