Northeast Times

After 155 years, St. Anne's rings the final bell

A staple of cath­ol­ic life in the river wards for 155 years, St. Anne's School on Le­high Av­en­ue saw its fi­nal gradu­at­ing class this year. The school was the city's latest cas­u­alty to fall­ing en­roll­ments.

St. Anne’s school fi­nal walk through, Sat­urday, June 18, 2011 in Phil­adelphia.

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After serving the com­munity for more than 155 years, St. Anne’s Cath­ol­ic School, at Mem­ph­is and Tuck­er streets, has been shuttered.

Last week­end, alumni con­verged on the school where they spent their form­at­ive years to re­min­isce.

Dur­ing the af­ter­noon of Sat­urday, June 17, hun­dreds of former pu­pils of the kinder­garten-through-eighth grade school poured once again through the same doors they ran through as chil­dren to avoid miss­ing the bell.

Now par­ents or grand­par­ents, of­ten with chil­dren of their own who at­ten­ded St. Anne’s, and alumni that traveled from as far away as Mas­sachu­setts and Vir­gin­ia em­braced old friends, joked about how the build­ing seemed so much lar­ger way back when and re­membered their years at the school.

“The floors are the same, the black­boards are the same too,” said former pu­pil Len Knobbs as he walked the halls. “I think the only thing that has changed is the drop ceil­ing.”

To Knobbs, St. Anne’s school clos­ing came with an all too fa­mil­i­ar feel­ing.

Like many of St. Anne’s former pu­pils, Knobbs also at­ten­ded North Cath­ol­ic High School, which closed last June.

“I made my first stage ap­pear­ance here,” said a wist­ful Knobbs as he ex­plored the school. “I was Fath­er Time in a play.”

Mary Jane Haughey-Hayes, an­oth­er former pu­pil, said the clos­ing seemed to be a sign of the times.

“I hate to see it close, but it’s what is hap­pen­ing today,” she said.

In nearby Port Rich­mond, three Cath­ol­ic schools — St. Adal­bert, Nativ­ity of the Blessed Vir­gin Mary, and Our Lady Help of Chris­ti­ans — staved off clos­ing con­cerns only by con­sol­id­at­ing their stu­dent bod­ies in­to one school, Our Lady of Port Rich­mond.

Haughey-Hayes, 65, said she fondly re­mem­bers her years at St. Anne’s and in fact, has an old school desk, with an ink well, sim­il­ar to the ones she used when she at­ten­ded the school.

“My desk had blue ink,” she said with a grin. “I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber that.”

Like many in at­tend­ance over the week­end, Haughey-Hayes didn’t move far after gradu­ation from St. Anne’s. In fact, she still lives along the 2600 block of Miller Street and stays in touch with many of her friends from the school.

“I was bap­tized here and I’m go­ing to be bur­ied here,” she said.

The day was a spe­cial event — the me­mori­al walk­through was pre­ceded by a Mass in the nearby church — and was or­gan­ized by St. Anne alum­nus Joe Kill­roy.

He said, just as was done when North Cath­ol­ic closed, he wanted to al­low long­time friends and former class­mates one fi­nal tour of the school.

A mem­ber of the class of 1961, Kill­roy said he was sad to see the school close, es­pe­cially in a year when he thought he’d see some of his former class­mates at a 50-year re­union.

“We would have nev­er thought that 50 years from now, we wouldn’t be cel­eb­rat­ing the an­niversary, but the clos­ing,” he said.

“I’m go­ing to miss it tre­mend­ously,” in­ter­jec­ted Claire Gardiner, a long­time friend of Kill­roy’s and a former St. Anne’s pu­pil.

Gardiner said her fam­ily’s his­tory with St. Anne’s par­ish stretched back to a grand­fath­er who, she said, served in the Civil War.

He’s bur­ied in the cemetery at St. Anne’s and, while her grand­fath­er didn’t at­tend St. Anne’s school, his chil­dren, in­clud­ing her fath­er, did.

“I wanted to say something at Mass, but I just star­ted to cry,” she said, get­ting choked up as she spoke.

Al­though it was sad to see the school close, Kill­roy re­marked that the par­ish wasn’t go­ing any­where. Al­though they mourned the loss of the school, the alumni, he said, would nev­er aban­don St. Anne’s par­ish.

“It’s a bad mo­ment,” he said. “But, the par­ish is al­ways our home.”

When the de­cision was an­nounced to close the school, the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia noted St. Anne’s saw a 39 per­cent de­crease in en­roll­ment over the last five years, and had a pro­jec­ted en­roll­ment of 151 pu­pils for the up­com­ing year.

This was a sig­ni­fic­ant de­crease when com­pared to 246 pu­pils five years ago.

Last year, the school had a total of 173 pu­pils. That’s down sig­ni­fic­antly from the schools 2002 en­roll­ment of 363.

In the last year, the school’s alumni as­so­ci­ation raised $100,000 in an at­tempt to save the school.

However, St. Anne’s pas­tor, Joseph Brandt, has said that al­though the school’s alumni as­so­ci­ation had raised the needed funds, and in fact, chipped in $50,000 re­cently to pay teach­ers’ salar­ies, the school just couldn’t over­come the de­clin­ing en­roll­ment num­bers for an­oth­er year.

Dur­ing the week­end, Brandt said there were some talks of the school build­ing pos­sibly be­com­ing an academy by 2012, but noth­ing was def­in­ite. Cur­rently, the arch­diocese has no fu­ture plans for the school.

“This is very dif­fi­cult,” Brandt said last week­end. “It was very, very hard, but now we can look at what oth­er pos­sib­il­it­ies might be out there” for the school build­ing.

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com 

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You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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