St. Ann School leaves lengthy legacy - Catholic Courier

St. Ann School leaves lengthy legacy

For Catholics in Hornell, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address isn’t the only historic occasion that took place in the fall of 1863.

That also was when, 250 miles north of Gettysburg, St. Ann School opened.

Any institution that dates back to Civil War times obviously has a long and proud history, and that’s certainly true of St. Ann School. However, the school community won’t have an opportunity for a sesquicentennial celebration in 2013 because St. Ann closed its doors at the end of the recently concluded school year.

The school’s last weeks were marked by a series of poignant events, such as the final school Mass celebrated June 15 and a June 20 moving-up prayer service for St. Ann’s sixth-graders, which was attended by parents and fellow students. Lisa Dirlam, principal, also noted that the teachers were honored during a school concert on May 31 in St. Ann Church.

"Everyone was very touched by that. It was sort of a last-minute thing," she said.

Such activities helped cap a 149-year history that began when Father Michael Creedan founded the original St. Ann School in 1863. A new school building opened for some 300 students in 1890, and an additional wing was added in 1962.

Mercy Sister Dolores Ann Stein, principal of St. Ann from 1984 until her 2007 retirement, noted that St. Ann’s quality educational environment has turned out doctors, administrators, researchers and other high-ranking professionals. She said some of her fondest memories are of students who struggled initially but ended up thriving academically.

"They graduated and are doing well. The parents speak highly of the teachers’ support and what the school did for their children," said Sister Stein, one of numerous Sisters of Mercy to serve St. Ann over its history. "Because it is a small school you really got to know the kids, reaching out to them and letting them know they can do it."

Sister Stein observed that many children arrived at St. Ann as non-Catholics but eventually converted to the faith — as did their family members.

"There are a number of parents who came into the Catholic Church because their kids were at St. Ann’s. You can’t put a price tag on that," said Sister Stein, who now serves as administrative assistant in the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools.

The school’s closing followed an announcement April 6 by Bishop Matthew H. Clark that St. Ann would cease operation due to financial and enrollment concerns. This past year, the school had only 65 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, with another 35 in pre-kindergarten.

Dirlam acknowledged that it will be challenging for families to find an atmosphere that can duplicate what St. Ann has offered. She said a group of parents, alumni and community members have banded together in hopes of creating an independent Catholic school in Hornell. Otherwise, she said public school is the most likely option for students who would have attended St. Ann in 2012-13. The nearest remaining Catholic schools in the Rochester Diocese — All Saints Academy in Corning and St. Agnes in Avon — are each about 45 miles from Hornell.

"Homeschooling might be a choice for a few parents, but in this area, most families have two working parents," Dirlam added.

To see the end of her beloved institution is difficult for Peggy Lynch, a 1970 St. Ann graduate who still lives across the street from the school. Her parents and siblings attended St. Ann as well.

"I was saddened when I heard the news. But after much thought and prayer I knew the reality was that if (the closing) wasn’t this year then it would be in the near future. The financial liability was too great and the enrollment was not going to sustain the overhead costs," said Lynch, who has been active in alumni and fundraising activities and created a Facebook page, "St. Ann’s School Alumni and Friends — Hornell." She also has served as a substitute teacher and school monitor.

Despite the sad turn of events, Dirlam said St. Ann’s many positive influences will live on.

"Teachers, students and alumni make up St. Ann School, not the bricks and the mortar. The legacy of St. Ann School has always been about the people, not the building," she emphasized. "I think that those alumni will continue the legacy of St. Ann School in the community by sharing memories and using lessons they have learned to carry them through the rest of their lives."

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