PROVIDENCE — Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Nathalie Batista, 19, remembers enduring an hour-long ride on a horse just to shower. And when she moved to the United States nearly 10 years ago, she didn’t speak much English.
Now, she and all 11 of her classmates at St. Patrick Academy made history on June 7, as they represent the school’s first graduating class. Each of them will be heading to college in the fall.
Batista, who lives in Providence and is a parishioner at St. Patrick Parish, will be taking courses at the Community College of Rhode Island in Lincoln for two years before transferring to Becker College in Worcester. She aspires to be a veterinarian.
“I’m always going to look back and say I was part of the first graduating class,” said Batista, an altar server who has been active in school sports and on the student council.
She’s grateful to members of the community who helped make her high school experience a success. About a year ago, she and her family were burned out of their Providence home. They watched their belongings literally go up in smoke.
“We lost everything,” she said.
That’s when generous donors stepped up. They provided funds to help her family pay rent, buy her uniforms, as well as clothes, books and other school supplies. The St. Patrick Parish community also contributed gift certificates, which enabled them to purchase food and basic household necessities.
“I am really grateful,” said Batista, also expressing her faith in God. “You always have to have faith. I always try to keep that as my motto.”
During the graduation ceremony, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin applauded the pastor, Father James Ruggieri, for making the school possible, and praised the administration, faculty, staff and its many supporters. The bishop assisted Father Ruggieri in presenting the school’s first diplomas to the proud graduates, and acknowledged their accomplishments.
“Here, at St. Patrick Academy, you have set a strong foundation upon which you will build your lives,” Bishop Tobin said. “As you go forward, be mindful and grateful to God for all the blessings and opportunities he has given you.”
Father Ruggieri offered the invocation at the graduation of the school’s first class. He noted how the Academy thrives on the generosity of donors.
“We’re so blessed in so many ways,” Father Ruggieri said. “We feel very grateful.”
The school itself has survived many challenges — especially financial strife. About four years ago, the parish’s declining grammar school was converted into a high school. According to Principal Bruce Daigle, it offers inner-city students “a rigorous, college-prep academic program” that’s affordable for low-income families.
Through the kindheartedness of several supporters, not only has St. Patrick Academy acquired a top-notch science lab — complete with state-of-the-art equipment such as an interactive white board and tablets, along with a computer lab — it is also able to provide many students with tuition assistance.
“We are not a tuition-driven school; we are a donor-driven school,” Daigle said during an interview. “We rely on people recognizing the special ministry that we have. They find it valuable both to individual students and to society as a whole because what we’re doing is allowing students to break that cycle of poverty by sending these kids to college.”
The commencement booklet, which was presented to guests before the ceremony, lists about 1,200 benefactors who have made a Catholic high school education possible at St. Patrick Academy, including Mr. and Mrs. John Accinno, Christopher Bodine, The Garrahy Family, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen P. Lynch and family, along with their company, J.H. Lynch and Sons, Inc., and John Primeau, the executive director of the North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation (NACEPF).
Patricia Martinez, a parishioner at St. Patrick, as well as a staffer at Central Falls High School, shared similar sentiments in her commencement address to the students. She reminded them to always keep in mind that the people of St. Patrick Parish have helped them to achieve success.
“Work hard just like people worked hard for the school,” Martinez said.
And they plan to. While class salutatorian Karla Garcia, 18, will study international business at Bryant University, valedictorian Gabrielle Martini, 17, is heading to Rhode Island College to study neuroscience. They are members of the National Honor Society, and participated in many school clubs and activities, such as the German Club, Explore Club, Model Legislature and more.
Both graduates said that not only has St. Patrick Academy enhanced their academic skills, it helped them grow closer to God. Martini, who served as president of the Student Council for the duration of her high school career, said the school and parish presented more opportunities for her to pray, go to confession, as well as attend Eucharistic adoration.
“Before, I was just going to Mass every Sunday and that was it,” said Martini, a parishioner of St. Matthew Parish in Cranston.
Garcia, a parishioner at Providence’s St. Bartholomew Parish, also said the school has inspired her to be more active in the faith.
“It’s made me see the good in everybody,” said Garcia, who served as vice president of the Student Council throughout her four years of high school.
Victoria Dorgan, 17, who will be studying textiles, fashion merchandising and design at the University of Rhode Island, attended public school until joining her classmates at St. Patrick Academy her freshman year.
“It’s nice to be with people who have the same beliefs,” said Dorgan, a parishioner at St. Paul Parish in Cranston. “I’m more able to be myself, [and] I’m on the honor roll each quarter. In middle school, I was never able to achieve honor roll. It’s different here.”
Gabriel Paiz, 17, a parishioner at St. Patrick Parish, feels the same.
“This school actually is involved in the church and focuses on Christ,” said Paiz, who plans to study biology at Rhode Island College in the fall.
Niah Cummings, 17, also a St. Patrick parishioner, said she felt the school’s Christ-like spirit when she began attending classes there two years ago. The students and staff members, she said, are welcoming and friendly.
“I was accepted right off the bat and made a lot of friends,” said Cummings, who is looking forward to studying business management at Johnson and Wales University. “We’re being acknowledged for all the hard work we’ve done here and are paving the way for other students.”
St. Patrick Academy Class of 2014
Niah Dominique Cummings
Paola Andrea DeAlencar
Victoria Marie Dorgan
Karla Maria Garcia
Gabrielle Joi Martini
Luzelenia Alexandra Morales
Gabriel Nicolas Paiz
David William Pinto