Monday, March 30, 2009

Mount Gallitzin Memories

There was a certain amount of sadness when I read last week that several Catholic schools in the Pittsburgh area with declining enrollments were closing their doors at the end of the school year.
These closures include Mount Gallitzin Academy in Baden, PA, a Pre-K through 8th grade school operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, which I attended from the 1st through 7th grade. The school has been in operation since the Sisters built this lovely facility at right in 1901. Just to the right of this building is an indoor swimming pool and locker rooms.

The ground level of this building housed 1st through 8th grade boys, many of whom
were boarders, when I started 1st grade here in 1966. The upper floors were a girls' high school until the following year, when those girls and other students formed the initial class of Quigley Catholic High School, on the hill above Mt. Gallitzin.

This left the remainder of this huge building for the establishment of a co-ed school for 1st through 8th graders, and while we were exploring the huge classrooms and hallways with high ceilings and Victorian-era woodwork, we had the new dynamic of girls to deal with.

In 1968 and 1969, the Sisters expanded MGA's facilities to include a new gymnasium, music and band facilities, and a walkway over the driveway from the old building. On June 5, 1968, my mother woke us up with the news that Bobby Kennedy had been shot. I went into school and sat with about 30 other kids from all grades, watching the news reports for the entire morning. The room was silent.

I played the French Horn in the school band, and was the only Horn player until the 6th grade. During that school year, over a long Veterans' Day weekend, several of our teachers (mostly nuns) were on the way to Edinboro, PA for a conference when the van they were riding in crashed.

The Principal was killed, at least one teacher was seriously hurt, and the remainder suffered some form of physical injury along with emotional scars. We had an extra week off, returning to class with mostly substitutes until after Christmas break.

My parents pulled my brother and I out of MGA after one more year, and although I kept in touch with some friends I had made there, they unfortunately faded away with the years. This included the first girl I ever slow-danced with, and of course never forgot.

Four years ago I responded to an alumni survey, and participated in a "Making Lifetime Connections" presentation that highlighted the whereabouts of former students and their chosen professions, along with their thoughts on how their experience at MGA helped shape their future education and life.

One featured alumnus was in the 8th grade when I was in 1st or 2nd; I remember seeing a series of photographs of his Bar Mitzvah on a school bulletin board. Would we see something like that in a Catholic school today, or Confirmation photos in a Yeshiva? I hope so...

I made contributions to the school in recent years, and was truly saddened when the news came out last week that this would be the last year of the sound of children in those large, ominous hallways. As it happens, the school's fate was sealed by declining enrollment, an aging population, and the loss of a major benefactor that contributed over half a million dollars to MGA, and over $4 Million to Catholic schools in the area.

The benefactor was later identified by the media as a charitable foundation established by the late founder of a Pittsburgh-based housing construction company. As their business went, so did the money. Chalk up another casualty of subprime lending and financial chicanery. So it goes.

The Sisters of St. Joseph also operate a skilled nursing facility on the expansive campus. Perhaps these rooms and facilities will see new life as our generations become even older.

At the end of 7th grade, as I packed my stuff out of the building and said goodbye to MGA for the last time, I was struck by the silence of those hallways and classrooms when they were empty of children. The silence of empty rooms has haunted me ever since, from the one last look at our empty house in Pittsburgh before the drive to Colorado, to locking the door of my late wife's condo on Cape Cod for the final time last summer.

Growth, transition, and loss. In essence, reflective of the constancy of change in all of our lives.

Good night, Lisa Delbene, wherever you are.


Photo Credit: Beaver County Times - Lucy Schaly

1 comment:

The little old mom who lived in a shoe said...

My mom went to Catholic school in Denver. I used to always wish I could have attended one. Your reflection on silent hallways was touching.