St. Ambrose School celebrates 100th anniversary
Today is a special day for St. Ambrose School in Schuylkill Haven.
It is the 100th anniversary of its opening as a parochial school in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The first class motto was, "Study not for the present but for the future," and after a century, that motto still applies for the students, faculty, staff and administration.
A roll book was recently discovered that contained the official entry for that first day of school. The entry reads:
"Aug. 31, 1914. School opened for the first time on this date. The opening exercises were as follows:
"Solemn High Mass at 8 a.m. Rev. V. A. Dever, Pastor, was celebrant. Rev. V. Donati, deacon, and Rev. F. Clooney, of Pottsville, sub-deacon.
"The children were arranged in order and given their respective places in the church. After the Mass, they were assembled in the school rooms and placed in their respective grades.
"Sister Deodata was placed in charge of the first, second and third grades; Sister Helena, fourth, fifth and sixth grades, and Sister Lenora, seventh, eighth and Commercial Class."
The entry shows 103 students on the first day - 56 boys and 47 girls.
Mary Lou Michaels, principal, said the school currently has 110 students in K-8 and 24 in preschool, with 10 teachers from preschool to eighth grade.
The school began and was operated in the basement of St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church until 1928, when the first standalone school building was opened. The present school was opened in 1986 after a construction project that built the new school, church and rectory.
The school will celebrate its centennial birthday on Saturday, beginning with old school tours from 2 to 4 p.m., followed by Mass at 5 p.m. with the Most Rev. John O. Barres, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown. A reception with food, music, dancing, fellowship and games will follow in the parish center. There is no cost. Chances will be available for five $100 cash prizes. There will also be prizes for the oldest alumni present, oldest teacher from St. Ambrose School, the family with the most alumni present, the youngest alumni present and the alumni who traveled the furthest. All current and past students of St. Ambrose School, along with past and present faculty, staff and families are encouraged to attend. The school children will be involved in a procession before Mass and they will sit together.
St. Ambrose is a parochial school, since it is supported and sponsored by the parish church, rather than as a regional school supported by local parishes in multiple communities. According to diocesan Director of Communications Matt Kerr, there are still many parochial schools in the five-county diocese.
"The number of regional and parish schools in the diocese is about even," Kerr said. "Of our 35 elementary schools, 18 are parish and 17 are regional. St. Ambrose is the only parish school in Schuylkill County."
Stephen Kulich, seventh-grade teacher, came to the school in 1974 after graduating from Penn State University. He has been in the same homeroom since the present school opened.
"We have three new teachers this year, and our new eighth-grade teacher, Jessica Reynolds, graduated from here," Michaels said.
When Kulich was asked what has changed the most over the past 40 years, he said, "Recently, it has been the great increase in technology," Kulich said. "Report cards are done on computers, and there's a board where students can check their homework, so they don't have that excuse."
Matt Baxter, Lake Wynonah, a student at Temple University majoring in American studies, said he attended the school from fifth to eighth grade.
"I remember all the happy memories, all the great teachers. I've come back three times and I'm reliving everything. I look into the classrooms that all seem the same since I was here. I went to Schuylkill Haven right after here with five of my friends and we've gone on to do pretty good things. St. Ambrose really got us prepared," Baxter said.
Michaels said the church provides so much support to the school.
"To me, the commitment of the parish is really the big thing," Michaels said. "St. Ambrose Parish wants to have a school and has been supportive financially and otherwise so that the school has been here for 100 years. Without that, I'm sure we wouldn't be here."
Kathy Llewellyn has been secretary for 16 years and has had connections to the school years before that when her son attended.
"When people call here looking into the school, I can attest as an employee to the quality of the education, as a parent, and as a volunteer for the past 25 years," Llewellyn said. "I can say that the education that is offered is invaluable."
According to the history provided by Michaels, the school was established in 1914 by the Rev. Vincent Dever. The school was staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph and classrooms were located in the basement of the church on Broadway and Dock Street. The first commencement was held on Sunday, June 24, 1917, following the 10 a.m. Mass. To Frances Dalton and Mildred Reiff belongs the honor of being the entire first graduating class.
In 1928, the Rev. John J. Carr authorized the building of a school and an auditorium at 214 N. Margaretta St. at a cost of $48,000. Classes continued on a small scale with only five students graduating as late as 1941. With an increase of enrollment in the late 1950s, the Rev. Donohue opened two classrooms in the basement of the church on Dock Street.
Under the direction of the Rev. Alfred Ott, a 14-acre tract off East Main Street in North Manheim Township was purchased in 1971. This land was to be used for the relocation of the church, school and rectory.
The first lay principal, Mary Lou Casserly (Michaels), was hired in 1985. Recognizing the need for a new school, the Rev. Francis J. Schuster supervised the building of the present St. Ambrose School and adjacent parish center. On Sept. 3, 1986, the school opened its doors and on Sept. 14, 1986, it was dedicated by Bishop Thomas J. Welsh.
Due to the changing role of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the school began the 1987 school term with an all lay faculty. The school was accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools on Oct. 23, 1992. Anne B. Curry took over the position of principal in August 2001. Thomas Camise was the interim principal for the 2012-13 school year and he and Michaels shared the principal position throughout the 2013-14 school year, with Michaels taking over as full-time principal this school year.
When asked about the centennial milestone, Barres said St. Ambrose School continues a proud tradition of Catholic education.
"That 100 years after the Sisters of St. Joseph established a school in the basement of St. Ambrose Church, the children of this parish are still receiving a quality, faith-based education at St. Ambrose School is a tribute to the people of this parish and the priests and sisters and lay teachers who have served the parish over the years," Barres said. "A Catholic school education is obtained by great sacrifice on the part of many and it is essential to the New Evangelization. I am looking forward to participating in the celebration of this milestone at the Mass on Sept. 6."
To learn more about the school, go to www.stambroseproud.com.