St. Richard opens new Early Learning Center

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – Several years in the making, the St. Richard Early Learning Center (ELC) opened its doors in mid-March to rave reviews from parents and great relief from ELC director Ilana Schuetzle after the first week went well.

“It was trial and error the first day, teachers and children getting to know one another in a completely new environment, checking those little things off that may have been overlooked,” Schuetzle said. “All in all, I couldn’t be happier with the staff in helping make (the opening) go as smoothly as possible.”

The ELC began with 17 littles, as Schuetzle calls them, and more have been added each week. The busy ELC director is giving tours to prospective parents almost daily and noted that once enrollment reaches capacity at 88, a waiting list will begin. They serve infants from six weeks to two-year-olds, with the three- and four-year-olds at the elementary school.

“We’re in a renovated part of St. Richard church directly behind Banner Hall,” Schuetzle said. “The ELC campaign began before Covid. Work began on the ELC last spring. We’ve had a lot of interest from people who work in the hospitals or downtown area, as well as those who already have children attending St. Richard School.”

JACKSON – Bishop Joseph Kopacz blesses the new St. Richard Early Learning Center at an open house event on Sunday, March 17. ELC is open and currently accepting applications for employment and children ages 0-2 years. (Photo by Rachel Patterson)

“I learned of the ELC from a friend whose children currently attend St. Richard’s,” said Anna Moss. “I called and booked a tour with Ilana within days of learning of the Center. My son, John Nicholas, is six months old. He has been attending for about a month. We were there on opening day to meet the teachers and staff.”

The ELC is associated with St. Richard Parish and School and falls under Diocese of Jackson guidelines, offering a continuation of decades of Catholic administration and formation from the diocese and parish.

Father Joe Tonos, St. Richard pastor, hopes to introduce the children to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd specifically for the ELC, as well as providing a bridge for parents to the school and parish.

“The first few days were not hectic due to the measured planning Ilana and the ELC committee had put in place,” Father Tonos said. “To the contrary, it started with serenity and happiness.”

Young John Nicholas is Moss’s first child. As a working mom, it wasn’t easy for her to adjust to leaving him during the day, but she is very pleased with the St. Richard ELC.

“I felt an immediate sense of calm and love when I met with Ilana and saw the beautiful space on our tour,” Moss said. “I knew within my heart this was the place for my son. The staff is personable and caring. John Nicholas is always smiling when we pick him up. The ratio of staff to children is wonderful and I love the feeling of family here.

“The staff communicates with my family via the Procare app, where I receive updates throughout the day on my son’s bottles, naps, pictures and other information. I know John Nicholas will continue to learn, develop and thrive at the ELC.”

To schedule a tour, Schuetzle can be reached at

JACKSON – Father Joe Tonos, Doug Ward, Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Ilana Schuetzle, Andre DeGruy, Thaddeus Dexter Hoover, Susan Eastus and Ashley Johnson are pictured after a blessing of the facilities on Sunday, March 17. (Photo by Rachel Patterson)