For over 60 years, Saint Peter the Apostle School, originally named Nativity of Our Lord School, has provided students with a quality, Catholic education. The school is located on Wilmington Island in east Savannah.
With a dedicated staff of over forty teachers, aides and support personnel, the school serves the needs of approximately 200 students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 8th, both in the classroom and through the school’s After Care Program. The school welcomes students of all faiths who accept the mission statement and beliefs of the school.
The tradition of providing quality Catholic education for students in the Thunderbolt/Wilmington Island area began in 1951 with the opening of Nativity School at Nativity Church, Thunderbolt. Two Sisters of Mercy, Sister Kiernan Davis and Sister Finbarr Kane, began teaching forty-two students in grades one through four. With the cooperation of Father John A. Morris, the pastor, folding walls were installed in the Parish Hall, and the combined third and fourth grades were taught there. The combined first and second grades were taught in a classroom at St. Mary’s Home, less than one mile away.
Textbooks and other supplies were purchased with money raised by the parents and the parishioners of Nativity Parish. Father Morris strongly supported the school. As the enrollment increased, a fifth and the sixth grade were added. Father Morris, because of a shortage of teachers, taught one of the grades for a while.
In 1954, Sister Jude Walsh, RSM, succeeded Sister Finbarr Kane as principal. By this time, a combined seventh and eighth grade had been added. The school now had eight grades. Some of the grades continued to be taught in the social hall of Nativity Church, while others were in classrooms at St. Mary’s Home.
During Sister Jude’s term as principal, a library was established from the proceeds of book fairs held on Sundays after the masses. A sports program was begun in 1955 with Joe Tilton as the first football coach. Blue and Gold were chosen as the school colors. In addition to a library and a sports program, a children’s choir (directed by Sister Jude) was formed. Mrs. Joseph Tegerson was the organist.
When Sister Jude left Nativity to go to St. Vincent’s Academy in Savannah in 1958, Sister Christine Trapani, RSM, became the third principal. The next year (1959) Monsignor Felix Donnelly, pastor of Nativity Parish, secured permission from the Bishop to build an addition of four classes and a library for Nativity School on the property of St. Mary’s Home so that all classes could be in one location. After the new addition was built, combined classes were eliminated and each grade, including kindergarten, became self-contained.
Sister Jogues Smith, RSM, became the fourth principal in 1967. Sister Jogues remained at Nativity School until 1985. During her eighteen years as principal, there were numerous improvements, additions, and changes. The Nativity School Board was established in 1968. Grades five through eight became departmentalized and large classes were split in the upper grades for reading/literature. At this time, a Title I teacher from Chatham County public schools was assigned to Nativity School.
It became apparent during the 1970’s that the St. Mary’s locale of the school was not suitable for the future growth of the parish. The pastor, Father Patrick O’Brien, realizing the limitations of that location, began to work with members of the parish and the Diocese of Savannah to secure money and permission to build a larger school on a spacious piece of property located on Wilmington Island.
This dream became a reality when, in 1980, the school moved to Wilmington Island. The new school building had ten large classrooms, a faculty lounge, office space, a gym, and a very large outdoor area for physical education and play. Three years later, in 1983, a multipurpose room was built and soon was used for school masses, a lunchroom for students, and a parish/school meeting place. By this time, the Nativity Church building was unable to accommodate its increased number of parishioners, so additional Sunday masses were offered in the multipurpose room. In 1985, there was another physical addition. Bishop Raymond Lessard, Bishop of the Diocese of Savannah, dedicated the new O’Brien Football Field.
While Jean Balthrop was principal, succeeding Sister Jogues, more audio-visual equipment (televisions, overhead projectors, wall screens for the classrooms) and the first computers were purchased. The Student Council, the Catherine McAuley Chapter of the National Junior Honor Society, a demerit system, the Student Patrol Program, a school newspaper and a yearbook were begun.
In August 1988, Sister Assunta Desposito, RSM, became principal. With Sister Assunta as principal, the school continued to grow, and so did the academic program. Spanish, French, art, and music classes were added. The students in the upper grades were separated for math as well as for reading/literature. Algebra was now offered to some in the eighth grade, and special reading groups were added in grades one through four. Twelve computers were being used to instruct students in a classroom. A rotation plan was begun for the adoption of new textbooks. Two portable buildings were added, one for art classes and the other one to serve as a faculty lounge. An After School Care Program, a Summer Camp, and preschool program were also added. Under the continued leadership of Sister Assunta, the faculty undertook a self-study with the Florida Catholic Conference for accreditation in 1998 and has followed up with an annual report (ARCA) up to the present. The Great Books Program was started and was later incorporated into the literature classes.
It was apparent that the Nativity church building was no longer adequate. Therefore, Bishop Raymond Lessard, Bishop of Savannah, granted permission in 1989 for the building of St. Peter the Apostle Church on the grounds where Nativity School was located. The church building was completed in 1990. In August 1993, Bishop Lessard designated St. Peter the Apostle as a canonical parish and appointed Father Patrick O’Brien as its first pastor.
The newly formed parish assumed responsibility for the school, and on August 24, 1993 the name of the school was changed from Nativity School to St. Peter the Apostle School. Since that time, construction was begun and completed for a parish office and a youth center. All these physical additions were overseen by the pastor, Father O’Brien, and generously supported by the Diocese and the St. Peter the Apostle parishioners. In 1999-2000, Mrs. Cathy Scanlon served as the interim principal after Sister Assunta’s retirement. Under her leadership, the groundbreaking was held for the new building, which housed eight classrooms, media center, science and computer lab.
Dr. James Gibson served as the principal of St. Peter’s from 2000-2008. Dr. Gibson became only the eighth principal in the Nativity/St. Peter the Apostle’s fifty-three year history. Under his leadership, the new building was completed. Most grades were doubled and a part time counselor became part of the school staff. Father Patrick O’Brien’s twenty-six years as pastor serve as a further example of the stability and continuity present during the fifty-plus year growth of this institution which was serving over 375 students. Saint Peter the Apostle School was accredited again by the Florida Catholic Conference in 2007.
Msgr. P. James Costigan became pastor of Saint Peter the Apostle Church and initiated the stewardship program for the parish. He also began a beautification project for the landscape of the Church and school.
Ms. Kelly Ryan became principal from 2008-2010. The Odyssey of the Mind program was established. SMART boards were installed in all classrooms. The entire technology program was enhanced with emphasis on individual classrooms. A security system was developed and put in place. In 2009, Advanc-Ed/Southern Association of Colleges and Schools certified the Diocese of Savannah as a system accreditation. When this action occurred, all schools in the Diocese of Savannah were automatically dually accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and Advanc-Ed.
In 2010-2012, Sister Roberta Thoen took leadership for St. Peter’s. Sister was part of a committee who established a new school logo and motto: TOGETHER. The computer lab was redesigned and a wireless system was put in place. Lockers were purchased for the seventh and eighth grade students. Computers were placed in the classrooms so that students could take the Accelerated Reading test in their room. In an effort to increase social and community outreach, the SOCCKS (Saving Our Community Catholic Kids Style) program was begun for Catholic Schools Week. In addition, a robotics program was formed.
Ms. Mary Anne Butler became principal in 2012. Several projects of previous principals were resurrected with the departmentalization of the middle school, an Athletic Committee, and provision for a summer camp. A part-time technology specialist has been hired for the school. All of the teachers and staff‘s computers are being upgraded. The exterior of the school entrance was redesigned to enhance the history of the school, to provide safety glass for security, and a sign to identify the school. Additional bookcases and a security mirror were added to the school library. The Florida Catholic Accrediting Conference will visit Saint Peter the Apostle School in March 2014 to determine the status of the re-accreditation for the school.
Mr. Joe Thomas joined the Saint Peter the Apostle School family in April 2014.
Looking to the future, our efforts will focus on continuing to provide a quality Catholic and academic education. A strategic plan will be developed to address areas of enrollment, curriculum, programs, building and grounds maintenance, technology and finance.