Despite almost a year of school amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Palm Beach continue to adapt to the ever-changing “new normal” permeating the current learning environment. For St. Vincent Ferrer School in Delray Beach, change is something that has brought on the beginning of a bittersweet chapter in the school’s history.
In recent months, the school dedicated the construction of a new addition to its campus that accommodates the growing school population and activities. Just as it officially celebrated this happy development—which was postponed due to COVID-19—the school also said goodbye to its longtime principal, Vikki Delgado. Delgado shared that she officially submitted her letter of retirement in March 2020 but, stayed on until October of the same year to guide the school through the early turbulent months of the pandemic.
“I knew I couldn’t abandon the school in such a dire time, it was important for me that something remain constant during all the change,” Delgado said of her extended service to St. Vincent Ferrer School.
Since Delgado’s retirement in October 2020, Denise O’Loughlin—previously vice principal—has since stepped into Delgado’s role. O’Loughlin noted that she has “big shoes to fill” but, has every confidence in her 15 years with the diocese as an educator and in the “talented and faith-filled” people she works with to carry the school into years of continued success.
Delgado’s first encounter with St. Vincent Ferrer School was in 1995 as a substitute pre-k teacher; she was standing in for a teacher that had left on maternity leave. Eventually, she was approached by administration to take the job full-time and there was no going back for her.
“Teaching the little ones was eye-opening. You get to witness the moment when they develop a love for learning,” she said.
Delgado, who holds degrees in music and education from the University of Miami and a master's degree in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University, went on to teach pre-k for eight years. When her mother fell ill, Delgado left the school to care for her mother and family full time. She was able to maintain a side job with a transcription company in Miami but, terribly missed the classroom. Delgado’s mother, also a teacher, pushed her to find a way back into education, which she did in 2008 when she learned of an opening for principal at St. Vincent Ferrer School.
“A month into my new job, my mother passed away,” said Delgado. “But what better place to be during a hard time than with a Catholic school community? The school was there for me when I needed support.”
In return, Delgado’s dedication to the school never wavered, even during financial insecurities and low student enrollment.
“During my early years of being principal, the stock market crashed and everyone faced a divebombing economy. People had to reevaluate their priorities and weigh what was best for them in the face of financial struggles. Families who wanted a Catholic education for their children suddenly couldn’t afford it. So, we had to reinvent ourselves,” she said.
Delgado began with the school’s mission statement. “Who are we? What do we stand for? What are our values? These were the questions that helped us whittle down a mission that was concise and poignant. I wanted it to be something that the students could learn and memorize and keep it at the top of their minds,” Delgado said.
The current school mission statement reads, “We encourage students to open their hearts to God, their minds to learning, give of their talents to service and strive to be stewards of the earth.”
Through this simple, yet powerful statement, St. Vincent Ferrer School forms and educates young minds according to these principals through strong faith formation programs, high academic standards, charitable outreach opportunities, and impactful environmental service projects.
In addition to a powerful mission statement, Delgado revealed that prayer has gone a long way for the school under her leadership.
“We prayed for increased enrollment so that we could be around for years to come,” she said. “We knew that Catholic schools nearby were also struggling and that it could easily be us that closed. In 2015, we welcomed students from St. Mark School when it had to close. We also saw a large influx of public school students transferring to St. Vincent. All of a sudden, we were bursting at the seams.”
After making room with portable classrooms, Delgado began the slow process of implementing the school’s expansion and fundraising for the dream of an additional classroom building. It took approximately three years to construct the new building, which officially opened in August 2019. The 6.5-million-dollar school expansion included a two-story building with 13 classrooms, a new front office entrance and a new science lab.
Delgado said, “We’re not only expanding physically, but expanding the minds of people who might second guess a Catholic education. It’s my hope that the school will grow to attract a more diverse population that will see not only our excellent programs and facilities but, also our affordability through scholarships and memorial funds, of which we have many thanks to a supportive parish family.”
Delgado knows that these hopes are shared by O’Loughlin, who she says is “the real deal—warmhearted, firm in her beliefs, a good communicator and has an incredible faith in our Lord.”
“My goal as the new principal,” O’Loughlin said, “is to lead with flexibility, compassion and the question, ‘How can I be more like Christ in my administration?’”
“I would have never left the school if I didn’t have the right person for the job ready to pick up where I left off,” Delgado remarked. “I know that Denise will be an incredible leader into the unknown of the future.”
To learn more about St. Vincent Ferrer School in Delray Beach, visit stvfschool.org or call 561-278-3868. Follow the school on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @SVFVikings. Stay connected with the Office of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Palm Beach online at diocesepbschools.org. For updates on the 18 diocesan Catholic schools, follow the office on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @DoPBCatholicSchools.