Illuminated by the low lighting of the State Theatre, 279 people rose to their feet Sunday as the first 13 graduates of St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy made their way down the aisles toward the stage.
“It means a lot to be in the first graduating class,” Elizabeth McNitt said. “We were able to define the school.”
After the national anthem and a group prayer, McNitt gave the opening address to the family members, administrators, faculty and fellow graduates gathered for the school’s historic moment.
Keynote speaker and Altoona-Johnstown Diocese Bishop Mark L. Bartchak referred to the students as pioneers when he gave the homily at the first Mass held for the school and reiterated the statement during the ceremony.
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“Today, I’m going to remind them that they have been pioneers in showing the way for young people to learn and to learn about the faith while sharing that with others in the future,” Bartchak said.
McNitt, who plans to attend Clarion University, said that the relationships she has formed at St. Joseph’s have not only strengthened her faith in God, but have provided her with a unique life experience.
“When I (first) walked into the school, it was just a building,” she said. “I am so grateful. I think that is what makes this school so different.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy opened in 2011 with 105 students and was first initiated with the help of former Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, Principal Christopher Chirieleison said.
Fundraising for the school began when the diocese gave its approval in September 2008.
Chirieleison, a former resident of Reading has worked in education since 1991, but St. Joseph’s is the first Catholic school he has worked for.
“The first year was filled with opportunity for us to continue growing as a school and in the realms of faith, scholarship, leadership and service, which are the pillars of our mission,” he said.
Graduate Caroline Wilson, who plans to attend Penn State, said that the 2013-14 class was able to put its own touches on the school.
“It has definitely been fun for us,” she said. “With 13 kids, we got to pick the school colors, the mascot, and attend the first prom, football game and graduation.”