OLEAN, NY – Southern Tier Catholic School and Archbishop Walsh Academy added a special touch to this year's Catholic Schools Week, combining it with Homecoming Week for the first time.

Mary Lou Plesac, director of spiritual life for both schools, explained that Walsh used to have fall homecomings until three years ago when the academy moved homecoming to coincide with its biggest sport, varsity basketball. 

Traditionally, both schools have a pep rally at the end of Catholic Schools Week. Friday’s was the homecoming pep rally as well and students were urged to get excited for the three basketball games that the school hosted back to back on Friday: modified, women’s and men’s varsity.

Sign Up for E-News

To start off the homecoming games, the Lady Eagles played West Seneca Christian School, losing a hard fight, 40-47. Next on the schedule was the Southern Tier Catholic School modified team, who defeated the Immaculate Conception Crusaders, 43-32. Lastly, the men’s team put together a big win over Nichols, 63-54.

Throughout Catholic Schools Week, the students at both schools participated in themed dress-down days: Movie Monday; Crazy Sock Day; Wacky-Tacky Wednesday; Sports and Arts Day, and Spirit Wear with Crazy Hat Day. Spiritual activities offered included an interactive learning quiz titled Religion Kahoot and a Mass for both schools Tuesday.

“I look at what other schools do to kind of validate that it’s okay to do a crazy hat day,” Plesac explained. “What you do at a celebration is fun things. So we highlight our spirituality, but we also have some fun stuff.”

At both schools students get just as excited for the activities of Catholic Schools Week as the faculty and staff do.

“It’s about Catholic schools and how they are just amazing and what we can do in the Catholic schools,” Xavier Hilmey, a fifth grader dressed in school colors and a crazy hat, said with a big smile on his face. “The dress-down days do add on a lot to that and so does Make Your Own Sundae Day. It kind of all pieces together.”

The theme for this year's National Catholic Schools Week was “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.” Plesac said she tries to do her best showing that common theme throughout the week.

“Service is just always going on, so that’s kind of an ongoing thing,” Plesac said. “We’re always reminding the kids how important community service is. The Catholic Schools Week has had that saying for the last three years, and I think it’s a really good way to go about the week.”

Among regularly scheduled service activities are student visits to the St. Elizabeth's Motherhouse and other nursing homes, Plesac said.

For Catholic Schools Week, the seniors were put in charge of conducting a series of relay races: wheelbarrow races, three-legged races, egg races, and girls putting makeup on guys. And some students competed to find a worm in pie tins full of whipped cream.

“We have to set up a bunch of different activities that the ninth through twelfth graders and the sports teams get to participate in and the younger kids get to just watch,” said Willow Greer, a twelfth-grader who has had her whole education at the two schools.

Thomas J. Manko, president and principal of both schools, told stories about the students during the dress-down days, including one about a kindergartener who made sure Manko knew he was dressed for Crazy Sock Day and not going against the uniform policy.

“I’m hoping that the students take away that they’re part of a school that’s very special in nature due to its Catholicism and that we’re a family,” said Manko. “So that through prayer and contemplation, hard work and effort that everybody can be successful here.”

Senior Krailyn Clayton, who has been educated at both schools, voiced how amazing her Catholic education has been and how lucky she is. Clayton pointed out that she has gone through 13 Catholic Schools Weeks and wouldn’t want it any other way.

“It’s important to have because sometimes it's hard going to a Catholic school,” she said. “And we have to wear uniforms all the time. But in Catholic Schools Week we get a chance to express ourselves and show that there’s a fun side to being in a Catholic school.”