WEBSTER — Meghan McLellan, 14, and her mother, Beth Swain McLellan, both share a love for Mary, which they’ve expressed with their fellow alumni of St. Rita School, 1008 Maple Drive.
Beth, a 1978 graduate, recalled gathering with her fellow students outside the school each May Day and crowning a statue of Mary.
“Everyone would hold hands in a big circle,” she said. “Everyone would sing, probably ‘Ave Maria.'”
Meghan, a 2004 graduate, said that when she was in sixth grade, her classmates chose her to crown the statue of Mary. She noted that she felt honored that her peers chose her because they considered her to be like Mary.
“Being said that I was most like Mary out of the kids that could’ve been picked was nice,” she said.
Many families seem to share such memories of St. Rita School, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Bishop Matthew H. Clark presided at a June 10 anniversary Mass, which was followed by a dinner attended by about 150 people, said Beth McLellan, a member of the anniversary committee.
Among the ceremonies that took place was the opening of a time capsule put together by the school in 1956, she said, adding that it contained such items as rosaries, a cross and a financial statement.
The celebration also featured distribution of a booklet detailing St. Rita School’s history. Among the more interesting items found in the history were that the school windows were soaped on Halloween 1959 by person(s) still unknown, and that a wild turkey smashed through a school window in 2001. Fortunately, the crash took place early in the morning before any students were in the building, the history noted.
Those attending the dinner included Gerry Kohlmeier, who graduated from St. Rita in 1958 and eventually became a police officer and volunteer firefighter in Webster. On April 3, 1975, while working as a police officer, he tracked down a group of young vandals who had damaged the car of a woman who was working an area euchre tournament. During the course of his investigation, Gerry’s heart was unexpectedly stolen by the car’s owner, with whom he found he had lots in common, including St. Rita.
The woman’s name was Nancy Sadler, a 1965 St. Rita graduate. The pair of St. Rita alumni eventually married and raised three boys, all of whom also graduated from St. Rita. Gerry said he and his wife had wanted to pass along to their boys the benefits of a Catholic education.
“They get so much more than just academics — the family flavoring of the school, the religious awareness,” he said. “We wanted our kids to be well-rounded.”
Apparently, their faith in the school paid off, as evidenced by the sentiments expressed by their son, Randy, a 1995 graduate. Like his father, he’s a firefighter and an emergency medical technician. And he noted that the Catholic principles he learned at St. Rita have influenced his work. For example, he said, when he answered his first trauma call as an EMT, he recalled praying quietly as an accident victim was loaded into the ambulance. Watching him silently move his lips, Randy’s boss asked him if he was OK.
“I said, ‘Yeah, I was just praying for him.'” In an interesting twist, Randy said that it turned out the man for whom he was praying was a Protestant deacon.
Randy credited his parents, his elementary school and his parish for leading him to the point where he would pray for a stranger.
“Being raised in a Catholic setting and going to church every Sunday definitely deepened my faith,” Randy said.
J.P. O’Brien, a 1991 St. Rita graduate, had fond memories of the school as did his brother Kevin, who graduated in 1996, and his sister Bridgette, a 1998 graduate. J.P. noted the school’s family atmosphere left an impression on him.
“The teachers cared about you as if you were almost one of their children as opposed to just a student,” he said. “They took a lot of time out … to help you in any way you needed.”
That personal attention influenced G. Thomas Crombach, an associate professor of biology at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, who graduated from St. Rita in 1956. Although he was unable to attend the June 10 celebration, Crombach said he carries memories of St. Rita in his heart. He noted that when he began going to the school, it was still under construction.
“It was kind of exciting being part of something brand new,” he said.
He added that Sister of Mercy Mary Ellen Kinsella, the school’s founding principal and his seventh-grade teacher, planted the seeds of his own teaching vocation. He said he was impressed by her personable nature in the classroom.
“I thought here’s someone who really enjoys doing what she does,” Crombach said.
The school’s current — and longest-serving — principal is Sister of Mercy Katherine Ann Rappl, who noted that the school is still thriving, with 389 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten to sixth grade. Having worked at St. Rita for 23 years, Sister Rappl said she’s always been impressed by the support of the parish community and the school parents. She added that she’s always kept the door open to any alumni who want to come back to visit St. Rita.
“They belong,” she said. “This is their school.”