St. Matthew's opens doors to youth of the parish
By Nathan Rumohr
The B.C. Catholic
Father Augustine Obiwumma dreamed of giving an authentic Catholic education to elementary-school children when he arrived at St. Matthew's Parish nine years ago. That dream was realized as students from preschool to Grade 3 attended St. Matthew's Elementary School for the first time Sept. 5.
"We are so blessed that we have a lot of young families in our parish," Father Obiwumma said. "Kids are the future. If we truly want to become that kind of church, a church of the future, we must take the next generation into consideration."
The dream started to come true six years ago when Father Obiwumma and the parish building committee planned a modern elementary school. Father Obiwumma said the school is necessary for children in the community who are not able to attend other Catholic schools because of overcrowding.
The school is attached to St. Matthew's Church by a shared jubilee hall. Bill Bouwman, chairman of St. Matthew's building committee said the committee fought hard for this design because most Catholic schools are separated by at least a parking lot; sometimes much more.
"The teachers thought it was fantastic that the school was directly attached to the church on the same level," Bouwman said. This design also symbolically keeps the students close to the sanctuary.
The 30,000-square-foot school was also designed to be a warm and inviting place to learn. Architects Daniel Kim and Ian Tingley of Pacific Rim Architecture used lots of exposed plywood in their design to give a warm, soft feel.
After years of planning and fundraising Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, approved the school in April 2010 and joined Father Obiwumma to break ground in November that year.
The next task was hiring staff. Father Obiwumma is confident the school has hired devout Catholics.
"The vision we have for this school is to educate our children in the Catholic faith," he said, "and I will do everything possible so that we establish a strong Catholic identity."
Father Obiwumma said the school will strive for a high academic standard, but the central point of the school is to evangelize.
"Once a child is rooted in Christ, that is when they have discipline to study more, listen, and respect their teachers," he said. "They grow stronger in academics and faith. Faith and academics go hand in hand."
Father Obiwumma also plans to be very involved in developing the school's sports programs, especially soccer.
"I am going to make sure we have a good soccer team. I am going to coach them myself," he said. "Not only are we going to be a good academic school, we are going to be a good athletic school as well."
Father Obiwumma also hopes to take advantage of the new gymnasium, the largest in any Catholic elementary school, to establish a basketball program.
St. Matthew's is different from other Catholic elementary schools in that many of its facilities are already built. Father Obiwumma noted that many schools are built incrementally as the school expands to include more grades. St. Matthew's is ready for students from preschool to Grade 7 but will only house up to Grade 3 this year.
Father Obiwumma said this would help the school build a Catholic tradition.