St. Mary's Grade School: A tour of flashbacks
I had expected more Catholic icons at the St. Maryâ€™s rummage sale last week in the school gym. I had really hoped to find the statue of a female saint whose eyes followed me whenever I climbed a stairwell in the old school in Westville, Ill.
Alas, the only statues were a Nativity set, with Josephâ€™s head chopped off, waiting to be re-attached. I passed.
But there were plenty of other things that jogged my memory:
â€” The tall AV cart. I remember the nuns rolling one of those, with a TV on top, into my classroom soon after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The nuns wept. He was our first Catholic president.
â€” The small desks and chairs, with blue and pink backs and metal legs from which the paint was scratched off in parts.
â€” A barrel containing shepherdâ€™s crooks, all hand-carved. Children carried them in Christmas pageants.
â€” A box of prints on small wooden panels, depicting the stations of the cross. We had to perform the ritual of the stations every Easter season.
The items were a mix of things from the school and from parishioners. Among them were two large paintings, in shades of red, by George Balent. One was a portrait; my mom thought it was of Balentâ€™s sister. The other was of a vase of flowers.
My mom and I looked carefully through all of the other detritus: old basketballs, music education books, CDs, videotapes, scratched and beaten up cookie sheets, colored-glass candleholders.
We came away with a bag of items for $2. I settled on a blue-and-white mouse pad with the school logo, even though personal computers came long after I graduated in 1966 from St. Maryâ€™s Grade School. I also bought two shepherdâ€™s crooks, admiring the rough handwork.
After making our picks, my mom and I walked through the empty halls and classrooms of St. Maryâ€™s, which closed a couple of years ago due to declining enrollment. In some rooms the blackboards and ceiling tiles were removed. Ghostly.
When I entered the eighth-grade classroom on the first floor, near the school office, I flashed back to my classmate-buddy Michael Vassen, how we sat next to each other in the back of the room and chatted. We seemed to escape Sister Andrewâ€™s detection.
Over the past few decades weâ€™ve all seen the reports on Catholic school closings, even in Catholic strongholds like Boston, Philly and New York. Word is that St. Maryâ€™s Grade School, with all of its terrazzo floors, will be demolished, to make way for a parish hall, possibly a metal pole barn.
The old school building is too expensive to maintain, to insure. I along with many others feel sad at the loss, even though I consider myself a recovering Catholic.
I might have received a guilt-inducing religious education at St. Maryâ€™s but I wouldnâ€™t give up my academic one for anything. Thatâ€™s where I first learned to diagram sentences, and thatâ€™s kept me in good stead throughout my long daily newspaper career.
Good-bye, old school.