Beneath a warm sun and cool breeze, St. Sebastian School in Santa Paula, California, is brimming with life. Teachers and staff buzz with excitement. They crowd near a small stage, which sports a ceremonial ribbon. Nearby, parents chuckle with each other as they arrive on the campus. Children sprint in games of tag and make full use of the playground. The day’s planned event promises not only to celebrate hard work and achievement, but opportunity and the vibrant community of St. Sebastian’s as well.

It’s a Saturday in September, and Grace (Kelly ’12) Michael  — principal of St. Sebastian’s — is hosting a ribbon-cutting and blessing ceremony to mark the completion of major renovations at her once-crumbling school, thanks to a grant she secured through a philanthropic foundation.  Students, teachers, staff, and parents have come for the festivities.

“Three years ago I met with a representative from the Shay Family Foundation to discuss what they could do,” Mrs. Michael says. After securing a generous grant, she oversaw the renovations and upgrades: a new fence, blacktop, and shade structures. Teachers received new projectors and laptops for classroom use. “Already, we were taken aback by their generosity,” Mrs. Michael grins. “But then they came back and, boy, did they bring a lot with them.”“Eight years ago, when I was hired as principal of this school, I was surprised to see how broken down our campus appeared, yet how full of life it truly was,” Mrs. Michael remarks from the stage. Before the renovations, St. Sebastian’s campus consisted of “disarrayed trailers, a broken-down classroom building,” and a field nicknamed “the warzone.” Teachers often had to teach combination classes due to insufficient classroom space. “But I looked and saw treasure beneath the rubble,”  the principal recalls.

Thanks to the foundation’s generosity, St. Sebastian’s was able erect a new classroom building and overhaul its existing classrooms. An AstroTurf  soccer field replaced “the warzone,” and below it workers installed a new plumbing infrastructure. “It was an essential addition and incredibly generous,” says Mrs. Michael to the assembled parents and teachers.

“We now have a new office, more classrooms, a science lab furnished with equipment, and a teacher’s lounge,” she continues. “But for my favorite gift of all: We received a communal prayer garden around back. The SFF went far and beyond to not only give us what we needed, but they made our campus beautiful, too.”

Among those in attendance is Dr. Drew Rosato, a Thomas Aquinas College tutor and the parent of three children at St. Sebastian’s. “One of the Church’s contributions to America has been a great system of schools to enrich people everywhere,” Dr. Rosato observes. “Grace has taken some wonderful initiative to make all of this happen and build up her community at this school. Thanks to that, I think she’s really participating in the furtherance of Catholic Education. This will be a great thing for our kids and the community at large.”

Stepping up to the stage to offer his observations is Rev. Pasquale Vuoso, pastor of St. Sebastian Church. “When I hired Grace, she was only 26. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t hire someone so young!’” he laughs. “Well, I’d say it’s worked out pretty well.”

The above comes from a Nov. 12 release from Thomas Aquinas College.