Sister Virginia, a longtime teacher at Holy Family Academy, was two years old when the school opened in Bayonne at its first location on West 4th Street, so it is with a bit of irony that she should celebrate her 90th birthday during the last gathering before the school closed forever.
Although graduation seemed to be the culmination of the school’s 88-year history, students, teachers, and administrators gathered once more to commemorate the school and its history at a somewhat more private affair in the school gym.
In some ways, graduation allowed the seniors closure, a moment to look back on and cherish, while this moment on June 14 allowed undergraduates a moment of their own, something to look back on as say bid the school goodbye.
Surrounded by the icons of the school’s history, sports victories, and a stage still reverberating with the echoes of the most recent theatrical production, students and administrators sat on metal chairs for one last homage before the school doors closed forever.
Principal Mary Tremitiedi—who came on three years ago—said she had hoped the school would make it, and felt sad about its closing.
“This is the last time we’ll be together as a group,” Tremitiedi said. “But we’ll always be a Holy Family family.”
Students, crying as they spoke, talked about “unbreakable bonds” that they had forged here.
In a speech crafted by a handful of students, they talked about how the unimaginable happened, and yet understood the blessings they had received at the school.
“Words cannot describe how much we cherish Holy Family Academy,” their speech said. “Despite the closure of the school, we would not take back any of the time we had here for anything in the world.”
The students said they had grown to love each other, and will carry that memory to wherever life’s journey leads them.
On this day, the news was filled with new horrors from the Middle East, where war in Syria had escalated, and these girls prayed for peace.
Originally run by the Sisters of St. Joseph, HFA was taken over by a coalition of parents and alumni in 2008 with the hope of keeping the doors open.
Originally, the last class was supposed have been in June 2009, but the fundraising efforts managed to keep the school open until 2013. But earlier this year, administrators realized it was not fiscally possible to keep the school going, and the last class graduated in June.
The Board of Trustees announced in April that they could no longer sustain the operating expenses at the school because of low enrollment rates.
But in a ceremony in late June, teachers and students gathered and in a few tear-filled hours gave their own farewell.
Tremitiedi and students talked about comic and moving moments during the last few years, moments of shared emotion that became the stuff of memories, surviving blizzards, cold spells, and hurricanes.
“But we always could laugh about it, always had fun, and always had each other,” Tremitiedi said. “The one thing you have to take away from here is that you are all women of vision. You have the skills and the drive to be leaders.”
And then, singing, or at least attempting to sing through the tears, the students gave one more rendition of the school alma mater, which echoed in the gym and into the halls, and would likely linger there as in the memories of those who struggled with the words.
“She is our inspiration,” they sang, “fight for her, for her honor.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.