A recent email from an old classmate read, "so sad." It discussed the impending closure of St. Margaret's School after 95 years. Enrollment is down and the school is losing money. I had the privilege of attending St. Margaret's and was a member of the class of '74. The email brought back many memories.
Students, dressed smartly in their uniforms, met each morning for Mass. I recalled the excitement we had walking into the church to join our classmates, grouped by grade, and then jockeying for a position near your best friend. After-school plans were hatched in hushed voices over open hymnal and liturgical books.
Afterward, the clanging of the school bell could be heard emanating from the rhythmically moving hand of an elderly nun dressed in a white cornette and full habit.
We raced to our simple classrooms. Teaching technology consisted of a blackboard, chalk and a few black felt erasers. Our textbooks were well used and held the names of previous students.
One thing we did do was learn. Not just academic subjects, but how to become young adults. We learned responsibility, how to share and how to get along. We learned how to survive an unrequited crush and how to overcome adversity. Report cards were hand-written. They were passed out in church, by Monsignor Duggan, in front of all your classmates, with pertinent comments made as you stood patiently listening.
Gym class took place in the school basement and often consisted of haphazardly throwing around a dodge ball. Amazingly, nobody ended up with a serious head injury. Our gym doubled as a bingo hall. I remember my parents selling pizza to the bingo players to raise funds. This wasoften done in a heavy haze ofblue fog, long before the days of "secondhand smoke."
In warmer weather, the schoolyard and parking lot became the sports arena where informal games were played. In the winter, during recess, it was the site of many epic battles of "king of the hill."
I remember my teachers -- Mrs. Johnson, who was my very first; Sister Bethanne, the guitar-playing nun, Mrs. Corsi; Mrs. Faulkner, who encouraged me in science (it must have worked because I eventually made it to medical school); Ms. Mazzarini, who made sure I practiced my best behavior; and Sister Timothy, who had the unenviable task of dealing with eighth-graders eager to get on to the magical world of high school. Although very different, they all placed a premium on educating students and creating good citizens. They did a fantastic job and I thank each them. Many of my classmates are now professionals and community leaders.
My father still lives in our old house on North Park. Things are different now. The schoolyard is mostly empty and he can watch for hours, rarely seeing children walk by. Families are smaller; parents more vigilant. The vibrancy of the neighborhood, which in many ways emanated from the school, appears to have diminished.
I understand the decision to close St. Margaret's is based on hard numbers and practical economic concerns. That, however, was not what I was feeling when I heard the news. I felt a monument to my childhood was being taken away. One of the generational legacies North Buffalo gave to the community will be gone forever. It's as if a close friend, one I will miss dearly, is moving far away. So long, dear friend, and thank you for all the memories.
Michael S. Albert, of Orchard Park, is chairman of the pathology department at Mercy Hospital.