By The Texas Catholic
PLANO — Parishes and schools in the Diocese of Dallas are among those that create communities that often feel as close as family.
Some students and teachers alike form friendships that last a lifetime. For some staff and faculty at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic School their community truly is family. Just ask the O’Connors and Bongiovannis.
Rene O’Connor enrolled her first child at the Plano school in 1982, the first year it opened, and began working as a receptionist in 1995. Through the years she has sent five children to St. Mark, including daughter Megan Oliver, who is a current St. Mark’s preschool teacher.
O’Connor said she always knew that this Catholic school would be the perfect fit for her children.
“The environment at St. Mark is based on strong Christian values and beliefs,” she said. “This shows through in all that we do at St. Mark. It is what makes St. Mark such a strong and faithful community.”
Oliver herself has fond memories of her time at St. Mark and being at the same school her mother worked at.
“It was fantastic having my mom work in the school. She was always there if I needed her, ” Oliver said.
As a student, Oliver was extremely involved, from being treasurer for the Student Council to volunteering as a cantor during school Mass. She said she always sought to better a school that she felt had given her so much.
When the time came for her to move on to high school, mother and daughter both felt that St. Mark had done more than enough to prepare her. After high school and college, Megan found herself back at St. Mark as a teacher.
“It was like I was returning home, a familiar place where I spent so much time.” Oliver said.
For O’Connor, having her daughter back at the school has made her “extremely proud”. In addition to her daughter, O’Connor also enjoys the presence of Oliver’s daughter at the school and another grandchild, too.
“It is fulfilling,” O’Connor said, “to know that they are receiving the same great education that their parents received many years ago, and all taught within a strong Christian framework.”
Much of the education has remained consistent since Oliver was a student there. One project, a baby egg project, is still done in the school today. However, St. Mark also has adapted its curriculum, incorporating technology that Megan believes is vital for students.
“Knowing that technology is a big part of the future, St. Mark incorporated iPads into all the classrooms, Chromebooks into the middle school, and raised funding for a Smart Lab,” she said. “All of this shows me St. Mark is willing to prepare all students to succeed in a technology driven future.”
The O’Connors and Olivers aren’t the only three-generation family currently at St. Mark.
Eileen Bongiovanni, Mariel Bongiovanni, and two of Mariel’s nieces are also at St. Mark.
Eileen has been the first grade teacher since 1999 and Mariel is a current Kindergarten Aide. Mariel attended St, Mark when she was younger and graduated in 2001.
After moving from New Jersey to Plano, Eileen knew she wanted her children to “continue with their Catholic education” and St. Mark was the perfect community for that. As a teacher, Eileen knows the power of that community.
“I believe that it is the sense of family that keeps the St. Mark community centered and this has not changed over the years.”
Mariel still feels this same sense of community. Like Megan, Mariel was deeply involved in that community and participated in a wide range of sports and plays. She also believes her time at St. Mark was crucial in her preparation for higher education.
“I was confident that our teachers and assignments were focused on challenging us to become critical thinkers, ask relevant questions about difficult topics, and use other real-life skills that we would continue to apply for the rest of our lives,” she said.
Mariel said that coming back to St. Mark as a teacher “felt like home.” It was a home and hallways filled with memories and family. Now, her two nieces are in their first year at St. Mark after Mariel’s sister moved her family back to Plano and immediately enrolled her children in the same school she once attended.
“From personal experience, she knew of the quality of education and attention each student receives here at St. Mark,” Eileen said. “She wanted her children to experience that and become part of the St. Mark family.
For Eileen, having her two grandchildren close to her was truly a blessing.
“I was the ‘far away grandma’ for so long, it warms my heart every time I see them in the school,” she said.
The O’Connors’ and Bongiovannis’ impact on St. Mark has gone far beyond just their three generations of involvement. For more than 30 consecutive years, their presence as both students and educators has been pivotal for making the entire community a family.