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Teachers, students and parents say farewell to school with closing Mass

| Tuesday, June 5, 2012, 7:19 a.m.
There were mixed emotions from St. Joseph Regional students as they left church after a closing Mass for the Port Vue parochial school Monday. Many of those students will attend the new Mon-Yough Catholic School in White Oak. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News

St. Joseph Regional School passed into history Monday, as its students, faculty, staff and friends gathered for a closing Mass.

"The doors of St. Joseph Regional Catholic School were always open to all, likened to open arms with an open heart and an open mind," seventh-grade teacher Michelle Smith read to those gathered in the Port Vue sanctuary of St. Mark parish.

"Now, as the doors close," Smith said, "open your heart, your mind and your soul to the memories."

Out of 128 students, 11 will move on from the eighth grade to high school, while close to 100 are among the 330 who have registered to join a newly merged Mon-Yough Catholic School in what now is St. Angela Merici School White Oak.

"As a parent, I'm not happy with the closing," said Glassport deputy police chief Shawn DeVerse, a member of the St. Joseph Regional school board. As the father of three youngsters attending the merged school, however, DeVerse said he's "looking forward to a better education for my kids."

Out of 11 teachers, two are retiring.

"Everyone in both schools who wanted a job is hired," principal Dianne Tima said. "I will be retiring, but I will be there to help the transition."

Tima served at St. Joseph Regional for three years, coming to Port Vue from the principal's post at St. Louise de Marillac in Upper St. Clair.

"It's bittersweet," Tima said. "This has been an exceptional place for children to grow spiritually, academically, in every way."

She offered "a great big thank you to all the parents and all the alumni for all that they have contributed to the education of children here."

"I'm just happy that we are able to provide quality Catholic education," eighth-grade teacher Sally Gooch said. "I'm thrilled to be a part of that."

Gooch also will be able to continue to promote understanding between Catholic and Jewish communities at the new school. She has held numerous classes and programs dealing with the Holocaust.

"I am choosing no longer to teach," said Danette Hopkins, a grandmother who taught music and also is an organist at St. Patrick's in Christy Park.

One of her last acts at St. Joseph Regional was to play the organ for the Mass concelebrated by the Rev. Kris Stubna, outgoing diocesan secretary for education, and seven priests from the consortium of churches that will support Mon-Yough Catholic.

Stubna told those gathered that he will become the new pastor of St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland. That will take effect July 9.

On Monday, however, he was guiding a flock of youngsters in a conversational homily about Catholic education.

"How many of you think it is a blessing to go to a Catholic school?" he asked the students. Most raised their hands.

"Why is it a blessing?" he asked.

"We get to talk to God," one youngster said.

"You can learn religion," another said. "You can learn all about Jesus, all about the Holy Spirit, and all about the Catholic faith."

"Wow, you get a gold star today," Stubna replied.

St. Mark's pastor the Rev. Daniel T. Straughn was among the concelebrants.

In Sunday's parish bulletin, Straughn countered the online petition opposing the name of the merged school.

"Many of our regional schools are named geographically and include the word ‘Catholic' to identify the nature and mission of the school," Straughn wrote.

In the prayers of the faithful during the Mass, first-grade teacher Susan Anselmo offered an intention "for Mon-Yough Catholic, that it may grow in wisdom and strength, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."

The response was, "Saint Joseph, patron of our school, pray for us."