, Corbin, KY


January 17, 2013

St. Camillus to close in May

Financial reasons cited for Corbin school shutting down



Reactions and recollections on St. Camillus closing

By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer

The drive up the hill to St. Camillus Academy was a somber one Wednesday morning.

At the top of the hill, in front of the buildings where students have classes, and in front of a fountain, there is a statue of St. Francis. He has a bird perched on his right shoulder. With his left hand and arm, he comforts a lamb, as the saint looks down.

Combined with the news that the school will close in May, and the cold, rainy day that hung over Corbin like a thick blanket, the saint’s looking down was especially poignant.

For those parents who have children going to school there, the pace of life was a little slower and sadder Wednesday. That’s because their children were told the news of the closing that morning.

And for those who remember an earlier, simpler time, thoughts of the school’s closure brought back moments where the hill to the school was a racetrack for a day. Or when they recalled a story read by the nuns at the school.

“It’s a very sad day. Nobody wants to see St. Camillus leave. It’s more than just a school,” said Pam Mills, of Corbin.

Her 8-year-old son is in the 2nd Grade there, and it’s his fourth year at the school. In a phone interview Wednesday, Mills called herself “a very active volunteer parent there,” and said the closure of St. Camillus is even sadder because she feels the people who work there were what she called, “there for the right reason.”

“My son and I get a lot of support from the school, educationally, spiritually and emotionally. They’ve been a second family to me. If more people knew about the quality and about the attention they gave children, they would send their kids to St. Camillus. We’ll do everything we can to keep it open,” noted Mills.

It was a sad day for Scott Webster, too.

He and his wife have an 8-year-old boy in the 3rd Grade at the school. Webster is also secretary of the school council, the board that heard the news of St. Camillus’ closing Tuesday evening.

“At first, I wasn’t very hopeful about keeping it open, because the Lexington Diocese made the decision that they’re not getting involved,” he said Wednesday.

But Webster also sees a possible way to prevent the closing. He calls it, “strength in numbers.”

“There are thousands of St. Camillus alumni out there, and I don’t know how involved they are, but I’m hoping they’ll pull through. … I think it can be can be run independently, by a group of prominent individuals, or a church, or another Catholic organization. I don’t think the diocese would oppose this.”

Webster pointed out what he called one of the school’s strengths — its size — as a way to get people to send their children there.

“The bottom line is if people knew the education and experience the kids get there, which is like a good private school in the United States, there would be a waiting line to put students at St. Camillus. It may take a big step to do it, but I think there’s hope it can be done.”

Before Willard McBurney was mayor of Corbin and before he became an adult, he was an East Corbin boy who discovered the trip up the hill brought pleasant memories and some fast-movin’ times at the school.

“I especially remember the early days when it was a boarding school. Us East Corbin kids would go up there. In the summer, the nuns would make us lemonade and read to us. In fact, that was where they read Mark Twain’s book ‘Huckleberry Finn’ to me. We also used to make soap box cars when I was growing up, and at the school we raced our cars going down the hill. There wasn’t as much traffic there as it is now, so when we’d race, we’d have ‘the St. Camillus Derby.’ It was back in the days when the Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, was a big deal.”

In a phone interview Wednesday, McBurney added he was also fond of the original building that housed the academy, which was torn down in June 2008.

“It stood high over the hill, looking over Master Street, and it was a splendid structure. That old building, like the school, has been a part of Corbin all my life. The school brought quality education, and anytime you lose a learning institution of their caliber and quality, you hate to see it shutting down.”

For Raji Patil and her family, the closing in May of St. Camillus will be a void that needs to be filled.

“I was there today when they told the kids the school was closing. It was very sad. Everybody was in tears. The teachers, the students, and some of the parents. People were trying to figure out what happened, and what would happen next,” she said Wednesday.

Patil and her husband have two children who go to the school. Their 7-year-old is a 2nd Grader, while their 5-year-old is in Kindergarten at St. Camillus. She also serves on the school board, and heard the news of the closing before the students.

Patil said the initial shock of the news that night at the school board meeting would eventually give way to what she hopes will be action.

“When the superintendent of the diocese announced it at the meeting, we were in utter shock. Then after a few minutes, we all rallied around the idea of hope. … Our two children love the personal attention with the smaller classes. They get to interact with the older and younger students, and they love the attention they get from teachers. It really is a family atmosphere there. We’re hoping that we can get grants and donations to keep our doors open. I like to think of this as an investment in our future by keeping the school alive. I’m hoping this won’t be the end.”

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The soft whistle of a flute floated through the room as audience members listened in awe to tales of the Thunderbolt people. “This land that you’re now sitting on was that of Thunderbolt people,” said Thunderbolt descendant David Owens. Owens and Indian flute player Robert Mullinax stopped at the Laurel County Library Friday night to entertain with spoken legends, folk lore and tales of the bygone Thunderbolts. Audiences were captivated by stories passed down from the Thunderbolt of how things came to be. Tales about fire, pipes and Kentucky — just to name a few — were shared by Ownes over the course of an hour with Mullinax playing behind him.

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