St. Rocco School History
In 1942, the Missionary Zelatrices of the Sacred Heart, now known as the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, arrived in St. Rocco Parish. Founded by Mother Clelia Merloni, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus had been in the United States since 1902. The Missionaries of St. Charles/Scalabrinians staffed the predominantly Italian immigrant parish. They invited the sisters to share the faith with the next generation of St. Rocco children. They took up residence in the old rectory and immediately had an impact on the development of the parish. The sisters’ work was focused on religious instruction and sacramental preparation. They also assisted with the religious and social activities of the parish. However, after the new St. Rocco Church was completed in 1953, their work took on new direction and meaning. The old church was converted into a nursery, kindergarten, and youth center. The new nursery was blessed on February 8th, 1953, and opened the next day. These were the first steps in the development of the school.
St. Rocco School, through the efforts of the Missionaries of St. Charles and with the blessing of Bishop McVinney, opened its doors in the Diocese of Providence, on September 9, 1963. As pastor of St. Rocco Parish, Fr. James Viero’s dream was to build a school that would educate the largely Italian American population of the parish. To ensure its success, Fr. Viero appealed to the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to embrace this future school as their own. With the sisters’ affirmative response and the parish’s generosity, the challenge of building a school began. In addition to the regular classrooms, the completed school complex included a library, an industrial kitchen, a spacious hall, a playground, a ball field, and parking facilities. Under the direction of the first principal, Sr. Ann Marie Signorino, A.S.C.J., four sisters and one lay teacher began the mission of providing quality education for the 230 students enrolled in Kindergarten through Grade three. Two new classes were added to the school each succeeding year. By 1968, there were two classes of kindergarten through sixth grade with a total enrollment of 520 students. The empty top floor of the school was rented to Johnston Public Schools until 1976 and was known as the Thornton Annex. In 1976, the school expanded with a nursery and a seventh grade. One year later, there were two classes from nursery to eighth grade. Enrollment grew to 572 students in 1978 with a staff of seven sisters and thirteen lay teachers. During the next two decades, the school’s enrollment remained strong with well over 400 students.
In 1994, St. Rocco School under the leadership of then principal, Sr. Mary Carol Gentile, was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the United States Department of Education. The entire school community took pride in this accomplishment. The 1990’s also brought many changes to the physical plant. The school opened a new addition at the turn of the millennium to provide needed classrooms for the growing school population. St. Rocco School joyfully celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2003.
In the 2004-2005 school year, St. Rocco School adopted the Girls’ and Boys’ Town Educational Model of Social Skills. Based on Gospel values, this model is designed to assist the entire school community. Educating students on the virtues and living a virtuous life continues to be a central part of a student’s overall education at St. Rocco School.
In 2006, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus left St. Rocco School after 43 years of service to the school community. While the sisters were dearly missed, the strong Christian and academic foundation that they laid has remained clearly present in the halls of the school. The mission of the school, “Sharing the Love of the Heart of Christ”, continued under new lay leadership and an exceptionally competent, committed and caring faculty and staff.
In 2014, St. Rocco’s School was blessed with the arrival of three nuns belonging to the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Garden. This is an international teaching order founded in 1829 by St. Anthony Gianelli. Fr. Carusi hired the Sisters to extend their ministry to the school and parish as well. They have been at St. Rocco’s ever since, collaborating with the rest of the faculty, to create at St. Rocco School, an environment within which children strive for academic and spiritual excellence.
After almost 60 years, St. Rocco School remains a vital parish PreK3-Grade 8 elementary school in Rhode Island with a strong enrollment and a top notch faculty and staff. The school continues to strive for academic excellence in an environment that instills Catholic values and nourishes the development of the whole person. Integrating technology across the curriculum and ensuring that the faculty and staff continue to grow both spiritually and professionally are emphasized at St. Rocco School. The St. Rocco School that opened its doors in 1963 did so as a unified and tightly knit community. This is still true today. St. Rocco School remains a welcoming environment where all are both welcomed and welcome. Finally, and most importantly, “Sharing the Love of the Heart of Christ” remains the foundation of the St. Rocco School community.
Ms. Regina Hand is the school principal and Fr. Angelo Carusi is the parish pastor.