After 114 years of service to the church and the New Trier community, St. Mary's Catholic School has closed. [New Trier is 8 or 10 miles south of Hastings. The folks drawing up the Archdiocesan Plan can check one goal off of their list.]
A Mass of thanksgiving for those years will be celebrated at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20, at St. Mary's Church. Archbishop John Nienstedt will recognize the 144 years the school educated and helped form students, both academically and spiritually.
An open house will be held from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. that day in the school. Library books will be available for a donation.
The decision to close the school was made earlier this spring by the St. Mary's School Board and Parish Council, said Principal Pat Ziegenbein. Declining enrollment was a factor; 18 were enrolled during the 2008-09 school year, with 12 expected for the upcoming year. The ongoing costs to the parish were also a factor. Nienstedt accepted the decision.
“We were the oldest operating school in the diocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis that existed as a single parish school,” Ziegenbein said. “Originally we were the 10th oldest school; nine other schools had closed or combined. I don't know how long we held the position as the oldest school.”
The Sisters of St. Benedict opened the school in 1865 with 35 students. That order left several years later, and the School Sisters of Notre Dame then staffed the school until 1970.
Since that time, lay teachers have been hired. In 1999, the sixth grade was dropped, and students went to the public school. Kindergarten was also added at that time, with students having class four days a week. No tuition was charged until 2002. Preschool was offered in 2006.
“St Mary's has always offered a basic education without a lot of frills,” Ziegenbein said. “Students had many opportunities to put their faith into action.”
When the school opened, students attended Mass every day; in recent years, they attended twice a week. Since Sept. 11, 2001, students have prayed the rosary for peace each week.
During the school's history, 40 women have pursued religious vocations with the School Sisters of Notre Dame while nine young men have been called to the priesthood or to become a brother.
Community service was an important part of the students' education, Ziegenbein said. They have written to pen pals at Angel Care Center in Cannon Falls each month, visiting them twice a year. During the visits, the students would present their Christmas program or spring musical. Each spring, students participated in Earth Day by cleaning the church grounds.
The school is very thankful for the parents who chose a Catholic education for their child, for the many volunteers, the parish's financial support, the parents who chaired the fundraisers, and the alumni who sponsored students, Ziegenbein said. The school is also appreciative to the priests, nuns, teachers, support staff who have supported the school.
All are invited to the Mass of thanksgiving. Refreshments will follow in the church basement. Hastings Star Gazette