IRONDEQUOIT — Mud of epic proportions surrounded Christ the King School when it opened Jan. 28, 1957.
Each day students of the new school would arrive covered in the mud from the still-active construction site, recalled Sister of St. Joseph Barbara Gulino, known then as Sister Fidelis, and Mary T. Snyder of Amherst, known then as Sister Mary Alice, who both taught at the school during its first two years.
One day after school, the sisters looked out the window and saw a student stuck in mud in a field behind the school, they said. Others had to go out and rescue her. Police also oversaw the arrivals and departures at the school because so many children and parents got stuck in the muck, they said.
The mud even sucked in big construction equipment. During a blizzard on Ash Wednesday of 1957, parish priest Msgr. Charles J. Mahoney asked the construction company to send an earth mover to clear the parish driveway. Two separate construction machines got stuck, and their drivers came inside, greeted by doughnuts the nuns were making. A third earth mover was finally able to free them.
“We had a wonderful team,” Snyder said. “Humor kept us together.”
Several Sisters of St. Joseph who taught and served at the school reminisced about its founding during a reception following a March 18 Mass celebrating Christ the King School’s 50th anniversary. The Mass included student participation in readings, choir and liturgical dance.
“The founders of the school had a vision that continues to be carried out today,” said student Loudon Blake as he welcomed people to the Mass.
During the planning for the event, the school reconnected with many alumni and learned about the school’s history, said Principal Colleen D’Hondt.
“We have been asking people to share their experience with us,” D’Hondt said.
During the reception, the school was decorated with trivia, facts and photographs from the school’s history. Few photos, however, were of the first year of the school.
“We didn’t have time to take pictures,” Snyder explained.
One driving force behind the school was Msgr. Mahoney, who had previously been superintendent of diocesan schools. He was eager to open the school in September of 1956, but construction delays forced him to hold off until January of 1957, Snyder and Sister Gulino said.
The school opened with principal Sister M. Patrice Messner and teachers Sisters Gulino, Snyder and Anne Hyland, who taught first, second, a combined third and fourth, and a combined fifth and sixth grades. As the students advanced, a seventh and an eighth grade were added. In 1971, the school added a kindergarten, according to “Along the Royal Road,” the parish history written by Father Robert F. McNamara.
Sister Gulino recalled the challenge the nuns faced in creating unity among the more than 135 students from different local schools.
“We had to put it all together,” she said.
The nuns lived at a convent at St. Ambrose Church in Rochester for about two months when the school opened, Sister Gulino and Snyder recalled. Then, they moved into a convent in the school, which included a small kitchen, living room and dining room. They didn’t have cars, so they relied on parishioners to drive them, Snyder said.
“The people of the parish — the founding people — were just wonderful,” Sister Gulino said. “They all worked together. It was a dream to have this Catholic school. They were there whenever we needed them.”
Former principal Sister Yvonne Blind recalled the days when the sisters at the in-school convent cooked bacon for the priests, which made the entire school smell tantalizing. Some former students recalled a small, dark, winding hallway next to the convent.
“To get to one side of the school, we had to run through this long hallway,” said Maureen Curran Garbach of Irondequoit. “It was a dark hall, and I was always petrified, so I would run.”
“It’s so much more modernized and brighter,” noted her sister, Patti Curran Moll of Irondequoit.
That modernization happened in 1964, when a separate convent on church property was constructed, according to Father McNamara’s history. Once the convent was built, crews expanded the school into the space where the convent had been.
Garbach and Moll are part of a family whose eight children all attended the school. Now many of their children and nieces and nephews have attended it as well.
“You still get the feeling of hominess,” Moll said. “It’s like a big family.”
Colleen Bradshaw said she fell in love with the school’s tight-knit community when two of her children started at the school. She began working there as a lunch monitor in 1988 and now coordinates before- and after-school care programs.
What’s changed since she began working there?
“Just the faces,” Bradshaw said. “The kids are all the same.”
Sister Mary Ann Sutera, who still lives at the parish’s convent and works at St. Ann’s Home, agreed that several positive factors have remained constants.
“The spirit, the people and the faith,” said Sister Sutera, who taught primary grades at the school from 1976 to 2002. “It was a great place. The staff was wonderful.”
Many of those who worked at the school recalled its firsts:
* First library: Irene Berke, the librarian from 1969 to 1987, said she began working at the school her children attended when federal funds became available to set up school libraries. She learned through workshops how to catalogue books.
* First newspaper: Sister Judith Whalen recalled helping several students start a school newspaper, which was copied on the rectory’s mimeograph machine. Students also were eager to do service projects collecting bottles and newspapers in the days before recycling was widespread, she said.
* First order priests: Sister Blind, who served as principal from 1972 to 1978, remembered retiring parish priest Father William Schifferli was replaced by Basilian Father Thomas B. Mailloux due to a shortage of diocesan priests.
* First physical-education program: Erika Schmitz, who has been teaching physical education at the school since 1974, said she suggested a physical-education program and later oversaw construction of the school’s gym.
“Coming from Europe, where there is two hours of physical education every day, I can’t send my children to a school where there is no gym,” Schmitz recalled thinking at the time.
* First music-education program: Music teacher Sister Joanne Hasselwander remembered that before she had a music room, she pushed her piano from class to class and taught music classes in the library. She said she did her best to incorporate sacred music into classes.
She retired in June 2006 after more than three decades in the classroom. She had taught at four schools before devoting her time solely to Christ the King.
“I stayed at this place because it’s the best school,” Sister Hasselwander said.