Wednesday’s announcement of Catholic school closings meant that my former elementary school, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, would be closing next year.
I never would have thought that OLSH would close its doors. At one point it had nearly 800 students walking its halls, with fire drills having lines of three down the stairs. When I graduated in 2005, over 400 students were enrolled. Now that school once swarming with students is down to one school building occupied by a little over 100 students.
While it may have suffered some enrollment losses, OLSH continued to grow as a phenomenal school. I know because of so many people I see that now send their children there and teachers I recognize from when I was a kid.
In times as difficult as these, it is hard, yet difficult to hear this but change is good and it is necessary. While OLSH may not be around for future school years, I hope this will be a way to revitalize Catholic education. Hopefully, the idea of school closings won’t scare parents off from sending their children to Catholic elementary school. In my opinion, it can be the best thing to offer a child. I’m not going to wage war between public and private schools and what students are better off, because it’s comparing apples to oranges, and for me I have never attended a public school, so I don’t have a right to discredit the system.
What I can say is that I have attended Catholic schools from the time I was in preschool to now working on my Master’s degree. I attended St. Francis High School after OLSH, and then to Canisius were I received my Bachelor’s and now working on my Master’s. I have been taught something special between the everyday curriculum of schoolwork. I was taught how to be a good person and what it took to live a meaningful and happy life. I can go on about how smaller class sizes give students a great advantage in learning, but really it is so much more than just academics.
I learned my faith at a young age which gave me a strong moral compass that guided me through adolescence. Sure every child will struggle with insecurity and trying to fit in and I know I had my own, but at the end of the day and at the core of my being I knew the person I was and who I wanted to grow to be. Even bigger than myself was having a faith that I got to experience daily. It was more than just reading stories about Jesus in the Bible, but manifested itself into morality that became for me a great growing tool throughout high school and into college where I was able to apply my faith in service and retreats. I gained a knowledge that really helped me understand the Catholic faith on a deeper, intellectual and spiritual level. The friends I had at OLSH were like a close-knit family. We all knew each other’s parents and siblings. We had an appreciation for one another and respected one another. While I only have maintained good contact with a few people from that grammar school I know I can see anyone from OLSH on a completely random day and catch-up as if it was just yesterday we were walking through those halls.
One thing I have always respected about the Catholic school system is the people that make it function. Particularly the teachers, administration and staff, who could quite easily go into a different institution and make more money. But at the end of it all, you know the people who mean well and value their position as a stakeholder in the lives of children, because they don’t do it for money, they simply do it for the act of being an inspiration in leading a child to a happy and successful life. I know for me I have been met with this loving, disciplined and compassionate attitude from so many teachers, administrators and staff members that have comprised the Catholic schools I have attended throughout my life.
It was both inside and outside the classroom that this philosophy existed. For me, learning inside the classroom is great, but when that learning is tested and applied outside the classroom, it becomes real and it becomes an experience. My best example of this was my years on the track team. They were fun years that taught me good competition, the importance of effort over first place but most importantly it taught me that you can be good at something if you just work at it. I was never a star athlete, but track was always something I worked at and over the course of my years at OLSH I actually can say I became a decent runner, starting off our relay, had the opportunity to be a long jumper, which I never even thought I would be good at. I still have my SITA medals somewhere in my boxes of memories along with that beloved Track shirt (I think every track alumni has one). I even remember the time I was called up to run with the “older guys” as a sixth or seventh grader, another runner during the race fell taking me down with him and I gashed my whole leg open. But I got up and continued running, even doing the sprints later on in the day. All of these were little tiny memories that now looking back on hold so much meaning. I may not have continued track very much longer, but it put to good practice the philosophy of my Catholic education and became a cornerstone for my years of learning in high school and college, that now looking back I can recognize.
OLSH helped me learn how to be a good person, willing to work for himself and others, to never give up, to realize my full potential, to work hard and know that even when times are tough, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. While gray skies may be looming over OLSH today, know that there are thousands of lights that have walked out of that school growing into beams that have set this world on fire. That fire will live on in how we continue to learn everyday and how we use what we have learned to make this world a better place. The doors may be closing soon, but they will reopen every time classmates run into one another, you see an former teacher at the supermarket, you got to Mass, or simply pass by driving down Abbott Road.
So OLSH, thank you for the people, the memories and the many, many lessons. This is goodbye, until next time.