By Chris Rodell
FORD CITY — Dave Cippel says students who’ve attended The Divine Redeemer Catholic School become like family — they each have touchstone memories that will forever bond them to all who’ve at one time or another trod the school’s halls.
“The classes are so small, and you see the same faces year after year that in a way, you all become like family,” he said.
And he’s a man who knows a thing or two — or four — about family. Four Cippel sons followed in their father’s footsteps, so pleased was he at the education he received at Divine Redeemer.
“It’s just such a blessing to our family,” Cippel said. “I’ll always recommend the school to parents who care about getting their kids a good education that goes beyond the classroom.”
The family theme applies these days to the principal’s office, too.
Principal Tom Dinga is being challenged with parental considerations that stem from his own home.
One of his sons seeks fiscal accountability from him, while another needs prayer.
“My 32-year-old son Eric is Father Eric, and he’s now the man who signs off on the budget,” he says. “And my 26-year-old son Troy is taking cancer treatments to overcome the lymphoma he’s been battling.”
Father Eric J. Dinga is pastor of Christ, Prince of Peace Parish, Ford City, and St. Lawrence Parish, Cadogan.
That’s all on top of CDC vaccination mandates, fiscal projections, teacher needs, grounds upkeep and maintenance, and the many concerns common to a typical principal.
So, how’s he holding up?
“Just fine, thanks,” he said. “Troy is making progress with his treatments. We’re grateful for all the prayers that have been sent on his behalf. And it’s been fun working with my son, Father Eric, as he and I go over the budget. So, things are pretty good.”
The same could be said for the school. Its roots go back to 1891 when it was St. Mary Catholic School. It operated as such until 1958, when it was razed to make way for the existing structure.
The school has always been staffed by the Sisters of Divine Providence. In August 1997, Bishop Anthony G. Bosco decreed that Ford City Catholic School be named The Divine Redeemer School.
Cippel is president of Klingensmith Neighborly Drug Store. He says the small classroom sizes — about 16 students per class — is one of the enduring benefits of a Catholic education.
“It’s just a place where kids can come and get a really good, well-rounded education and still get a feel of going to church and being part of that,” he said. “We put the kids first. The discipline is strong. Lots of collaborative work.”
It’s no wonder, then, that the school is experiencing its third consecutive year of increasing enrollment.
Cippel says Divine Redeemer students also benefit from a situational camaraderie so subtle it may go undetected for decades.
“Kids make friends for life without even knowing it’s happening,” he said. “It’s bound to happen when you’re in the same small classroom with the same kids year after year. You get to know people really well just by spending so much time in the vicinity of one another. And they’re being taught by many of the same teachers who’ve been there for 20 years.”
The enhanced discipline is evident in children like his sons, he says, in that each has become a productive member of society and each is working to ensure that society continues to thrive.
“I see these kids that come from homes and schools where there is no discipline,” he said. “I can tell just by their behavior, nope, there’s a kid that has yet to enroll in The Divine Redeemer.”