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Bridges, July 17, 2020

ST. JOHN’S SCHOOL: Thanks for the Memories!

The recent news that St. John’s was among the 20 schools being closed by the Archdiocese of New York came as a shock to many, including numerous RJM who had been students, teachers or administrators. Archdiocesan officials cited the impact of the current pandemic as the immediate cause of the decision to close, saying that the health concerns and unemployment consequent upon Covid-19 have led to a low rate of re-registration.

The decision brings to an end a 117-year history that began when a parish lay committee petitioned Archbishop John Farley of New York to welcome the Religious of Jesus and Mary to fill the “urgent need” for a parish school. In June of 1903, M. Euphémie Letellier wrote to her Provincial the “astonishing” news that “We, French Canadians, (are) admitted into an Irish parish to teach Irish-Americans English….” The fact that the committee included a Mr. Rheaume may explain why the RJM were the ones sought! And so began an RJM mission that would see more than 250 sisters serving the children of St. John’s as teachers and administrators.

Some of their reflections, as well as those of the school’s graduates, are given below, and can give us a taste of the rich history that has marked this ministry in the Bronx.

Sr. Helen Scarry (Class of 1951) wrote of her “torrent of wonderful memories of being so happy to go to school.” Helen remembers “waving and smiling” to a group of mothers (including her own) watching their children entering St. John’s on their first day of school. Many will resonate with her memories of learning the Palmer method of handwriting, the weekly composition assignment, poems to be memorized, and the preparation that brought children into the sacramental life of the church. While “charism” was an unknown word in those days, looking back, Helen’s recollection is that “…each (RJM) in some way shared her unique living of our charism as she taught and accompanied us…. What a great foundation we were given…!”

Msgr. Martin Scanlan was a beloved and vital element in the life of the school and parish, as Sr. Kathleen Scanlon (Class of 1956) noted in her remembrances. In her “fond memories” of 9 years as a student, Kathleen recalls “Msgr. Scanlan’s personal interest in our families and our education,” as well as his annual Christmas gifts: “hard candy, a cardboard Nativity scene, and movies (‘Silent Night,’ ‘The Littlest Angel’) for several hundred children.” Along with other graduates, “friendships, special teachers, and the Annual St. Patrick’s Day performances” were a highlight for Kathleen, whose 1st communion class is shown on page 2...

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