MONROEVILLE — The parishioners of St. Rose of Lima, Monroeville, celebrated the feast of St. Joseph, their school’s patron, in an extra special way this year. On Sunday, March 18, Bishop John M. D’Arcy, bishop emeritus, celebrated Mass to mark the commencement of a year-long centenary celebration.
In his homily, Bishop D’Arcy announced what a great joy it is to commemorate 100 years of a Catholic school. Through both the wars and recessions, and the good times, the small town of Monroeville has maintained a place of Catholic education to be proud of.
He remarked how different the culture has become over the past century. He applauded St. Joseph School for being a place of saving light so necessary to move children away from the darkness.
Bishop D’Arcy continued, “Like Nicodemus from today’s Gospel, we are to be born again by water and the Holy Spirit. As we prepare for Easter, we remember when Jesus Christ is lifted up on the cross all will be brought to heaven through Christ and the cross of Christ has been preached to the children of St. Joseph for 100 years.”
After the Mass, St. Rose pastor, who is lovingly referred to as Father Dino (Father Lourdino Fernandes), thanked the principal and staff calling them “the very core of Catholic identity” for St. Joseph School.
Bishop D’Arcy added his congratulations and commended the parish and school.
A full house of alumni from near and far joined both the Superintendent of Catholic Schools Dr. Mark Myers and Assistant Superintendent of Catholic Schools Marsha Jordan.
Dr. Myers added his personal comments about memories of a meeting just a few short years ago about a very different subject when a parishioner reminded him, “It is not about the resources, it is about the souls of the children.”
Since that time, Myers has taken the words to heart and prayed for the entire diocese that its churches be full and its schools be strong. “This church is full and this school is strong. Congratulations. I can’t wait to see what is in store for the next 100 years,” he concluded.
Current principal for the past 27 years, Carolyn Kirkendall credited Father Dino with challenging St. Rose to “think outside the box and dream big.” Under his direction, the parish has embraced a capital campaign and reached their goal to raise $500,000 in just a few short months.
Madison Smith, alumni and member of the first kindergarten class, read notes about the history of the school, while parish council member Dan Foster shared comments about the bright future.
Young students — Evan Castleman and Sydney Castleman — presented several special guests with red roses, including Sister Celestine, better known at the parish as Patricia Schall, who graduated from St. Joseph School in 1941 and is a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis from Milwaukee, Wis., the order which served the school for over 60 years.
Sister Celestine also offered her congratulations and marveled, “Faith plus action is what I see happening here.”
She recalled her parents’ sacrifice so many years ago when they sent all 10 of their children to the school. Very few of the sisters who served the school are living yet.
Dave Gerardot and Gene Trable, 1961 graduates, swapped stories and tried to calculate the age of their first-grade teacher. They agreed there may no longer be any staff around.
However, Sister Celestine reported to the congregation that her fellow sister, Sister Mathea Simonds, former organist and teacher at the school, will be celebrating an upcoming anniversary — 80 years as a religious.
Parishioner, Leo Martin, who attended St. Joseph from 1938-1946, said he can vividly remember Sister Mathea, who was his first, second and third-grade teacher: “She was always my favorite.”
Martin added, “My father Paul was 13-years old and in the sixth grade when the doors of the school opened for the first time a century ago.”
He and Sister Celestine reminisced about old classmates and relatives and the times she drove the oat wagon for his father. Also returning to the school for the celebration, was lay teacher Ellen Fox, who taught third and fourth grade at the school from 1962-1970.
Fox spent 24 years in Catholic education but swears, “St. Joseph was the cream of the cream. Oh, how I can remember it here! My students always went on to be the tops of their high school classes.”
Before a luncheon in the school, Bishop D’Arcy closed with a thank you, “You have been an inspiration to the whole diocese. This community has refused to believe that the town of Monroeville is a dying town. This is an extraordinary event.”
And he concluded with a final request, “Please continue to pray every day for vocations from this school over the next 100 years.”
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