Ladies of Charity, in partnership with Catholic Foundation, round up new outfits for 219 students at southwest Detroit grade school
DETROIT -- The 219 students at Holy Redeemer Grade School in southwest Detroit are looking a little snappier this academic year, thanks to a donation from a local women’s charitable group.
Students at the K-8 school are sporting new uniforms this fall, courtesy of the Ladies of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, an Oakland County-based organization that has helped those in need for more than 50 years.
“We applied for and were awarded the 2020 impact grant through the Catholic Foundation of Michigan, and it was for children’s school clothes,” Leslie Swanson, president of the local Ladies of Charity, told Detroit Catholic. “Because we have a clothes closet and food pantry, we knew we could use this money to provide new school clothes for students.”
The organization supplemented the grant with a donation of its own, making it possible for families to purchase uniforms at a substantial discount. The Ladies of Charity identified under-resourced schools and researched uniform companies, soliciting input from local stakeholders and the archdiocese.
When Holy Redeemer was suggested, Swanson was all in.
“I really felt a pull in the direction of Holy Redeemer when (a member) presented options to me because my father’s family were Holy Redeemer parishioners back in the 1930s,” Swanson said. “My father, Jerome Heyer, was a 1938 graduate.”
Dennis Uniform, a 100-year-old company headquartered in Portland, Ore., with an outlet in Auburn Hills, was chosen after Holy Redeemer principal Sr. Kateri Burbee, SOLT, a team of school parents and the Ladies of Charity conducted a thorough selection process.
Until now, Holy Redeemer students didn’t have uniforms -- at least not recently, Sr. Kateri said.
“Children in the younger grades had the option of a white or light blue polo shirt embroidered with the letters ‘H.R.’,” Sr. Kateri said. “Pants needed to be navy blue. The little girls wore jumpers, but nothing was uniform. In the older grades, they just wore plain white button-up shirts and any type of navy blue pants they could find.
“Navy blue and white weren’t the school colors,” Sr. Kateri added. “We were hoping to eventually make a switch to formal uniforms, but it wasn’t at the top of our priority list.”
Now, girls up to third grade are wearing plaid, black-and-white jumpers with lines of purple and gold -- Holy Redeemer’s actual colors -- with purple or light yellow polo shirts featuring the school’s emblem.
“Girls in grades 4-8 wear ‘skorts’ in the same plaid, but they look like a skirt. The white oxford shirts have ‘H.R.’ embroidered on them,” Sr. Kateri said. “The boys are wearing navy blue shorts or pants and H.R. polo shirts, which can be purple or yellow. They have an option of button-up shirts with a navy or plaid tie which matches the uniform.”
Already, there’s a difference in school culture, Sr. Kateri said.
“Anytime you dress up for something, you feel more confident,” Sr. Kateri said. “With our new uniforms there’s the realization that, ‘Wow, I belong to Holy Redeemer. I have pride in myself as a student scholar. And at the same time, I am proud of my school.’”
With students, it’s thumbs up. During a fitting and ordering day in the school gym last spring, young scholars gave the new uniforms high marks.
“When you wear a uniform, other people can see you are Catholic. So they may get in the Catholic business and register at Holy Redeemer,” sixth-grader Miguel Franco Hermosillo said.
“I’m not really good with fashion,” fellow sixth-grader Alex Portis added. “Give me something simple, something you can wash and wear and look good in, and I’m happy.”
Seventh-grader Miranda Lara likes the skirts, which she says will be better for hot weather. “It’s better than wearing pants. And I like the yellow and purple color scheme,” she said.
“Now we all look the same, and you can tell we’re from the same school,” seventh-grader Janet Torres said. “I like to have things more organized. I think our school is changing in a good way. We are going to look more like a private school.”
Carrie Carnacchi of Dennis Uniform supervised on fitting day, working up a sweat in the warm gym.
“Being with these children and parents brings me so much happiness,” Carnacchi said. “They are so filled with joy, appreciation, gratitude and patience. I love seeing the girls spin in their skirts and jumpers. You can see the boys and girls carry themselves differently; the uniforms lend a sense of confidence and pride.”
Fr. Dennis Walsh, SOLT, pastor of Holy Redeemer, helped welcome students on the first day of school Aug. 31, blessing students and staff along with associate pastor Fr. Tony Blount, SOLT.
“When this opportunity came up, it really helped a lot,” Fr. Walsh said. “It’s good for the children to dress up and know that school is something important; they’re not here to just play around. Overall, our families really like it too.”
Deysi Martinez, a Holy Redeemer parent and secretary of the school’s parent-teacher organization, likes everything about the uniforms, especially their durability.
“Working with the Ladies of Charity was an absolute joy,” Martinez said. “Every time we had a concern or question, they were very open to listening and finding answers. We’re beyond thankful they took the time and chose to do this for our school.”
Eric Haley, associate school superintendent for the south and central regions of the archdiocese, which includes the city of Detroit, said each of the city’s four Catholic grade schools is doing “amazing work” in their neighborhoods, and it’s important for the community to support them.
“We are so blessed to have the Ladies of Charity and Catholic Foundation of Michigan as community partners, providing service to others,” Haley said. “We thank the Ladies of Charity for fostering a working relationship to meet the mission of Holy Redeemer. It takes a village.”
Rather than simply giving money, Sr. Kateri said the Ladies of Charity have gone a step further, developing relationships with PTO parents and offering to help the school in other ways.
“We are really happy with the way it came out,” Swanson said. “We wanted to get them off to a good start, and I think this program definitely did that. In the spring, there’s going to be a used uniform sale. We’re going to help with that.”
The Ladies of Charity is the oldest Catholic laywomen’s apostolate in the world. It was co-founded in 17th century France by St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac when poverty, sickness, and great hardships were rampant.
Today, there are more than 260,000 members in 53 countries, and 61 associations in the U.S. The organization’s local chapter is based at St. Hugo of the Hills in Bloomfield Hills. Its 350-plus members hail from 35 Catholic parishes.