It was a celebration built on a mutual desire to improve the lives of the people in the Dominican Republic. On March 5, after nearly a year of construction, the people of the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana and the Diocese of Orlando rejoiced as the newly renovated St. Maximilian Kolbe Middle School in the villages of Las Lomas was dedicated before a group of dignitaries from the Japanese Embassy and the national government. The Japanese Embassy funded the expansion.
Henry Fortier, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Orlando, said, in 2013, the Japanese Embassy in the Dominican Republic was seeking private organizations to help fund projects that would have a long-term impact on the lives of the communities in the Dominican Republic. Facing a middle school filled beyond capacity – enrollment has surged from 25 students a decade ago to more than 400 today, Ursuline Sister Bernadette Mackay, director of the Missions Office, applied for and was awarded a grant from the agency.
The end result was three new, fully furnished buildings on the St. Maximilian Kolbe Middle School campus.
“It was a beautiful morning, with a cool breeze blowing and the sun shining radiantly,” said Sister Bernadette Mackay, speaking about the day of the event. “As we walked down the small, steep slope and approached the area where the children were gathered, they all acclaimed ‘Welcome’ in Japanese. The Ambassador at my side was tickled pink.”
The celebration included a blessing of the three new buildings, a ribbon cutting and plaque unveiling ceremony, performances by the children, and lunch featuring Japanese cuisine. Fortier said each grade level also presented displays showing projects they had worked in learning about Japan. He and Sister Mackay credited Nelson Matthew, assistant director of the Office of Missions, as well as the teachers for preparing the students for the special event.
“Prior to the expansion, our students knew very little about Japan,” Fortier said. “Now our schools are experts of Japanese culture.”
“This event marked the culmination of a year of hard work for everyone,” Sister Mackay said. “But gratefully it also marks the beginning of a new opportunity for our children as we race to being recognized as a school of excellence.”