Published October 20, 2005
A hallway in St. Mary’s School is lined with the handprints of alumni in varying shades of blue, the school’s color.
There are alumni from the 1950s all the way to 2005. The tradition of the eighth-grade students leaving their mark on the last day of school did not begin the same year as the school opened, but throughout the years alumni have come back to place their handprints on the cement wall.
“We Are Known by the Tracks We Leave Behind,” it says on the wall. And students and faculty are continuously conscious of those who have gone before them and who have worked hard to make St. Mary’s School a success for the past 60 years.
On Tuesday, Sept. 20, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory visited St. Mary’s to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the school. Faculty, parents, and students dressed in blue plaid uniforms attended the Mass, which was held in the school’s gymnasium. The pre-kindergarten students sat on the floor in front of the archbishop, their bright eyes watching him intently as he spoke.
Christa Jackson, admissions director of the school, spoke to the crowd and the archbishop at the end of the Mass.
“Boys and girls, we didn’t think we needed a present for our birthday because we already have that in St. Mary’s School, but we were so excited for the archbishop to come. We’ve waited a long time for him to come see us,” she said. Jackson then presented the archbishop with a quilt, which had patches made up of T-shirts representing the 18 archdiocesan schools.
“This is a very special quilt for a very special man.”
The archbishop was then greeted with cheers.
“Someone told me it’s been a long time, four years, since an archbishop came to visit your school,” he said. “So because of that, I’m going to give you all a free day from school.”
After Mass, Archbishop Gregory walked around the school, popping into classrooms and visiting the students, much to their delight.
In 1945, St. Mary’s School was founded through a shared vision by a people of faith committed to excellence, responsibility to the community, service and religious values. At the request of Bishop Gerald O’Hara, the Dominican Sisters from Adrian, Mich., agreed to staff the school. The old Lumpkin House, a 100-year-old building situated on Terrace Hill overlooking the Oostanaula River on West 8th Avenue was converted into a school. The school opened on Sept. 17, 1945, with 51 students in grades one through 11.
In 1960, the archdiocese obtained a portion of the Cooper estate and the present facility was erected at 401 East 7th St. A small elementary school with eight classrooms, library, kitchen and cafeteria was established. The enrollment at that time was 185 students in grades one through eight.
Because of declining vocations, the Dominican Sisters were forced to leave St. Mary’s in 1970. In 1971 the Daughters of Charity of Emmitsburg, Md., came to staff the school and served there for 22 years.
In 1980, the school responded to a growing need, adding a kindergarten as well as a new wing, which included a library, gymnasium, music room and two new classrooms. In 1993, also because of demands on their community, the Daughters of Charity were forced to leave St. Mary’s and the school began its current system, led by lay faculty members.
In 2001, St. Mary’s added a new building on its existing site, which includes a chapel, expanded art, music and drama areas, an air-conditioned gymnasium, a media center, computer and foreign language labs, and room for two classes per grade.
Currently the school has a record high enrollment of 373 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, but it’s the school’s long-standing tradition that has made St. Mary’s the school of choice for some families for generations.
Jody Black attended St. Mary’s School in the 1970s along with his sister. Their father had also attended the school, and Black now has a daughter there in the third grade.
“It’s the way the faculty treats the children there,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if your child is a third-grader, the eighth-grade teacher knows her. The big kids help the little kids. There is a lot of respect for each other at St. Mary’s,” he said, adding that his daughter looks forward to school each day.
“You know she’s happy when I barely stop the car and she’s trying to jump out,” he said. “There is no hesitation. She loves it.”
Bob Howell attended St. Mary’s School from first through fifth grade from 1966-1971 and now lives with his wife and three sons in a Cleveland, Ohio, suburb. He still has fond memories of the Rome school.
“I loved my time at St. Mary’s—and I can say that is what led me and my family to becoming Catholic,” he said. “My uncle had converted, which is why I wound up going there.”
Howell remembers well certain priests and sisters who staffed the school, as well as a past holiday tradition.
“I remember when a creek used to go through the campus, and we used to dye it green for St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “For some time we had Irish priests.”
Jackson began working at the school in 1995. Her four sons have all graduated from St. Mary’s and she says the school has been a “huge part” of her family’s life.
“We’re so much like family here. People really do care about each other,” she said. “I think it’s a place where everybody feels like they belong. No matter how diverse the school becomes, you still have a sense of belonging. I think also that tradition being 60 years old, you just have a feeling you’re part of something bigger and that we’re connected by the lives of the people who went before us.”