Saying goodbye is never easy. After 119 years of educating St. Paul's youths on the North End, St. Bernard's is closing its school doors for good.

Freshman Clare Thompson practically lives in the school's shadow. Her father and his siblings went to St. Bernard's. As did she and her siblings. "What it feels like, mostly, is like a family member that has died," Thompson said Friday, as students and staff said goodbye on the school's final day.

The tearful scene is being repeated throughout St. Paul as declining enrollments, budget cuts and changing demographics are driving an overhaul of education in the city.

In February, the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis announced that St. Bernard's and Holy Childhood Catholic Elementary — which has served the Como Park neighborhood for more than 60 years — would be shutting down.

St. Paul Public Schools has also announced a budget-cutting plan that shifts programs around the district. When all is complete, at least six buildings will be vacated.

"It's like your house is closing," said Jeffrey Heger, a senior at St. Bernard's who has spent a good portion of his life in its classrooms and hallways. He and his twin, Jennifer, started at St. Bernard's in preschool, and are members of the school's final graduating class. "I can't get over the fact that I don't have anything to come back to. It's like really over," said Jennifer.

St. Bernard's opened its classrooms in 1891 as a grade school. It expanded its program over the years and in 1957 opened St. Bernard's High School. But the enrollment and money coming in has dwindled over the years.

The grade school closed at the endof last year. When school leaders announced the high school's closing this past winter, supporters raised $1 million to try to keep it open and attract new students. It wasn't enough. The closure was finalized in April. The school has been "a light in the darkness," said Jeffrey Heger. "By it closing, the light's going to dim."

Alums of the high school are planning to literally dim the lights tonight as part of a farewell celebration that starts at 6 p.m. Representatives from each of the graduating classes will walk through the school, turning off the lights one classroom at a time. That will be followed by an open-mike session in the gym where people are encouraged to share stories.

"What was special about this place is it became a family," said Principal Jennifer Cassidy. That sounds like a cliché, she said, but "it was something different here." She praised the students for supporting one another and staying on track academically despite their sadness over the school's closure. "They did finish on top," she said. "They never quit." Pioneer Press