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Blessed Sacrament Catholic School Celebrates 20 Years of Festive Fundraising
by Audrey Hanes

In 2000, a group of parents approached administrators at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School with the idea of starting a unique fundraiser that combined their Catholic faith with the celebration of Mardi Gras. Twenty years later, more than 400 people gather annually to raise money for the private school’s scholarship and endowment program, as well as for educational materials for existing students.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic School (BSCS) Principal Mary Kay Jones explains that the Mardi Gras carnival season begins on Epiphany and ends the day before Ash Wednesday. Epiphany comes from the Greek word meaning “to reveal,” because Bethlehem is where the infant Jesus first revealed himself to the world. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten season of fasting and praying before Easter. Mardi Gras is French and means “Fat Tuesday,” which is a day of feasting before the start of Lent.

“It’s a perfect fit that we would celebrate and have a fundraiser that ties in with our faith,” said Jones. “It’s a fun, festive and easygoing atmosphere. … We’re really a family here at Blessed Sacrament, and I think that carries over to our Mardi Gras event. Everyone feels welcome, whether they’re attending the event or entering the doors to the school. It’s very genuine.”

Chairing the 20th annual event are Ashley Ditta and Cari Dunham, both of whom attended BSCS themselves and have children who currently attend or recently attended the school, which goes through sixth grade.

“There isn’t another Mardi Gras event in Jonesboro, so that in itself is unique; … this is just a very enjoyable event,” said Ditta, who has been involved with the event since 2015. “We have great Cajun food (from) Popeye’s and Omar’s, who donate every year, and fun music with lots of great stuff in our class baskets, silent and live auctions.”

The celebration will also include drinks, a parade and dancing. Music will be provided by DJ Dario.

Jones says that the king and queen are part of a long tradition coming from the French Mardi Gras in the 1800s, where a king and queen were chosen to reign over festivities. BSCS selects a king and a queen in keeping with that tradition and as a way to honor a couple that has shown tremendous support for the school. The 2020 king and queen, Arturo Gonzalez and Claudia Gonzalez-Fuentes, have given their time and resources to both the school and the church for many years.

“Claudia serves on school board and PTO, heads up the poinsettia sale fundraiser and puts together our yearbook,” said Jones. “Arturo has helped with all of that and is a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s group that contributes a lot to support the school and support the church. They’re very involved with church and school.”

To commemorate two decades of celebrating Mardi Gras and raising money for BSCS, the event will recognize all the previous kings and queens, who will then get to participate in the parade along with the faculty.

“I think recognizing all the kings and queens throughout the last 20 years and seeing all the people that have been involved over the years will be really special this year,” said Ditta. “It is so exciting to be a part of something that just gets better and better every year. I think it is so successful because every year new parents get involved with the event and bring fresh ideas and a different perspective, so the event just continues to grow.”

Dunham began helping with the event two years ago after attending for several years, and she enjoys seeing the teachers, staff, students, parents, church parishioners and members of the community all come together to support BSCS.

“This fundraiser is our biggest one of the year,” said Dunham. “As a small private school, we don’t receive a lot of the grants and federal funding you will see in public schools. …

“The people are what make this event so unique. I’ve never heard of anyone attending a party with a bunch of Catholics where they didn’t have fun. In all seriousness, it doesn’t matter what faith you come from or what school you support; you will be welcomed like family at this event, because that’s exactly what our school is – one big family.”

That school/church family is something that Jones’ family has been a part of for four generations. She is currently serving in her third year as principal of BSCS, prior to which she served as the school’s media specialist. Jones has been a parishioner since 1998, when she and her family moved back to Jonesboro. All four of her daughters were students at BSCS, becoming the fourth generation on her husband’s side to attend the school.

“When the opportunity came up to be principal, I put my name in, and here we are,” said Jones. “It’s a lot of work, and it’s a lot of fun. I was involved having four daughters here, so it’s been a natural inclination to stay involved.

“… It’s the work of the Holy Spirit that brought me back here. It’s a blessing to work with our families. I don’t think of it as a job; it’s a ministry. It’s a fun ministry.”

Currently, 134 students from many different countries and a variety of religious backgrounds attend BSCS. Whether it’s sending the sixth graders to space camp each year or the Christians in Action service project that is a part of the school’s curriculum, teachers and administrators work to provide students with unique, hands-on learning experiences from an education and personal growth standpoint.

“At Blessed Sacrament, our approach to education is of the whole person – body, mind, heart and spirit,” said Jones. “We have a strong focus not only on academics, but on character formation. Children will learn about service to others and how we can use our talents in service to Christ to help others; that is a big component to our education here. … We want to help prepare not just students of the future, but citizens of the future, who will go out and have compassion and care for others.”

The 20th annual Blessed Sacrament Catholic School Mardi Gras Fundraiser will take place on Feb. 22 from 6:30-11:30 p.m. at St. Bernards Auditorium, 505 East Washington Ave. Tickets are $75 each. For more information about the fundraiser or the school, visit catholicjonesboroschool.com or call (870) 932-3684.

BSCS MARDI GRAS KINGS & QUEENS
2001: Warren Dupwe & Janet Utley
2002: Doug Wall & Gurye Smith
2003: Tony & Marth Bartels
2004: Jeff & Susan Throesch
2005: Charles & Donna Fincher
2006: Dean & Janice Massey
2007: Robert & Mary Kay Jones
2008: Chris & Dawn Barre`
2009: Brian & Jane Sneed
2010: Rob & Bonnie Kline
2011: Al & Erika Brodell
2012: John & Caryn Allen
2013: Drew & Molli Beaverstock
2014: Joe & Diane Kueter
2015: Anthony & Beverly Bartels
2016: Robert & April Williamson
2017: Anthony & Ashley Ditta
2018: Jorge` & Ann Vazquez
2019: James & Tara Babin
2020: Arturo Gonzalez & Claudia Gonzalez-Fuentes