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St. Alexis School celebrates 50 years of serving students

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For the North Journal
St. Alexis School Principal Jim Correll puts ashes on the forehead of preschooler Madeline Sell of Franklin Park on Ash Wednesday 2014. The school in McCandless is celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year.
Randy Jarosz | For the North Journal
St. Alexis School sixth-graders (from left) Paul Stock of McCandless, Joe Wiethorn of Franklin Park and Gregory Hillman of McCandless practice Wednesday, March 5, 2014, for leading the student body in praying the Stations of the Cross, which is weekly during Lent.. The school in McCandless is celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year.
Randy Jarosz | For the North Journal
St. Alexis School sixth-graders (from left) Christopher Wilkinson of Cranberry, Joe Wiethorn of Franklin Park and Paul Stock of McCandles practice Wednesday, March 5, 2014, for leading the student body in praying the Stations of the Cross, which is weekly during Lent.. The school in McCandless is celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year.
Randy Jarosz | For the North Journal
Christopher Correll of Cranberry, a preschooler at St. Alexis School in McCandless, receives ashes on his forehead on Ash Wednesday 2014. The school in McCandless is celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year.
Randy Jarosz | For the North Journal
The Rev. Paul Zywan puts ashes on the forehead of St. Alexis School kindergartner Drew Conklin of Franklin Park during Mass on Ash Wednesday 2014 at the church. The school in McCandless is celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year.
Randy Jarosz | For the North Journal
The Rev. Paul Zywan of St. Alexis Catholic Church puts ashes on the forehead of St. Alexis School kindergartner Peyton Varley of McCandless during Mass on Ash Wednesday 2014 at the church. The school in McCandless is celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year.

Members of the St. Alexis School community have seen many changes in the past five decades but say the family feel of the school has remained its core strength since it opened in 1963.

“It's grown by bits and pieces,” alumnus Matt Mlecko said.

“The buildings have changed, but the teachers tend to stay there a long time, which I think is a good thing.”

Those involved with the school in McCandless are celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year. Principal Jim Correll said administrators plan to recognize the occasion with a special Mass in May or June.

Mlecko attended the school from 1978 to 1984 and now sends two of his children to St. Alexis.

He said that when he brought his second-grader, Logan, to school one morning, a teacher recognized his last name, hugged him and told him that the hug was from his grandmother, who recently had died.

“We've been there a long time,” said Mlecko, 41, of McCandless. “This (school) is a family, and we want to have our kids there.”

The school currently has about 250 students in preschool through the eighth grade and draws from eight school districts.

St. Alexis opened as a school for first- through sixth-graders in 1963 in the cafeteria building, three years after the parish was established.

Longtime parishioner Jack Schuler began attending the church its first year when he was 11 years old. He was too old to attend St. Alexis School but said the school was created because the church's founding pastor, the late Rev. Francis Rodgers, was an advocate of Catholic education.

“He absolutely believed that Catholic education was important — that it was the foundation of morality and a guide for what to be in life,” said Schuler, 64, of McCandless.

Church volunteer Jeff Fisher attended St. Alexis School from 1966 to 1972 in a class of about 30 students.

Fisher, 54, of McCandless, said he remembers the school as “strict” and that it taught him “good Christian values.”

When the school opened, it was tuition-free and funded by parishioners' donations.

St. Alexis' pastor, the Rev. Paul Zywan, said many Catholic schools once were tuition-free because many teachers were sisters.

“We were the second-to-last elementary school to charge tuition in the diocese,” Zywan, of McCandless, said.

Zywan said the school began charging tuition in the 1970s. This year, St. Alexis' annual tuition for first- through eighth-graders is $3,950.

First-grade teacher Lois Titus, who has worked at the school for 40 years, said when she started teaching, she was one of only three lay teachers at St. Alexis. The rest were sisters, who, Fisher said, wore long, traditional habits.

The only sister now teaching at St. Alexis is Sister Jean Stoltz. She is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, based in Baden.

Titus, of Shaler Township, now teaches the children of some of her former students and said the family feel of the school has been an important draw for families. “It's really neat that they trusted us with their kids,” she said.

Two additional buildings, later connected by hallways, were added over the years, along with preschool, kindergarten, and the seventh and eighth grades.

Correll, 43, of Cranberry Township, said despite the school's age, he is pleased that St. Alexis has kept up with technology. Classrooms are equipped with interactive whiteboards, and technology is integrated into the curriculum, he said.

“The nice thing is they've stayed with the times,” Correll said.

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or kshea@tribweb.com.

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