Students make final visit to Mt. Nazareth Academy
By Dona S. Dreeland
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
They came to remember and to say, “Goodbye.”
“I never knew there was a tree until (attending the school),” said Nancy (Nowakowski) Robinson, who returned to the former Mt. Nazareth Academy, now Mt. Nazareth Center, in Ross Township on Nov. 23 to visit with her high school classmates.
The space that once served as the academy and has been the provincial house for the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth will be converted into senior citizens housing by Presbyterian SeniorCare.
The Mt. Nazareth Learning Center — the sisters' preschool — and the chapel will remain. Housing and office space for the sisters will be built on the campus.
The sisters invited alumnae of the high school and others with ties to the order for an afternoon of tours, a reception and a Mass.
The four-story red-brick building once housed 100 sisters from the province of Ohio, Michigan, Alabama and Pennsylvania. Postulants and novices also boarded there. Today, six sisters live on site.
Sister Kathleen Matuszewski and Sister Gerri Wodarczyk, facilities managers, both are pleased the order's mission to support and nurture families will continue.
“We saw the writing on the wall,” Sister Kathleen said.
“We've been trying to sell the place for more than six years. No matter how many are here, you still have to pay the heat and light.”
Robinson, 68, who grew up in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, was quite familiar with concrete. For the Polish-American teen, Mt. Nazareth was the only choice for secondary education. Even in the 1960s, ethnic groups often attended separate elementary and high schools and followed the order of sisters who first taught them, Robinson, now of Irwin, said.
Half of the 22 girls in her 1963 graduating class joined the order.
Sister Kathleen and Sister Geraldine have called Mt. Nazareth Center home since the late 1960s. Both attended classes and took their vows there.
“I never had my own bed until coming here,” said Sister Kathleen, who grew up in a large family in Cleveland.
Sister Gerri, who had lived in Erie, felt a call to an early religious vocation. What she found at the academy was a solid college-preparatory program that led to a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in spirituality.
Sister Kathleen earned a bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in special education.
Carol (Suwalski) McGuigan and Suzanne Kakol, both 61, were raised on Polish Hill, another Pittsburgh neighborhood. They continued their friendship at the academy from 1966 to 1970, when the school closed.
“We met in the first grade,” said McGuigan, who still lives in her family home. “We may not talk for a while, but when we get together, it's like we never were apart.”
She remembered Sister Alberta, the art teacher, and Sister Gemma.
“We had a lot of fun,” said Kakol, now of Irwin. “At the end of the year, we wore our messy clothes and cleaned.”
She also remembered when the sisters baked apple pies and sold a piece for a nickel.
They knew everyone in their 31-member class.
McGuigan turned all of her home-economics lessons into a successful cake and candy-making business. Kakol was a nurse for 30 years.
Anastasia (Krzeminski) Lane, 71, now of Shaler Township, remembers taking two streetcars from her home in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood to Bellevue to catch yet another bus to the school.
Robinson smiles when she thinks of the big blue bus that took her to and from the campus. As she and her classmates traveled, they sang and did homework.
The start of each day was a happy one.
“We were loved by the Sisters at Holy Family at Mt. Nazareth,” Robinson said.
Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or email@example.com.
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