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Celebrating 100 Years of Catholic Education and Pueblo Culture at St. Anthony School in Zuni

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Students, teachers, Catholics, and non-Catholics alike came out in force to celebrate the 100th anniversary of St. Anthony School in Zuni, NM, on November 19, 2023.

Catholicism was first introduced to the people of Zuni Pueblo over 450 years ago, but the indigenous population has been present there for thousands of years. In 1923, Franciscan friars were able to secure funding and land to build a new mission church and school – these are the buildings still in in use today.

Most of the staff and students are Zuni, and because the school emphasizes the importance of both Catholic and Pueblo traditions, St. Anthony enjoys a good deal of support from the villagers.

“They’re not practicing Catholics or anything, but they came to our school. And it’s always been part of the community, I think, partly because it was built in the heart of the community and has always stayed there,” said Sr. Marsha Moon, who has been the principal at St. Anthony for eight years.

“For the Zunis, their religion is the heart of their lives. And so we don’t want to pull the kids away from that because there are some rich things that go with that tradition. So we have things like the harvest dance and the corn dance. In the past we’ve used it for the presentation of gifts for real special Masses because that way we integrate part of their tradition.”

During the 100th anniversary celebration, student dancers escorted main celebrant Bishop James Wall to and from Mass, starting with a traditional harvest dance. During Mass, a special children’s choir and Filipino choir sang hymns.

“I was delighted on the day because I saw so many people who have passed through here,” said Fr. Patrick McGuire, pastor of the Zuni parish and school. “And then people from way before ever I came were turning up and they just kind of indicated to me that the school has, and the mission has, a deep-seated effect on people.”

One teacher, a member of Zuni Pueblo, says she admires the “core values” taught at St. Anthony.

“Respect. Compassion for other people. Learning how to become independent, to have integrity for yourself. And to embrace your self-identity, to retain the traditional language of the ancestors.”

Like many others in the village, the teacher is not Catholic, but appreciates the presence and impact of the school on families and young people.

“The students receive self-discipline for themselves and also in their academic work. They become part of the school community where respect is very important, as well as living in the community. And the parents have seen this and they themselves – maybe somebody from their family – have been a student here once before. So it’s just kind of like a generational school for them.”

Fr. McGuire often hears updates on former students who have graduated from St. Anthony.

“Even when they go to high school, the number of times I’ve been told they can tell a student from St. Anthony – they’re respectful, they do their work, and, you know, they are inclined to succeeding. It is really very good for them to be part of the school, grow up with the school, in their mind, in their heart. I’m quite sure they don’t think of it, but the effect of having a Catholic education remains with them throughout life.”

Honoring Indigenous traditions alongside Catholic teaching is also important to Fr. McGuire.

“This day and age, having equipped them with a moral compass, they can deal with what the world is throwing at them and think about it,” he said. “As well as the Christian aspect and the academic aspect, we also encourage them to rejoice in their own unique heritage, and to be proud of that, and to be seen as good Zuni people who have something to offer.”

“I’m proud of our kids. They’re just a joy to be with, really. And the teachers, they see the job as more than a profession – they see it as a vocation. They live that out in what they do.”

With dedication, support, and the grace of God, those at the school now look forward to a second century of service to the community.

“I have to compliment our students for really giving all their heart and helping celebrate it,” said the teacher. “I think the students kind of forgot the length of time, the number of years that this school has been here, established in 1923 and there were a lot of obstacles on the way, but they still overcame that. And you know, that’s only down to prayer. God is always faithful.”

Suzanne Hammons
Suzanne Hammonshttp://dioceseofgallup.org
Suzanne Hammons is the editor of the Voice of the Southwest and the media coordinator for the Diocese of Gallup. A graduate of Benedictine College in Kansas, she joined the Diocesan staff in 2012.

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