Event reunites many with ties to Elmira-area Catholic schools - Catholic Courier

Event reunites many with ties to Elmira-area Catholic schools

Call it a reunion for the Class of Whenever.

No particular graduation year was required for the gathering held Feb. 23 at Elmira College Campus Center. All that mattered was for attendees to have a link with Catholic education in Chemung County.

According to Joe Kosmicki, organizer, the reunion was attended by 130 people including many who came from out of town and state. This first-of-its-kind event brought together former students, teachers, administrators and support staff representing 11 local Catholic-school buildings past and present.

"It was everything from kindergarten all through high school. People who missed it don’t know how much fun they missed," said F. Skilly O’Connor, who graduated from the former St. Patrick School in Elmira in 1950 and the former Catholic High in Elmira in 1954.

Kosmicki said the evening’s most prevalent activity was the exchange of memories, often between folks who hadn’t seen each other in many years.

"People were talking about Sister so-and-so in 1952 — simply a lot of reminiscing. When the thing was over, people didn’t want to leave," he remarked.

Father John DeSocio, for one, has far-reaching memories of his Catholic-school experience.

"Oddly enough, I remember kindergarten graduation. That was a big thing at St. Anthony," said Father DeSocio, who attended the reunion as a graduate of the former St. Anthony School in Elmira in 1962 and Elmira Notre Dame High School in 1966. O’Connor, meanwhile, recalled a woman religious teacher from St. Patrick who adorned her classroom by hanging a model biplane from the ceiling.

Father DeSocio and O’Connor acknowledged that they were strongly influenced by the nuns and clergy from their Catholic schools.

"I met very dedicated, outstanding priests and sisters, dynamic in many ways," said Father DeSocio, who currently serves as parochial vicar of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County.

O’Connor, a semi-retired businessman, said that Catholic education "prepared me for my life. It gave me a real appreciation for the teachers who tried to teach me. It also instilled in me the love for education. I’ve lived a pretty good life with the principles taught to me."

The Feb. 23 reunion was held as part of a yearlong celebration of 150 years of local Catholic schools. One month earlier, Bishop Matthew H. Clark celebrated a sesquicentennial Mass at St. Mary Southside Church in Elmira.

Most of the schools represented at the event either no longer exist or operate under new names. There are presently five Catholic schools in Chemung County: St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads; Notre Dame High; and the Holy Family primary, elementary and middle schools in Elmira.

Holy Family is a product of two consolidations that took place in the 1970s. Kosmicki said the restructuring was painful at the time, but has proven vital in successfully stabilizing enrollment.

"We only have about half the buildings we used to in the county; we don’t have the real estate we used to. (But) if you take several metals and melt them together as an alloy, the final product is far stronger than the original metals. We did come out a very strong system," said Kosmicki, a 1962 graduate of St. Patrick School, who serves as director of development and public relations for the Holy Family system.

Kosmicki said Holy Family’s non-Catholic student population is 25 percent to 30 percent, and even includes non-Christian students from Jewish and Hindu backgrounds. On the other hand, he knew of only one non-Catholic classmate during all the years he attended St. Patrick. He said that in those days, the neighborhoods were largely Catholic and the parochial schools reflected their parishes’ strong ethnic ties, such as the Irish at St. Patrick, the Italians at St. Anthony and the Polish at St. Casimir in Elmira. He added that the faculty from his school had a noticeably different makeup as well: "They were all nuns and two lay teachers, as opposed to today when we only have two nuns."

However, Kosmicki emphasized that the Catholic component of today’s schools has "certainly not lessened."

"Religion is still a major part of each school day. Priests meet with kids and visit the classrooms, and the lay teachers are extraordinary about spreading the faith in the classroom," he said.

Copyright © 2024 Rochester Catholic Press Association, Inc. All rights reserved. Linking is encouraged, but republishing or redistributing, including by framing or similar means, without the publisher's prior written permission is prohibited.

Choose from news (Monday), leisure (Thursday) or worship (Saturday) — or get all three!

No, Thanks

Catholic Courier Newsletters