St. Peter Catholic School will remain open at least through May 2012 thanks to $150,000 in contributions received since Nov. 9, it was announced at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

St. Peter Catholic School will remain open at least through May 2012 thanks to $150,000 in contributions received since Nov. 9, it was announced at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Father Anil Thomas of St. Peter Catholic Church made the announcement in the school gymnasium, where students, staff and teachers were gathered.

“I want to thank everyone involved for what we have been able to accomplish in a very short amount of time,” Thomas said.

Vernell Bowen, superintendent for Catholic Schools in Arkansas, read from the official Diocese of Little Rock press release, which provided the details on the circumstances surrounding the donation drive.

“On the seventh day of the Seven-Seven-Seven campaign proposed by the Reverend Anil Thomas, contributions to St. Peter Catholic School have reached a level in which Bishop Anthony B. Taylor is giving permission for the school to remain open through May 2012,” Bowen said. “A parent meeting was called Nov. 9 to address the financial situation of St. Peter School. A letter from Bishop Taylor stated that it had become evident that the school would have to close on Dec.19 unless $175,000 was raised for operational expenses.

“At that meeting, Reverend Thomas challenged parents, parishioners, alumni and benefactors in the Pine Bluff community to raise $175,000 in seven days.

“On Nov. 16, just six days after that challenge, pledges and cash contributions totaling $149,548 have been contributed to the school,” Bowen said.

Thomas said that in the day since the press release was written, the school has received an additional $5,000 in donations.

“Since the bulk of the $175,000 has been raised, the Diocese of Little Rock has agreed to give us more time to raise the remaining amount,” Thomas said.

Thomas said his plan involved raising the money over a seven-day period to keep the school open for an additional seven months and to develop a seven-year long-range plan.

“Over the next seven months I want to focus on the Triple S plan, or students, staff and supporters,” Thomas said. “The main thing is, of course, the students. What I really feel will be in the long-term best interest of Pine Bluff is to invest our time and talents in educating our children. That means also recruiting the best staff that we can find to invest in our students.

“Our success here was just a matter of working together. I couldn’t believe we could raise this money, but I had a dream that these children would not have to leave this school. In these past six days we never slept in order to meet this goal. I was so happy that we were able to do something,” Thomas said.

Thomas focused the majority of his prepared remarks on the St. Peter students.

“To our children, I want to say that we have to be successful in life,” Thomas said. “In order to be successful you need to focus on the Three D’s, which are dream, determination and drive. That means we need a dream. The dream of your parents was for you to come to school here and to become prepared to be successful in your lives. Your dream will then become your goal. To achieve your goal you have to work hard.

“We dreamed of keeping our school open and now that will last until at least until May 2012,” Thomas said. “Our dream became our goal once the donors started to bring in the money. Within six days we raised this money. You must always work hard at your dream.”

Dr. Erma Washington, whose children attended St. Peter School and who is the great aunt of a current student, made several comments.

“Nine days ago the Diocese came to us with a proposal: ‘Raise enough money to pay your bills, and we will do our part to keep this school open,’” Washington said. “A member of the board who wants to remain anonymous came to me and said that she believed this could be done. It was this spark, and her determination, that ignited this entire campaign.”

Washington thanked a number of people for their assistance in helping to raise the money for St. Peter School.

“Thank you to Father Thomas, who was sent to us by Heaven,” Washington said. “Open, gracious and progressive, he is the fresh air that God has infused into our community.”

St. Peter Assistant Principal Sylvana Niciteretse expressed her thanks for the successful fundraising effort.

“I am so excited to see how we have come together as a community,” Niciteretse said. “We have never forgotten our purpose to be her for these children. I am so proud and I am so grateful that we have responded to that purpose.”