VICKSBURG – Students at Vicksburg Catholic School’s St. Francis Xavier Elementary celebrated National Mississippi Day by reading “Love Is All Around Mississippi” by children’s author Wendi Silvano. (Photo by Christin Matthews)
By Mary Margaret Halford
VICKSBURG – For years, there’s been chatter among people involved with Vicksburg Catholic School (VCS) about adding another piece to the school — an early learning center. It was brought up at Advisory Council meetings; it was discussed by leaders; it just never quite materialized.
But while sitting in his office one day last year, Principal Buddy Strickland got a phone call “out of the blue” from Sam Scott, a graduate of VCS.
“He told me there was a lot for sale adjacent to the school,” Dr. Strickland said. “He said ‘I don’t want to buy the lot for the school and just have it sit there. But if you have a need for it, if you can use it, I’d love to purchase it and donate it to the school.’”
Fast forward about a year to October 2018, and Strickland found himself standing on that very lot surrounded by officials from the City of Vicksburg and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as supporters of VCS.
“From a single phone call, we now find ourselves breaking ground for the construction of our early learning center,” Strickland said.
Lori Tzotzolas, who was tapped to be the Director of the Early Learning Center, is a lifelong resident of Vicksburg who understands the need for such a place in the community.
“I’m so very excited that VCS had the vision and insight to expand our early learning education opportunities and continue our legacy in Catholic education in this community,” Tzotzolas said. “I’m honored and blessed that they trusted in me. I look forward to continuing the legacy and seeing all this come to fruition.”
Pablo Diaz, president and CEO of the Vicksburg Warren Economic Development Partnership said that the center is coming at a pivotal time for Vicksburg.
“This answers the call for better quality of life to attract more jobs and investment in Warren County,” Diaz said. “From 0 to 5, every small child deserves the best education they can have, and this adds to our ability to demonstrate that we can provide that.”
Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs also attended the groundbreaking ceremony, and he, too, noted how important the center will be for the community as a whole.
“This is the kind of vision we’ve always hoped for in this city,” Flaggs said. “It’s what makes this city move forward, and what better way than to start with the youngest generation?”
Flaggs also announced a financial commitment on behalf of the city.
“We owe you a debt of gratitude for this,” he said. “Partnership and collaboration are what speaks volumes about this community.”
But that sense of partnership is nothing new to the VCS and Vicksburg community, as Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education Catherine Cook pointed out at the groundbreaking.
“I don’t need to tell you the rich history you have, you know that already. We are honored to be part of the rich history of Vicksburg,” Cook told the crowd gathered at the groundbreaking. “We’re about to celebrate 158 years here. Today we stand on the shoulders of all those who came before us — priests, sisters and brothers that paved the way.”
Cook added that the center will make VCS the only Catholic school in the state that educates and cares for children from infancy through high-school graduation all in one unified school.
“Not only is VCS still going strong, it’s expanding into the 21st century,” she said. “I’m sure if those early missionary priests, brothers and sisters were here today, they would say with great appreciation, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants.’”
The VCS Early Learning Center will serve those from six-weeks to three years old, and the administration is hoping to open in fall of 2019.
(Mary Margaret Halford is a member of Vicksburg St. Paul Parish.)
By Joan Thornton
VICKSBURG – During the summer, Vicksburg Catholic School, in partnership with Families First for Mississippi, developed a program entitled ‘Mother Teresa Tuesday.’ Each week student and adult volunteers worked at various locations such as Vicksburg
Community Garden, Good Shepherd Community Center and Warren County Humane Society. Groups even traveled to Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson and Our Daily Bread Mississippi located in Canton. There were weeks when 40 volunteers went out on projects.
At the hospital, volunteers participated in the Adopt-A-Floor Program, which provides snacks free of charge for the family members of patients. Groups collected approximately $3,000 worth of snacks which they delivered July 11.
The goal at Our Daily Bread “Bring awareness of healthy eating and to aid in hunger relief in our local communities through God, good works, and deeds.” Student and adult volunteers prepared and served about 90 hot meals for the needy in the community of Canton as well as unloading delivery trucks and organizing their pantry.
Students plan to continue Mother Teresa Tuesdays throughout the school year and encourage all members of the community to join them as together they build up the Kingdom of God through service.
(Joan Thornton is the head of the theology program for Vicksburg Catholic Schools)
By Mary Margaret Halford
VICKSBURG – It was nearly 4 a.m. on a frosty February morning in 1977 when Father Alfred Camp got the call that St. Aloysius High School was burning.
The then-principal immediately got up, dressed, and headed straight for the school. “I was driving down Clay Street, and I saw all those fire trucks and police cars, and thought to myself, ‘well, I guess we’ve got a fire,’” Camp said.
“It was heartbreaking, the smoke and the flames bellowing from the rooftop,” said Jimmy Salmon, who was teaching at the time of the fire. “We weren’t just primarily concerned with finishing that school year, but about the future of St. Aloysius High School.”
As firefighters worked to contain the blaze on the other end of the building, Father Camp approached Salmon and said they needed to get Sister Matthew’s typewriters out, they’d be needing them for school that week.
“I looked at him and said ‘Father, the school is still burning,’ and he got that little smirk he gets when you try to tell him something,” Salmon said. “I wasn’t going to tell him no, so I turned and followed him into the school.”
After the fire was finally extinguished, Father Camp organized groups of people – teachers, parents, and students alike – to rummage through the debris and salvage desks, books, or anything they could and move it to the gym.
“In all that confusion, Father Camp had the presence of mind to turn this gym into a school,” Salmon said. “He said it was important to get the message to the community that a little fire would not shut the doors of St. Aloysius. And more importantly, to let parents and students know they wouldn’t have to search for a new school, we weren’t going anywhere.”
On Thursday, he returned to that very same gym, this time filled with hundreds of current and former students and teachers who were there to celebrate the naming of the St. Al school building after Father Camp.
“This is a great day, that we’re finally recognizing the individual that I believe saved St. Aloysius,” Salmon told the crowd after a Mass in the gym.
In the days and weeks following the fire, Father Camp was told raising money for a new school wasn’t feasible, that the elementary school could still operate but the high school should not.
“I can remember Father Camp laughing, saying St. Aloysius would not close its doors on his watch,” Salmon said. “I truly believe that if it were not for Father Camp, we would not be sitting here today, we would not have a school.”
Though the fire was a defining moment in his tenure at St. Al, other former teachers and students spoke of Camp’s inspiration as an educator.
Father Camp was a disciplinarian, especially for those students wandering the halls during class time, according to Lisa Reid.
Camp always had a specific question for those nomad students, “Where’s your box?” Where were they supposed to be?
When Reid met with Camp to choose classes for her senior year, her heart was set on study hall, a break from an otherwise tough schedule.
“But Father Camp said ‘that’s not available to you.’ I was crushed,” she said.
He then laid out two options – physics or journalism. Reid chose journalism, the field she wound up getting a degree in before working for years in newspapers and as an English and journalism teacher at St. Al.
“Even though I thought study hall was my box, you knew it was not,” Reid said to Father Camp at the dedication. “Through the years, though you kept asking where our boxes were, I think you had a pretty good idea of the answer. I’m sure I speak for thousands of students whose lives you touched when I say we’re deeply grateful for your wisdom and guidance in helping us find our way.”
During morning prayer the day of the dedication, current principal, Buddy Strickland, told the students to look in front, behind, to the left and to the right of each other.
“What you’re seeing is Father Camp’s legacy,” Strickland told them.
“I didn’t expect all this, I appreciate it so much,” Camp told the crowd gathered to honor him for his years in Vicksburg. “My dad’s name was Aloysius Joseph Camp…I guess that meant I was destined to be at St. Aloysius a long time. I think my dad would say ‘good job’.”
(Mary Margaret Halford is a member of Vicksburg St. Paul Parish.)