St. Anne School marks 120 years

Matthew Santoni
| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

When Nancy Belsterling was a student at Castle Shannon's St. Anne School in the 1960s, some of the classrooms had as many as 50 students and nuns ran the school.

Now, Belsterling is a kindergarten teacher and her children are students in the school, which has a considerably smaller enrollment than in her school days but is entering its 120th year of service.

“I not only like the faith-filled part (of the education) but also being part of something significant in the community,” Belsterling said.

Activities this week at the school on Willow Avenue have both marked Catholic Schools Week and helped kick off the school's anniversary year, which will include hosting a Mass with Bishop David Zubik in September and another Mass in November to be said by alumnus Daniel DiNardo, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Galveston-Houston.

A laywoman, Flora Schafer, founded the school in 1894, five years after the predominantly German Catholic parish was formed.

She initially offered religious instruction to some local miners' children out of the church's sacristy, the storage area for priests' vestments, parish records and other items. But the school gradually grew to include a more comprehensive education and its own building across the street from the original church, said Cathy Jakubowski, principal at the school.

The school grew, first under the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and after 1905, the Sisters of Divine Providence, Jakubowski said. The current building opened in 1954, she said, and enrollment peaked at 1,611 in 1961. It since has fallen to about 160, including preschool students, she said.

“It was not unusual for a sister to teach a class of 60,” Jakubowski said. The last nuns left the school in the late 1990s.

Some families have sent three or even four generations through the pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade school, which Jakubowski said is the oldest in the South Hills.

“Literally thousands and thousands of people have gone through our school,” Jakubowski said. “There are certain names that are just so much a part of the school, they come up so often, it's amazing.”

Keith Creehan was part of one such multi-generational family: He graduated in 1978, his sons graduated in 2005 and 2007, and his father graduated in 1928.

“My parents' family ... couldn't afford the school, but the pastor said, ‘go ahead and come here,' ” said Creehan, 51, of Upper St. Clair. “I think that started a long, sentimental loyalty to the parish and the school.”

He attributed the school's longevity to a very supportive parish and parishioners, parents who would turn out for nearly every fundraiser, and a curriculum strong in Catholic values and traditional grade-school subjects.

DiNardo, who attended the school with his twin sister from 1955 to 1963, agreed.

“The demographics of the parish have changed somewhat, but the school still has a very strong reputation in both the faith and the ‘secular' subjects,” DiNardo said.

Today, he is happy to have about 50 men studying for the priesthood in his entire diocese, DiNardo said, but when he entered the seminary in 1967 there were 30 other potential priests from St. Anne alone.

This week, after a Mass and an open house on Sunday, students took part in a day Monday focusing on service to others, particularly through the parish's mission work in Peru. The school hosted a “VIP” luncheon on Tuesday where students could bring people important to them to school to share lunch, visit the ongoing book fair and tour the classrooms.

To get some of its other alumni in the loop for the anniversary activities, to seek their support for the school and to get them to share their stories, the school is encouraging graduates to sign up at

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or

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