By Joe Lee
MADISON – Ten years ago this month, during just as steamy a summer as what central Mississippi has experienced in 2019, excitement was in the air as St. Anthony Catholic School opened its doors for the first time. There were less than 200 students in grades K-6 and the first graduating class of sixth graders in May 2010 had exactly 19 students.
Today, as the 2019-2020 school year gets underway, the Madison-based learning facility is known statewide for outstanding academic achievement and daily religious education. The school’s mascot, the eagle, does more than just adorn the gates at the school’s entrance – the lifelike depictions of the beautiful birds encourage the students to “soar like an eagle,” a message Msgr. Michael Flannery had in mind when he dreamed of launching the school.
Padre, as Father Mike is known to so many in the vast St. Anthony family, has written and published St. Anthony’s Eagles, a collection of fictional stories for middle-school students just in time for the new school year. Loaded with photos of students, parents, faculty members and clergy, the book is designed to be read to or with youngsters who are learning why the eagle is so important to the school.
“I love to visit the children in the classrooms, particularly in the lower grades,” Father Flannery said. “I usually tell stories and most of the time there is a religious aspect. Since the mascot of the school is an eagle, I tell stories about eagles and their habits. That is where the stories come from.”
“Father Mike’s vision of firmly establishing the eagle in the life of St. Anthony is easy to see,” said Ed Marsalis, a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi and a devoted St. Anthony volunteer. “If you sit with him and talk about the school, his whole demeanor lights up. He is the true eagle soaring above the school for all of us to see and appreciate, the earthbound symbol of love and dedication that planted the seed and has cherished and nurtured its growth like a well-attending gardener.”
“As our founding pastor, Father Mike will always hold a special place in the hearts of those who know and love St. Anthony,” said Principal Anne Cowger. “His latest book will be a keepsake for the families of the school.”
St. Anthony’s Eagles will be available in paperback for $10 beginning in Sept., with proceeds from all profits going directly to the school. Profits from his previous books, Saltillo Mission and The Prankster Priest, have also been put back into school.
“We will have the book available for Grandparents Day at the school and at St. Francis parish,” Father Flannery said. “Parents or grandparents whose kids are in the book would be interested in it. Anne and I spoke of the possibility of the book being part of required summer reading for students and of giving copies to children whose parents bring them for an official visit.”
“Not satisfied with simply establishing the eagle as the school mascot, Father Mike has been a continuing benefactor to the eagle displays at the school,” Marsalis said. “He is leaving us a legacy to ensure that our parish and community children continue to have a strong, faith-based education so badly needed in these challenging times.”