ROCHESTER — While Father Michael Mayer acknowledged sadness at the closing of St. Andrew School, he called on his parish to continue the school’s legacy of reaching out to its neighbors.
"This is not a celebration of an ending, but a continuation of a call from Christ to preach the Gospel," the priest said in his homily June 8, noting that the parish’s neighborhood-outreach programs to youths, such as a teen drop-in center and a summer basketball camp, will continue.
The homily was part of a Mass and reception designed to celebrate the history of the school at 901 Portland Ave. For months, St. Andrew has been celebrating its students and its history before it closes at the end of June along with 12 other diocesan-operated schools in Monroe County, Principal Tracy Nadler said.
"We said when this all happened, when the announcements came out, that we would make this the best year," Nadler said.
Established in 1915, the school is one of Rochester’s six WIN schools, whose students have received tuition assistance through the Wegman Inner City Voucher Program. Five of the six WIN schools will be closing, but diocesan officials have said that WIN-eligible students will continue to receive tuition assistance at any diocesan-run elementary school they choose to attend.
For many decades, the school was run by the Sisters of Mercy. Some alumni remembered their favorites, including Sister Mary Dorothea Dennis, who served as principal of the school for more than 40 years.
Sam Soprano, a 1955 graduate, reminisced about one of his teachers, Sister Mary Louise McGrath, a longtime teacher whose corner classroom overlooked an ice cream parlor across the street. Sister McGrath would use the parlor as a behavioral incentive, he said.
"She used to say that if you stay after school, you’ll never get there," said Soprano, who attends St. Rita Parish in Webster and helps out at St. Andrew’s summer basketball camp.
Class of 1961 graduate Elaine Dorscheid McNamara of Irondequoit, a parishioner of Irondequoit’s St. James Church, recalled the excitement surrounding the school’s annual field days.
"(Longtime pastor) Msgr. (George) Eckl used to buy everyone a ticket to go on the merry-go-round," she said.
Daniel Ajegba of Rochester, whose sons graduated from St. Andrew in 2002 and 2003, said one of his favorite traditions has been the annual Accelerated Reader Reading Parade through the streets around the school. The school’s top readers ride on the parade float, while other students walk behind it.
"All through the school year, kids read and read," said Ajegba, who received a Catholic education growing up in Nigeria. "As their level goes up, they get points and they can go to a shop and get gifts for their parents."
The parade, which took place June 13, is a 10-year-old tradition, said Librarian Margaret Oberst.
"This may be the fullest group of award winners we’ve ever had," she said.
One of the students to ride on the float this year was 8-year-old Gordon Nelson. Even though he is only in third grade, Gordon read junior-high-grade-level books, including Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and passed quizzes on the books he read.
"It was very difficult, and it was fun," Gordon said.
His classmate and friend Jimar Cunningham agreed that the reading was fun.
"I’ve been reading all different kinds of books because I like reading," said 9-year-old Jimar, who finished The Black Stallion and is reading Robin Hood.
Jimar’s mother, Olga Rodriguez of Rochester, said she was drawn to St. Andrew because of its diversity and its high academic standards. She said Jimar and her daughter, Wileyska Cunningham, a fourth-grader, plan to attend St. John Neumann School on the Irondequoit-Rochester border next year.
Wileyska, 10, said she’ll miss friends and teachers at St. Andrew.
"The teachers are very nice," she said. "They understand you."
Class of 1977 graduate Barb Yuhas shared that sentiment when she returned to the school as a kindergarten teacher from 1985-88.
"As a first-year teacher, they really enhanced my teaching career and encouraged me during the difficult days; they were very supportive," said Yuhas, a Henrietta resident who now teaches in the Rochester City School District and is a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Rush.
The school’s early-childhood coordinator, Patty Selig, a parishioner of Brockport’s Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, said that although she had only taught at the school for a year, she found herself surrounded by caring people who love the children they educate.
"These kids really thrive in this environment, and the parents do too," Selig said.