ROCHESTER — For many alumni, St. Boniface School is much more than just a building in which they learned about reading, writing and arithmetic. It was a place where they felt loved and accepted; a place that prepared them for the rest of their lives; a place they could call home.
“It’s still home,” alumna Marilyn Krepps told the Catholic Courier June 8.
Krepps, who graduated from the school in 1954, had gathered at St. Boniface Church with other alumni and current students, faculty and parents for the school’s closing Mass. They tried to focus on the good that came from St. Boniface’s 147 years of operation rather than dwell on their sorrow that the school — along with 12 other diocesan schools in Monroe County — will close at month’s end.
“This is a day of mixed emotions, but principal among them is a sense of gratitude for all that has been and all that will be,” Sister Mary Smith, SSND, principal, said at the start of the Mass.
“We thank God and ask him for the grace and strength to move on in whatever direction he may be leading us,” added Father Richard Brickler, pastor of St. Boniface since 1983.
Father Brickler has been a constant presence at the school since becoming pastor and is a favorite among students and faculty alike, according to sixth-grade teacher Lucyann Ormiston.
“Every single morning he has come over to the school and prayed with the children. You don’t always see that kind of support,” said Ormiston, who taught at the school for 26 years.
Ormiston said she originally took the job at St. Boniface because she was a new teacher looking for work, but stayed because of the outgoing and generous St. Boniface community.
“You get to know these families and you couldn’t leave,” said Ormiston, who directed a vocal and instrumental group that provided the music for the closing Mass.
Both Ormiston and Sister Smith noted that St. Boniface parish and school were founded by the local German community in 1861, and that for many years most of the students were parishioners. In recent decades, however, the school has transformed into more of an urban school, welcoming a diverse array of students from the City of Rochester, they said. In 1994 St. Boniface become one of six Catholic schools — collectively known as the WIN schools — in Rochester’s inner city to be supported by the Wegman family.
At least 75 percent of St. Boniface students have already been placed in new schools, with the largest group of students enrolling for 2008-09 at St. John Neumann School on the Irondequoit-Rochester border, Sister Smith said. Significant numbers of St. Boniface students also will be enrolling at St. Pius Tenth School in Chili or Nazareth Hall and Nazareth Academy in Rochester. Sister Smith, for her part, plans to work next year at Rochester’s Notre Dame Learning Center, where School Sisters of Notre Dame provide education and tutoring for low-income women and children.
Fifth-grader Samantha Cordy said she’ll be attending St. Joseph School in Penfield next year, but that she’ll miss the teachers she met at St. Boniface.
“They’re friends. I can go up to them and talk to them about things,” Samantha said.
Sisters Akyla and Niambe Tomlinson, who graduated from the school in 2004 and 2003, respectively, also had good things to say about their former teachers.
“They pointed me in the right direction,” Akyla said. “They never gave up on us at all.”
“She (Akyla) loved it because the teachers made her feel wanted and special,” added her mother, Rose Tomlinson.
Alumna Agnes Marie Coon recalled that her teachers at St. Boniface were strict but knew every student under their care. She and classmates Mary Samere Cali and Eunice Severino Goldstone — all members of the Class of 1940 — sat in the school auditorium after the closing Mass and reminisced about their days at the school.
“It’s heartbreaking, it really is, but I guess we have to go on,” Coon remarked.