It’s been more than 125 years since Fr. James Crumley decided the Catholic community in Parnell needed a school. The institution he founded in 1893 has undergone numerous changes, but it has remained a constant presence at the corner of 5 Mile Road and Parnell Avenue since its early days.
Last Saturday, former students, past staff members and current teachers and parents joined for a night of celebration. As the school wraps up its 125th year, the night was a chance to reminisce and reconnect with old friends while touring a building that has come a long way from humble roots.
Transforming with the Times
Originally, St. Patrick School was known as St. Joseph Academy. It operated in a simple building from 1893-1905. After those 12 years, a larger school was built on Parnell Avenue and the institution transformed into St. Patrick School.
In 1920, a high school was added, and the school offered all 12 grades until 1963. In that year, the high school was discontinued and the existing building demolished. While a new, more modern school was being constructed, students studied in the church and even a bus parked on the school grounds.
The current building has been in use since 1963 although it looks quite different today than it did even 30 years ago “Oh, none of this was here,” said Fr. Wayne Wheeler while walking through the middle school wing on Saturday night. Fr. Wheeler was the pastor of St. Patrick Church for most of the 1990s. “When I was here, we were trying to buy a little land (for an expansion),” he remembered.
While that expansion didn’t happen until after Fr. Wheeler’s tenure at the parish concluded, he said it was wonderful to visit the school and see how it had turned out. It was a sentiment shared by others, such as former principal Roberta Bonner, who also turned out for the celebration.
Serving Generations of Families
Talk to parents of St. Patrick School students, and you’ll note a common theme.
“My grandparents went here,” said Melissa Patyi, mother of five children currently enrolled at the school. It’s a refrain you hear over and over. Two, three and even, in the case of one family, four generations attending St. Patrick School.
Stacey George was another attendee with a family history at the school. “My grandpa was one of 11 kids, and they all went through here,” she said. She graduated herself in 1991. Now, her three children represent the third generation in their family to be enrolled.
For George, St. Patrick School is about more than the academics. “The community has been important,” she said. “It’s welcoming. It’s home.”
Even those without a long history in Parnell feel that way. “It’s such as honor to be part of this community,” Richard Goffer commented. He has one son who has already graduated from the school and another two currently enrolled.
Event Brings Together Students From Across the Years
George, who helped organize Saturday’s celebration, said it seemed only fitting to hold an event in honor of the school’s 125th anniversary. “In recognition of a milestone year, we thought it would be great to bring people back,” she explained.
While it was hoped that some school memorabilia could be found for a display, George was surprised at the vast amount of records that people saved from their school years. Enough was brought in to fill a room with photo albums, scrapbooks, yearbooks, teaching record books and newspaper clippings. There were even high school diplomas dating back to 1920.
During the event, people were able to circulate through the school building. All the rooms were open so guests could see how it had changed since they were last in St. Patrick School. Appetizer and drink stations were scattered throughout the halls and in the parish center. A slideshow of photos ran in the library.
In the hallway, Principal Scott Czarnopys sat talking to parents and guests. After nine years at the helm, he’s already seen St. Patrick School go through significant changes, growing from split grades to single classrooms and adding programs such as daily band class for middle school, new preschool options and additional extracurriculars such as robotics.
“At 125 years, we’re looking to expand,” Czarnopys noted. Surveying the hall, he added with a smile, “I hope I’m here for the 150th celebration.”