Dansville school has lengthy history - Catholic Courier

Dansville school has lengthy history

One day after attending the final moving-up Mass for Dansville’s Holy Family School, Jon Shay reflected on this Livingston County village’s rich legacy of Catholic education spanning some 166 years — including four generations of his own family.

"The good part is that as children grow older, they have a base to move into a more sophisticated environment. They have a good base of Christian values and understanding that help make decisions between right and wrong," he said.

Shay noted that this foundation was set by a highly dedicated Holy Family faculty.

"There were teachers there that had 30-plus years in the school. They weren’t there for the money," he said, adding that "there was not a single teacher who ever went through the doors there" who wasn’t committed to giving children whatever they needed to succeed.

Holy Family was the oldest continuously operating school in the Rochester Diocese. It also was among the very first Catholic schools to be established within the 12-county diocese, and the first outside of Monroe County.

"Redemptorist Father Benedict Bayer started school sessions for the German Catholics of Dansville village in 1842," Father Robert McNamara wrote in his historical book The Diocese of Rochester in America. "When the Dansvillians acquired their own church in 1845 they opened a more formal school. The location was the old school building which the parishioners had used for several months as a temporary chapel. A Mr. Schario was the master. Thus St. Mary’s Parish in Dansville had its own school even before it had a resident pastor."

Shay graduated in 1956 from what was then known as Guardian Angels School — a merging of the village’s two Catholic schools, St. Mary and the former St. Patrick School. The name was eventually changed back to St. Mary when a new school building opened in 1960 across from St. Mary Church. That facility took on yet another new title, Holy Family, in 2004 when St. Joseph School in Wayland consolidated with St. Mary.

However, steadily declining enrollment and mounting expenses led Holy Family officials to opt for closure earlier this year. A subsequent effort to raise funds to start a Christian school fell short, even though "we had some dedicated parents in this parish who were unbelievable," Shay said.

Shay, a former school-board member, said finances played a huge part in the demise of Holy Family School.

"Back when you had all nuns, let’s face it, you had very little overhead. It’s a sign of the times," he said. "There’s obviously a change in the entire culture and the Catholic religion."

Of the 14 Catholic elementary and junior high schools to close in the diocese this month, Holy Family is the only one outside of Monroe County. Whereas at one time Dansville alone could accommodate two Catholic schools, the closest such facilities now are located in Avon (St. Agnes) to the north and Hornell (St. Ann) to the south. Shay lamented that these long distances will likely put Catholic education out of range for most local families.

"Now you’re talking a real commitment here, transportation issues that are huge. They might have taken a whack at it up to a year ago, before there were $4-a-gallon gasoline prices," he remarked.


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