By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
Those who knew Saint Camillus Academy best — the students, teachers, parents, alumni and the Sisters of Divine Providence — came together Sunday.
For one last time.
It started with an “educational sale” of the school’s books, equipment and inventory on Saturday.
And, in a short but stirring prayer service the next afternoon, the school on the hill ended its educational and spiritual mission to Corbin and the region.
At times, there were smiles throughout the campus both days. Many memories were rekindled, and people reunited.
But along with the grins were signs of sorrow as the historic school at the end of Roy Kidd Avenue was shutting down.
What was quoted quite often were the words, “It’s a sad day.”
The school prepared for 200 people to sit in Sunday’s prayer service. By the time it began shortly after 2 p.m., it was estimated the congregation was around 135-150 people inside the cafeteria — part of the “new” St. Camilllus building that was completed in 2004.
Like many of the Sisters who were there, the weekend was emotional for both Sister Mary Bezold and Sister Carleen Schumacher, as they started the service.
“It’s a real tribute to St. Camillus that so many of you have shown up today,” said Sister Mary, as she looked at the congregation’s faces.
It was Sister Carleen who added, “This place is a place of special memories. Each of us shares a part of the life of St. Camillus.”
For 22 years, Sister Mary taught at “Saint C,” and was best known for starting the Montessori program there in 1992.
In September, she came down from northern Kentucky to meet with personnel with Corbin Independent Schools to go over the facilities and inventory of St. Camillus, after the Corbin Board of Education agreed to purchase the academy site from the Sisters for $1 million, to be paid over an interest-free period of years.
The St. Camillus property is expected to be the future site of Corbin Middle School.
Sister Carleen was a former principal of the school in recent years.
In February, she came down to the school to tell a parents’ meeting the Sisters would be willing to lease the buildings to parents who are interested — for a dollar a year — if the parents could keep the academy open this current school year.
Based in Melbourne, the Sisters of Divine Providence own the St. Camillus buildings property. After the school’s board announced in July that the academy would not open this fall due to declining enrollment and lack of funding, the Sisters agreed to sell the property to Corbin Schools.
After the remarks from Sister Carleen and Sister Mary, there was a brief prayer, followed by the congregation singing the first two verses of “How Great Thou Art.”
Some 24 hours earlier, the cafeteria where the prayer service was held was filled with merchandise.
Things like books, displays, maps, audio-visual aids and posters that allowed young minds to wonder, to learn, and enlighten.
Nearby, you could buy “A Bag of Books” for a dollar.
Don Root, who graduated from Saint Camillus in 1955, was nearby, too.
“I used to pitch hay in that field back in the summertime when I went to school here. Mr. Pietrowski was the caretaker of the school then. The school paid me 50 cents a day to pitch hay,” said Root, pointing outside to the field where the school’s playground is today.
After living in Louisville for years, he and his wife now live in London. Saturday was the first time Root had been to Saint C since the old building was torn down in 2009.
He thanked the teachers for making him what he is today.
“They gave me attention, they had standards for you to meet, and they had a way to motivate you. You achieved more and rose to the occasion. They were like second parents to me. My wife didn’t go to school here, but she studied music under the nuns. And my wife also used that gift of music that she learned and passed it down to our two children. It’s hard to believe this would happen. This school was a bastion of hope to young people like myself,” Root said Saturday.
It’s been written, “To every thing there is a season.”
At the service, Sister Judith McMahon brought that into perspective by reading from the Bible that well-known passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.
When Sister Judith finished with, “…A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak,” she went back to her seat.
And, for a few seconds, there was silence that Sunday afternoon.
On Saturday afternoon, there was noise.
Of people going through sections of the both the “old building” — which includes the library opened in 1973 — and the “new building” which contains the cafeteria.
They searched for kitchen items and kaleidoscopes, along with desks and digital equipment. One rack nearby had “Best Offer” written on its side, on a piece of paper that was held up with scotch tape.
All the items inside were sold out.
Sister Alice Marie taught at St. Camillus from 1973-1978 and through all of the 1990s.
“It’s been a place where the Sisters, the parents and the students came together against a lot of challenges. We came here to learn about God, and we shared a lot of things here on the hill. To teach children about God, as well as wisdom, age and grace. It’s in the Bible. It’s hard for everybody. It’s like a death in the family,” she said Saturday.
Speaking again to the congregation on Sunday, Sister Carleen noted, “Change is never easy., even if when it is a change we foresee. But life is all about change. Nothing ever really remains the same. There is a dying, or letting go. That has to happen, so something new can change to life.”
On Saturday, Dr. Brent Chumbley of Corbin stopped by the school during the sale.
His two children went to St. Camillus. He ran into Nancy Faulkner, who has three grandchildren who went there, too. They met with Sister Alice Marie, and for a few minutes talked about old times.
But the moment that was about to come was also on his mind.
“It’s a sad thing. I’m glad my children had the opportunity to come. They got a very good, sound education. It prepared them for high school and beyond. It was structured, and the teachers gave them one-on-one learning. Everything was really strong here, but the Montessori school was exceptional here, and the code of conduct was a lot more strict. That taught them to be responsible. It’s the end of an era,” Dr. Chumbley said.
Some 24 hours later, the children of Saint C were remembered at a crucial time.
Returning to speak at the service, Sister Mary commented, “You have always given, but most of all you have given your children to us to teach. … When I came back here this summer, I was reading one of the letters the children wrote and sent to the Bishop, asking the Diocese to keep the school open. I really didn’t read them for a long time because I was afraid I would cry. The letter said, ‘This was my second home. This my home. My home,’ written in big letters. It was their way of saying ‘Please help us. Keep us open.’ It was the things the children were doing to keep the school alive. Those are things that will last forever. The things that they learned.”
“Every letter was articulated so well,” noted Sister Carleen.
Midway in the prayer service, the Sisters asked for comments from the congregation. It was a chance for them to talk about their memories, their recollections and their thoughts about St. Camillus.
For one last time.
There were several.
Jonathan Meadors talked about the education he received at the school, as well as the friends he made.
“This place has been very important to me. What I’ll take away from here are the memories, and the education. You left a better person. When I drive up Master Street, I’ll always remember that,” he said.
“St. Camillus was known for the education, but it was also known for the discipline,” added Randy Kline.
His wife, Verna, spoke next. “I went here all 12 years. It was nice to know we were sisters in Jesus. I graduated here in 1977, and when they looked at my resume, employers were impressed that I graduated from St. Camillus.”
After the service, Verna Kline looked through some school memorabilia, like reprints of the old school, along with old basketball jerseys and Saint C baseball caps.
“It’s the spirit that the Sisters brought here, and the spirit that Jesus brought. It was very special to go to school here. Being a smaller school made it more close-knit. It’s sad, but we know change comes, and we have to move forward. But the memories were great, and the memories will go on, forever,” she pointed out.
“When I came, one of the things that impressed me was the support of the parents for a good education. The parents wanted the children to learn. The parents were wonderful, and the children were motivated because of their parents,” Sister Juanita said before the comments ended.
There were comments as well, during Saturday’s sale.
Chet Snyder of Corbin was outside the cafeteria, checking out some Saint C memorabilia, such as prints of the old building on the campus that overlooked Master Street. He remembered it, and a time in which agriculture played a large part of the school’s existence.
“I started here in 1969. When I first started, they had a farm in the field where the playground is. There was the old farmhouse and a barn, and there were farm animals. Before school started, we’d go to church every day. My wife and her family went to school here, and so did my grandmother. I remember the good times here. I’m going to miss it,” mentioned Snyder.
The final prayers came just after 2:30 p.m. Sunday, when Sister Mary took the microphone and said, “Let us gather all our memories.”
She then read a prayer designed to bring strength, comfort and hope in the everyday lives of those in the audience. It was called, “Act of Abandonment to Divine Providence,” written by the founder of the Sisters of Divine Providence, John Martin Moye.
As Sister Mary read it, the congregation responded in return.
When that ended, she led them into saying “The Lord’s Prayer.”
After that prayer, there was silence for a few seconds. And the service closed with the last two verses of “How Great Thou Art.”
“The people of St. Camillus sure can sing,” Sister Mary said afterwards.
The prayer service ended at 2:41 p.m.
A reception was held afterward, and many of the congregation stayed for that. Many of them caught up with some of the sisters, and reconnected with their former teachers about days past up on the hill.
At the sale Saturday, Sister Mary mentioned the relationship with the people during her time at the school was important to her.
“I think the children understand that too. The younger ones have the feelings, but they can’t express them in words as easily as the older children. The older children say it’s the relationships that they made here, along with the learning, that’s important to them. For them, it’s a life-learning situation,” she added.
Moments after Sunday’s service ended, one of Sister Mary’s students made contact with her.
Both were smiling when the connection was made.
“I can’t believe this. It’s a sad time and this is hurting me. I was an alumnus of St. Camillus from 2000-2001. I got close to God here. I played recreational sports here. And when I left here, I lost a lot of special memories. But I have a St. Camillus scrapbook and that print of the old school. And I’m back with my former teacher. Sister Mary was my kindergarten teacher in the old school building,” said Ashley Harmon, of Corbin.
Sister Mary acknowledged that — along with the bonds cemented between the school and the people who made St. Camillus a part of their lives.
“I’m feeling the life that is here now. The enthusiasm and the friendships. The joy that people experience with each other is what’ I’m seeing. It is sad, but this has reunited a lot of people that I haven’t seen in awhile. Today, I saw three people that were in my kindergarten class, like Ashley. They came back. That says a lot,” she noted.
A person who attended the service was leaving the campus in their car. Just where the driveway that becomes Roy Kidd Avenue starts to go downhill, a young father was out walking with his three children.
Although it was chilly, the sun was out, and what vibrant colors were still around added to the special remembrance that had been witnessed almost a half-hour ago.
“I wanted to show my children what we did when I went to school here. We started at the church, then went up the hill right here to this spot, and look at the campus, one more time. It’s my memory of Saint Camillus,” the father said.
From 1914 to 2003.
So long, Saint C.
Crowd comes together one last time at school
By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
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