St. Catherine School has been serving the underprivileged students in west Tulsa since 1927. Many students here have difficulty learning in the traditional classroom culture of a public school, but they are unable afford a Catholic education without financial assistance.
For 32 years, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George have served the school and church of St. Catherine. Currently three Sisters ardently minister as elementary and middle school teachers at St. Catherine School, while also assisting the parish and working in the community. Among other ministries, they run a Catholic girls club and other outreach programs in their low-income neighborhood.
“They never hesitate to put on a work apron and lift a shovel to help build the playground, serve food to residents, talk to students discerning a vocation or just be the loving smile that our community members need,” said Principal Michelle Anthamatten.
The school's enrollment is increasing. Many of its 130 students come from poor families. About 65 percent qualify for federal free and reduced-price lunches. The school also serves a sizable refugee population, including many Burmese students whose families fled Myanmar after being persecuted for practicing their Catholic faith.
Students face many hardships. “The sisters serve students who have disabilities and special needs, live in poverty and don’t speak English as a first language,” said Bishop David Konderla. “As spiritual mothers, they provide a secure, loving environment for these students while giving them the education and tools they need for a faith-filled life.”
“Our charism is to make the merciful love of Christ visible,” explained Sister M. Margaret, FSGM. “At St. Catherine we have a diverse population of children with challenges—academically, emotionally and socially—and we can show them this mercy. We teach them about God and His love for them. At this point, they are so open to learning. They are like sponges.”
“Many have experienced bullying,” said Sister M. Cordis, FSGM. “We make them feel welcome. They can be themselves. They know we’ll take care of them. There’s something about teaching that allows us to express our gift of spiritual motherhood. Each child knows he or she is loved no matter what.”
The presence of the sisters is not only helping students be more involved in their community and become active volunteers, but they are also inspiring conversions to the faith. Every year, three or four students become Catholic.
“Pope Francis talks about going to the peripheries,” said Sister M. Vianney, FSGM. “St. Catherine is a modern-day periphery.”