Classmates look to the future with hope

St. Teresa 7th graders Bridget Lucas, Emma Fischer and Jeremy Ciaramella.

Change is coming to Catholic elementary schools in the North Hills, but the prospect doesn’t bother Bridget Lucas.

“I like change,” said the seventh grader at St. Teresa of Avila School in Perrysville, which is merging with St. Sebastian School in Ross to form Holy Cross Academy. “Change helps make room for growth.”

Bridget and all 16 of her classmates will graduate together from their new school.

Students, teachers and parents at schools in the North Hills said goodbye last week. Many are hopeful that merging into three new schools will strengthen Catholic education.

“This is the Lord’s house, for all to grow in love of the Lord and serve his people,” Father Larry Adams, administrator of St. Ursula Parish, said in his homily at the final school Mass. “What makes it hard today is that it’s become our house.”

St. Ursula School in Allison Park, which opened in 1911, is joining with St. Bonaventure in Shaler and St. Mary of the Assumption in Glenshaw to form Blessed Trinity Academy.

St. Bonaventure students processed into church carrying a paper chain, the links symbolizing that they are forever connected.

“Our theme was hope,” Principal Jackie Easley said of the school community, which was established in 1959. “We know God will guide us in the right direction.”

Students and staff at St. Alexis School shared favorite memories after their closing Mass, and what they’re looking forward to in the future. St. Alexis and St. Alphonsus schools in Wexford are coming together to form Blessed Francis Seelos Academy.

Lois Titus began teaching at St. Alexis in 1971, just eight years after the school opened, serving with the Holy Ghost Sisters under the parish’s founding pastor, Father Francis Rodgers.

“At first there were just six grades,” Titus recalled. “Later they added the preschool, kindergarten and seventh and eighth grades. My first year, I taught 42 students in second grade.”

Efforts are being made in the new schools to help students, teachers and parents get to know one another.  At St. Sebastian School, a cafeteria display case will contain memorabilia from St. Sebastian and St. Teresa of Avila, according to interim administrator Nancy Koslosky.

Judy Riegelnegg, principal of St. Mary of the Assumption and St. Ursula schools, said they’ve held three open houses and a mixer at St. Mary’s, and the combined school advisory council, parent-teacher guild and athletic association have been getting ready for the new academic year.

At St. Alphonsus, Principal Robert Reese said parents from both schools are beginning to get acquainted, and that “people went out with smiles” after the closing school Mass.

Sister Karen Brink, OSB, St. Teresa of Avila’s principal, acknowledged it was an emotional time at the 111-year old school, but added, “We had a spectacular year. Our parents have always been inspirational and extremely supportive. They love the school.”

Effective July 1, seven Catholic schools in the North Hills will become a ministry of all 32 parishes in the region, providing support for the schools, which include St. James (Sewickley), Assumption, Northside Catholic and Christ the Divine Teacher Academy.

The regional education system is designed to ensure vibrant and sustainable Catholic schools as part of the On Mission for The Church Alive! planning initiative.  Regionalization is intended to reinforce Catholic schools’ identity and mission, reallocate resources to enhance academic excellence, and stabilize tuition and enrollment. It also will enable greater collaboration in curriculum, technology, professional development, athletics and fundraising.

“I’m happy that we’re all going to be together at Holy Cross Academy,” said Jeremy Ciaramella, one of the seventh graders at St. Teresa of Avila.

“I’m happy, but I’m sad, too,” said classmate Emma Fisher. Bridget gave her a hug.

“We all love each other enough to stay together,” Bridget said.

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