HomeNewsAfter 155 years, St. Anne’s rings the final bell

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

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

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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