Memories abound at Mother of Sorrows' farewell event - Catholic Courier
Katie Adams (left) shows her 9-year-old twin daughters Breanna (center) and Isabella (right) pictures of her when she went to Our Mother of Sorrows school during a farewell event at the school May 22. Katie Adams (left) shows her 9-year-old twin daughters Breanna (center) and Isabella (right) pictures of her when she went to Our Mother of Sorrows school during a farewell event at the school May 22.

Memories abound at Mother of Sorrows’ farewell event

GREECE — No matter which way Kathy Phelan turned, another former student or coworker was coming up to give her a big and sometimes tearful hug.

That’s bound to happen at the end of a nearly half-century relationship between a beloved teacher and a school community she loved in return.

After 66 years of operation — including 58 in its current building at 1777 Latta Road — Our Mother of Sorrows School gave a farewell open house on Sunday, May 22.

"This is like an Italian wake — you’re sad, but you have lots of people around to help you get through it," remarked Sam Zalacca, Mother of Sorrows’ principal.

Phelan agreed, saying that "most of it is joy, seeing friends of Mother of Sorrows sharing their time with us during this tough time."

Diocesan officials announced last Dec. 1 that Mother of Sorrows would cease operation at the end of 2010-11 and merge with Cathedral School at Holy Rosary in Rochester, which had suffered from enrollment declines. The two schools will relocate to Holy Cross in Charlotte, a building that will again be used after its own closing in 2008.

The two-hour MOS open house saw school halls crammed with former students and teachers who renewed acquaintances, viewed graduation-class portraits on the wall and stared around classrooms in wonderment as they transported themselves back in time to their school days.

One alumna, Pat Helfert Bushart, arrived at the reception clutching her eighth-grade graduation-class picture from 1952 — one year before the current Mother of Sorrow facility opened. The school’s history dates to 1945 when Father Daniel O’Rourke, pastor of Our Mother of Sorrows Parish, oversaw the opening of an elementary school at the Beamish House a half-mile down Latta Road from the church. That school opened in 1946 with 120 children and four teachers. 

Two years later the operation relocated to a six-room Quonset hut on the Mount Read Boulevard side of the church. That structure served as the school while funding and construction of the current facility on parish property was completed for its opening in 1953.

"It was fantastic," Bushart said of her years during the school’s infancy. "We knew we could always go and talk to the nuns if something was on our mind." She added that Father O’Rourke was well-known for taking her and other schoolchildren out for ice cream and telling them ghost stories from Ireland.

Mother of Sorrows School had grown and prospered by the time Phelan began as a substitute teacher in 1965. She soon became full time and maintained that status until 2002; she has continued to substitute and volunteer in retirement since that time.

"The kids were like my own kids. I loved being a part of their lives," Phelan said. "I keep in touch with as many of them as I can."

Keeping in touch could be more difficult in the future without the school as a centralizing force. Zalacca said most of Mother of Sorrows’ current student body — 230 students in kindergarten through grade 6 — will continue in Catholic schools next year, with the largest chunk attending Holy Cross.

Zalacca spent 11 years at Mother of Sorrows, driving some 30 miles to Greece from his residence in Le Roy, Genesee County. He’ll be heading west rather than eastward come September, having accepted the principal’s position at Christ the King School in Snyder, a hamlet in the town of Amherst near Buffalo. However, he said he’s still trying to adjust to the fact that Mother of Sorrows won’t be part of his daily routine.

"To be very blunt, not in my wildest dreams did I feel we’d be closing the school," he said.

Meanwhile, with the school year having ended, Father Alexander Bradshaw, pastor of Our Mother of Sorrows Parish, said he has stepped up efforts to lease the brick structure, hopefully for continued educational purposes. Also up for lease are the nearby former convent and original Mother of Sorrows church atop Paddy Hill.

During the May 22 open house, however, attendees preferred to dwell on their school’s glorious past rather than ponder the future without it.

"I really don’t know how I’m going to drive down Latta Road and not stop," Phelan said.

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