SOUTH WEYMOUTH -- If you ask St. Francis Xavier School principal Robert Murphy about his school, he'll say that it has "rigorous academics," strong music and arts programs and fun, comprehensive physical education classes. Yet, to him, those aren't what set St. Francis Xavier School apart from other schools in the area. To him, it's the sense of community, and their focus on the Catholic faith.
"We certainly have a strong sense of community, and a strong Catholic identity," said Murphy, speaking to The Pilot Feb. 27. "We're not exclusive, we don't exclude people who are not Catholic, we welcome non-Catholics, but our Catholic identity is very, very important to us. That's why we're here."
Located in South Weymouth, St. Francis Xavier School provides education to children pre-k through grade 8. It's a fairly small parish school, with roughly 270 students, and, according to many teachers there, it radiates a sense of community, of family.
Diane Robison had taught at public schools for several years before taking a position at St. Francis this school year as a 5th grade teacher. Though she enjoyed teaching in the public schools, she said she knew there was something different about St. Francis immediately after taking on her position.
"It's the families, and how much they're involved," said Robison. "They are so supportive of the teachers, so supportive of the children. They are always trying to be more involved."
That sense of community stems, in part, from the school's strong Gospel values, said Murphy. Each day begins and ends in prayer for both students and staff, and prayers are said before lunch. Mass is celebrated every first Friday of the month, as well as on holy days, explained Murphy, as well as a family Mass that students are encouraged to attend at the parish each Sunday.
In the classrooms, teachers "interview our faith" through their curriculums, said Murphy.
Seventh and 8th grade literature teacher Angela Bowman discusses faith and religion a lot in her classes, she said, something that she feels she was unable to do when she taught in public schools before coming to St. Francis four years ago.
"Especially in literature class, when we discuss the various novels that we read, we can really have meaningful discussion about moral issues and how religion can sometimes play a role in that," she said.
Bowman said she also appreciates that feeling of community, saying that "the families and the communities of the school are really respectful" and supportive.
A number of students also praised the close-knit community at the school, telling The Pilot they made some of their closest friends during their time there.
Mary Duncan, an 8th grader, has been a student at the school for nine years.
"I've made some of my best friends here," she said, adding that "we've all known each other since kindergarten."
Yet, even new students at the school have become close friends, she said. "Some new people joined this year, and it has been a bonding experience."
Zen Bidi, a 7th grader, was the winner of this year's regional spelling bee. He transferred to St. Francis last school year from a public school, and said he likes "it much better here."
"I like all the teachers, all the students much better," Bidi said. "Everybody is nice and helpful. The community is really nice."
Everyone knows each other here, he said, and "we can all talk to each other."
Murphy said there are many families, including the families of staff and teachers, who have all attended St. Francis, or who are currently attending.
"There are so many families, you see in the morning at drop-off how many people are getting out of a car," he said.
Even though there are wide-ranges of ages, "there is a sense that it is a family school," explained Murphy.
"They're great kids," he said. "They're great kids."