Hamilton's St. Mary's School to close after 155 years

  • May 19, 2009
{mosimage}After the doors close at St. Mary’s Elementary School in Hamilton, Ont., Grade 8 student Joana Sampaio will swing by the school’s playground to meet up with the friends she first met in Kindergarten.

It will be a chance for them to reminisce about their time at St. Mary’s.

Before its 155th anniversary, one of Hamilton’s oldest Catholic schools will be closing for good. On May 27, the school is planning a closing ceremony which will include a Mass, music and a tribute from its 178 students.

In 1855, St. Mary’s was one of the first Catholic schools established in the city by the Sisters of St. Joseph. At that time, the city was home to many Irish Catholic families who were recent immigrants to Canada.

The original St. Mary’s building was built at Mulberry and Park Street, but it has had more than one site and function over the years. A French language school, as well as an all-girls and all-boys school, have also been a part of the St. Mary’s legacy.

In 1950, construction for the current building began. But it was nine years later when all St. Mary’s students came under one roof.

In 1993, 63 nuns of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Hamilton stopped teaching at the school because there were fewer nuns and a shift in the congregation’s pastoral work.

Principal Jerry Crapsi said the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board cited declining enrolment and saving money as the main reasons for the closure and the school’s consolidation with St. Lawrence School.

Students, teachers and parents alike were shocked and took the news very hard, but are “coming to grips with it,” Crapsi said. It’s not only because of the school’s history, but also the fact that St. Mary’s acts as a “community hub” and serves so many community functions.

The school also houses a popular community centre. Close to 1,500 people make use of Jamesville Community Centre’s programs. It will remain open for three years.

Teacher Christina Scheben said her Grade 7 students felt “overwhelmed” by the speed of the decision and “disappointed” that they wouldn’t be able to graduate from the school next year. Scheben, a five-year veteran at the school, said students were in a “sombre” mood the day after the trustees voted at the end of March to close down the school.

Sampaio says it’s the “family feeling” that she will miss the most.

“It’s kind of like a home away from home,” the 14-year-old said.

Over the years, St. Mary’s played an important role in the community as it helped the children of new Canadians from Portugal, Italy and Asian countries learn English. Scheben believes St. Mary’s current work with the city’s diverse multicultural communities will remain part of the school’s history.

“The legacy of the school is that it’s helped those who need it,” Scheben said. “It’s given them a really good start to life in Canada.”

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