Before the start of each school day during Catholic Schools Week, students at Duchesne High lined up in front of the campus ministry office with toilet paper in hand.
It may sound like a strange task, but service was at the heart of their motivation. This is the second year Duchesne has engaged in a friendly competition with neighboring St. Dominic High School in O'Fallon to collect packages of toilet paper for Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service, which provides charitable services in St. Charles, Lincoln, and Warren counties.
Duchesne is hoping to pull ahead of their competitors this year for the highest average per student collected. Last year, St. Dominic won the competition, edging out Duchesne students by .04 of a roll per student. The winner this year was expected to be announced Feb. 3 at basketball game between the schools.
Friendly competition aside, this service project is just one more way in which students at the two schools are experiencing service with a goal of learning about connecting with others in need.
"It's very important that we as a young community are exposed to the meaning of charity, reaching out and meeting (others') needs," said senior Andrew Sweeso, a member of Duchesne's Campus Ministry Agape Club, which organized the toilet paper drive. "With the toilet paper drive, it's something a lot of us take for granted. Students here come home and there's not a lack of toilet paper — but to realize there are a lot of people out there who need these necessities and that we are able to help them — really so easily — is something that should have an impact on students here."
Service is one of the hallmark characteristics of Catholic high schools. Beyond the regular service requirements, Duchesne students also have a Key Club (chartered through the international organization), an Outreach Club, and service projects with Campus Ministry, National Honor Society and other student groups.
"We try to give them the experience of service to others," said principal Fritz Long. At Christmas, each homeroom advisory group adopts a family through Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service, and hand-delivers gifts to those families. "It gives them a little more ownership in that service opportunity," Long said. "It's one more way of seeing these people they are directly helping and learning what it means to help."
Sweeso recalled delivering gifts to a Ugandan family adopted through the Care Service, saying, "They were so moved by getting something as simple as a Christmas tree."
Service opportunities remain a priority, and will be extended to a growing incoming freshman class at Duchesne. In two years, the school expects a 50 percent growth in its incoming freshman class. Last year, there were 60 freshmen, and this year, the freshman class is at 75. The school anticipates a total of 114 new students — including 90 in the incoming freshman class — for the 2017-18 year, according to director of admissions and marketing Lindsay McCullough.
Those growing numbers are helping to turn around enrollment at Duchesne, which had been on a decline in the past 10 years. This year, total school enrollment is 299, and it's expected to be around 325 for next year.
Some of the increase is attributed to students moving over from the closing Kennedy Catholic High School. But McCullough added that enrollment became "job number one" for the school when Chuck Nolan started as president in 2015.
"He told us we needed to make our overall focus on enrollment — and there was a lot we were already doing — but now we've made this a full year-round job," McCullough said. Added recruitment events include a Pioneer-for-a-Day for seventh-graders; DHS Sundays, where students speak at Masses at neighboring parishes; and forming an enrollment committee with parents from the feeder grade schools.