Saying farewell to four schools - Catholic Courier

Saying farewell to four schools

As Catholic-school students across the Diocese of Rochester celebrated the end of the 2004-05 school year last month, some pupils in Monroe County marked the end of their schools, as they know them.

In November 2004, the diocese announced that in June it would consolidate seven Monroe County schools and close four school buildings that were operating at less than 50 percent capacity:

* Sacred Heart School merged with Holy Rosary School at Holy Rosary, which has been renamed The Cathedral School at Holy Rosary.

* The Greece schools of St. John the Evangelist and St. Charles Borromeo merged at St. Charles, which has been renamed Catherine McCauley.

* St. John the Evangelist School, Humboldt Street, merged with St. Ambrose School at the St. Ambrose site, which has been renamed St. John Neumann School.

* St. Helen’s School in Gates closed.

In June, several of the affected schools held special closing events.

“God is so good to us!” Sacred Heart students sang in unison in the school’s auditorium June 17.

“Today we thank him for all the wonderful students here at Sacred Heart School,” Mahoney said.

Several faculty members wiped away tears from time to time as the school’s final assembly progressed. The children stuffed such memorabilia as photos and drawing in a large tube that will serve as a time capsule to be buried on parish grounds.

Suzanne Paczkowski, a sixth-grade teacher who had taught at Sacred Heart for 34 years, was visibly moved by the ceremony.

“My first group of kids are in their 40s now, and I’m teaching their children,” she said. “There’s a community of faith, and that’s foremost what we build here is a community of faith, and that’s why I choose to teach in the Catholic-school system.”

After the ceremony, Mahoney said about 85 percent of the student body was going to attend one of seven other Catholic schools in the area next year. She will become principal at All Saints Academy in Gates, she added, although she said she felt for the children compelled to leave Sacred Heart.

“For a lot of these kids, it’s been a consistent in their life,” she said of the school.

Fourth-grader Amanda McMahon said she would be attending Holy Cross School in Charlotte in the fall, but that she would miss Sacred Heart.

“This is where I’ve been to most of my life,” she said. “Most of my friends are here.”

Her classmate, Aaron Paige, had similar sentiments.

“It’s like really sad because I’ve been here for six years since (pre-kindergarten),” said Aaron, who noted he was going to attend Holy Cross in the fall.

Their teacher, Susan Ellsworth, had taught at Sacred Heart for a quarter-century and plans to teach at Holy Rosary in the fall.

“I’ve met so many people — teachers, parents, students,” she said of Sacred Heart. “There’s a feeling of community, of family.”

The school community of St. Charles held a farewell event on the evening of June 17, in part to honor faculty members who were not going to teach at the new Catherine McCauley School. Petrena Hayes, a school parent, said she had been an active volunteer at St. Charles and planned to be active in the new school.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for parents who are coming back next year to have a new beginning,” she said of Catherine McCauley. “You can either sit back and complain, or you can become part of the new school.”

Eileen Preston, principal of St. John the Evangelist in Greece, said 90 percent of her students will attend Catholic schools in the fall, including Catherine McCauley and Mother of Sorrows in Greece. She added that seeing her school close was “very emotional,” noting that many students were “just sobbing” when they boarded buses for their final rides home.

“When you’re a small school, you really develop a family-like feeling,” she said.

Angela Fortunato, principal of St. John’s on Humboldt Street, said about 50 percent of her students plan on attending St. John Neumann, 40 percent will attend other Catholic schools and 10 percent have opted for public schools. Fortunato added that although she will be Catherine McCauley’s new principal, she will always have fond memories of St. John’s.

“Right now, it’s more bitter than sweet,” she noted during a June 16 interview. “The sweet is I’m looking forward to McCauley and kind of creating a new school.”

During a school “Spirit Day” at St. Helen’s June 17, Principal Mary Beth Sullivan estimated that two-thirds of her students were going to attend a Catholic school in the fall. Many were planning to attend St. Pius Tenth in Chili or St. John the Evangelist in Spencerport, she added, noting that she was becoming principal of St. Margaret Mary School in Irondequoit.

Sullivan, who has taught and been principal of St. Helen’s over the course of 14 years, gave her students such gifts as certificates, Bibles and crosses to commemorate their time at the school.

“I feel that this is the place where I’ve really grown in my profession, in my teaching and as a principal,” she said.

Preschool teacher Tracey Routly said everyone at St. Helen’s shares their sorrows and joys. Meanwhile, Christina Brown, a 1993 graduate of the school, said she chose to send her son, Jayden, 5, to St. Helen’s to obtain the same type of education she had.

“I got a good education and foundation here,” she said, noting that Sullivan was her fifth-grade teacher. “It’s people that I know and that I trust.”

When asked what he thought about having to leave St. Helen’s, Jayden simply said he was “mad.”

Anne Marie Spillan, a preschool assistant, librarian and lunchroom attendant, said that her grandparents helped to build St. Helen’s School in the late 1940s. Watching it close was particularly painful, she noted.

“Everybody watches out for everybody here,” she said. “Everybody takes care of everybody else.”

Jane McClenathan, a fifth-grader, said she was going to St. Pius Tenth in the fall. She may have summed up the feelings of many when she uttered these words as the St. Helen’s school community celebrated Spirit Day

“I’m happy that I’m going to get new friends, but I’m sad because I’ve been here eight years,” she said.

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