Catholic school marks 150th year on east side St. James and St. John celebrates mission to guide city students

October 06, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

St. James and St. John Catholic School in East Baltimore celebrated its 150th anniversary yesterday with a fond look at its past and a strong plea for its future.

Since 1847, the sturdy brick building at Somerset Street has remained open with a full enrollment of 270 while many other Catholic schools in the city have closed.

"People have sacrificed to ensure that this school continues to exist and because its mission is still here," said the Rev. Kenneth F. Gaddy, an alumnus who is a Redemptorist priest. "There is a strong desire to keep this beacon of hope alive through so many transformations."

Gaddy returned from his mission post in St. Croix, V.I., to offer a celebratory Mass in the auditorium of the Institute of Notre Dame, a nearby high school.

Addressing a crowd of about 500 -- including city and church officials, student and staff alumni, and schoolchildren -- he urged those who attended St. James and St.John, the oldest Catholic elementary school in Baltimore, to help their alma mater grow through the next century.

"This place helped you in your journey, and it is your responsibility to help the school to grow," Gaddy said in his homily. "You don't have to live within the parameters of this place to give back. Bring your resources back so St. James and St. John can continue for the next 150 years."

Zina Brown, a parent of a student in the 150th class, and Christina Feldman, an alumna who sends her daughter to the school, volunteered to help at the celebration.

"I know that I and my child are part of this," Brown said. "For a school that so many in the community attended to be around for so long and still give back to the community is so important."

Feldman recalled her childish fear of the nuns' black habits.

But the fear gave way to respect, she said.

"You keep that discipline and those lessons, even as an adult," Feldman said.

While student demographics have changed, the mission is unchanged and still growing, said Gaddy, who attended St. James and St.John nearly 30 years ago with his five siblings.

"The makeup is different, but the essence of the school is passed on to a new generation," he said. "The mission is to form these children so they bring the gift of Christian values to the community and to the world."

The school, founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, originally drew the children of immigrants and the city's factory workers. It changed little through the first half of the century, according to many of the alumni attending the celebration.

"We all lived in the neighborhood and walked to school, even walked home for lunch," said Claire Boland Bartel, class of 1941. "We had the best education. I can still conjugate verbs and diagram sentences."

Bartel and her friends exchanged faded photos of classes posing on the school's front steps.

They recalled how the nuns separated the girls from the boys.

"Even in the schoolyard, we could never talk to each other or cross the center line," said Angela Bockstie, class of 1942.

In the 1950s, as families migrated to the suburbs and inner-city parishes dwindled, St. James Catholic School merged with St. John Catholic School on Eager Street. A decade later, the school also absorbed students from St. Francis Xavier, an elementary school staffed by the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

Yesterday, former co-workers and students recognized Sister Margarita Musquera, an Oblate nun who came to the school in 1969 and taught eighth grade for seven years. Among her pupils were Gaddy and his brother, Kirk Gaddy, who is now principal at St. Alphonsus Basilica School in downtown Baltimore.

St. James and St. John today educates children in pre-kindergarten through the fifth grade. According to a recent graduate, it still is delivering quality education.

"They got us ready for middle school," said Chanson Byrd, 11. "They worked us hard, doing a lot of reading and projects."

But a few things have changed.

After Mass, participants retraced the route the founding sisters took from the Institute of Notre Dame on Aisquith Street to Somerset Street, where they laid the cornerstone for the school for younger children. Men and women mingled, talking easily. Some even held hands.

Pub Date: 10/06/97

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