Schools close, but legacies remain

The memories came back to Stephanie Avery June 7, as she walked around the hall of Catholic Community School of South Baltimore.

She saw faces she hadn’t laid eyes on in almost a decade, including teachers who meant so much to her daughter, Ashley, now 22.

The hall has been a place for activities and bonding since 1972, when the school opened as the archdiocese’s first urban cluster.

Now, it was time to say goodbye.

June 5 brought the last day of classes ever for Catholic Community School. Parents, students, alumni, supporters and staff members past and present gathered for Mass at St. Mary, Star of the Sea and a celebration of the school they loved.

“This is something,” Avery said as she looked at photos.

Across the Archdiocese of Baltimore, there were similar moments, as St. Mary of the Assumption School in Govans also shuttered for good June 5 and St. Michael School in Frostburg is scheduled to close June 12.

Each left a lasting impact.

Avery, a Methodist, said Catholic Community School gave her daughter a faith-based education that prepared her for life.

“You can’t put a price on it, with the way the world is now,” Avery said. “You better hope you’re grounded in your faith because that’s what’s going to carry you through.”

Days before the school’s closing, its principal, Sister of St. Joseph Vicki Staub, led students on a journey throughout the building.

“Today, we are going to use our imagination,” she told students. “We are going to get ready … for all of us are going on a journey.”

Sister Vicki said it was as therapeutic for her as it was the students.

Although St. Michael School principal Kathy Black said students were in high spirits, she admitted, “I’m still emotional about this whole thing.”

Her school served the Frostburg community for 118 years. Most recently, it served children from kindergarten through the fifth grade. Its students are being encouraged to attend Bishop Walsh School in Cumberland.

St. Michael’s last week was scheduled to be packed with activities, including family nights and an annual fifth-grade sports game. That game will likely now include the fourth grade as well. A school production of “Jungle Book” also brought families together.

Black became so close with family members that she could rattle off some home phone numbers from memory.

“In my mind, it’s about the kids,” Black said. “They’re going to new schools and meeting new friends. As long as they are here as a group, we want them to feel like a family.”

At 135-year-old St. Mary of the Assumption School, the long cleaning process has yielded treasured items.

Principal Elizabeth Phelan, a graduate, said alumni have returned to take photos. She has received e-mails from other graduates, pledging to help reduce the $900,000 debt that ultimately helped lead to the school’s closing.

“They talk about what a difference that (the school) made in their lives,” Phelan said.

Teacher Karen Van Dusen, who had been with the school since the early 1980s, said many students and graduates will remember the paintings of fairy tales, “Charlotte’s Web,” “Little Women” and historical events on different floors.

“They’ll remember the fun times they had and the different teachers,” Van Dusen said. “I think the children understood that they were expected to make a contribution back to society.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.