School’s out on 153 years of Catholic education
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
Published: Jun 19, 2013
It was as if the good Lord himself wept on a sad day in the Catholic education system as the gates to two primary schools were officially closed after 153 collective years of educating the nation’s youth. Because of the falling rain, the symbolic closing of the gates to the campuses of Our Ladys of the Holy Souls School and St. Bede’s Catholic Primary School were canceled.
“It almost compares to the death of a loved one,” said Renee Mortimer, the final principal at Our Ladys, located at Young and Deveaux Streets, of the school’s closure after 86 years on Friday, June 14.
Mortimer said she was saddest for her students in Pre-K and fifth grade who were looking forward to graduating from the school but now won’t get that opportunity.
When she took over in 2010, the enrollment at Our Lady’s was 250 students. At the gate’s final closure it was 205. At its maximum, Our Lady’s School could accommodate 400 students. The fees were $850 per term.
“It’s bittersweet because I can compare it to a funeral. “It’s difficult … you see the trophies and have to pack them away. I’m very sad that the school closed under my watch,” said the principal of three years. She hopes that a place will be found to showcase the trophies that the school has won over its 86-year history.
Mortimer will be placed in one of the four Catholic Schools for the new school year in September. She does not know which one as yet, but she has been at all of them so far except for Xavier’s Lower School. She started out teaching fifth grade at St. Francis/St. Joseph, then served as vice principal at St. Cecilia’s School, then principal at Our Lady’s.
St. Bede’s Principal, Sister Marva Coakley, said she was saddened and had deep regrets about the closure of the school at Sutton Street that had a 67-year history. The principal of six years said she had to face reality and knew how to do it.
“I’m just trying to focus my mind on all the positive contributions and accomplishments that we have made over the 67-years,” said Sister Marva of the school that also closed on Friday, June 14. “When you look at it, [St. Bede’s] was always the smallest school, and in an area where those people of means did not want their children to go … not because they thought it was a bad school, but because of fear of the location, and I must tell you that I can boast of our accomplishments and every year, our school, even before my time and during my time, has always participated in national events, and we have always stood with the best, and won on the national level.”
Since she took over the school Sister Marva said enrollment had been declining due to the downturn in the economy. She went in with the enrollment at 185. At the gate’s final closure it was 114. At its maximum, St. Bede’s School could accommodate 250 students. Its fees were $785 per term, one of the lowest in the Catholic School system. Despite this, Sister Marva said many people still found it hard to make the payments, and that the hardest challenge she had while at the school was collecting fees in a timely fashion.
“There are some things that you can’t worry about if you can’t change it and to be fair to Archbishop [Patrick] Pinder and the Catholic Board of Education, they have been carrying us for a long time — even before my time,” she said.
With teachers becoming more qualified, and having to be paid for being educated up to the master’s degree level rather than just having their teaching certificates, Sister Marva said having a teacher with a master’s
degree teach a class of 11 children did not economically add up.
“The Catholic Education board has carried us for a long time, and even with the subsidies from the Ministry of Education, there was always a constant struggle. It was like taking from Peter to pay Paul.”
But she says she takes beautiful memories away with her.
“The biggest thing about St. Bede’s School was that it was a family school. We had people who graduated and then had their children come and their children’s children. We had a whole yard full of children from one family,” she said.
This week, both Sister Marva and Mortimer are packing up their schools. Sister Marva said she has found herself getting teary-eyed as she does it. But she’s also thankful for the eleventh and twelfth grade students from Aquinas College who are helping them to pack and clean up during their community service hours.
Some of St. Bede’s School’s many trophies will be placed in a showcase in the St. Bede’s Church hall, which will not be closing. The school’s banner will also remain in the church hall to allow for some sort of presence as many of the children that attended the school, also attend the church.
Come September, Sister Marva will be at St. Francis Joseph on the administrative team under principal Jacintha Goffe.