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School article: When One Door Closes . . . May 2016

The Northern Cross - May 2016

When one door closes . . .
St. Mary School to close after this school year

The Northern Cross

The closure of a school affects students and their families, teachers and staff, and the entire community in very personal ways. This is true as St. Mary’s Catholic School in Pine City prepares to close its doors at the end of this academic year. The decision was announced in January, setting in motion a flurry of activities amid a mix of emotions.

“Our school community is working to finish the year with a focus on pride for 59 faith-filled years educating the youth of Pine City and the surrounding area,” said Kelly Welch, interim co-principal. “St. Mary’s is a school steeped in strong values and virtues, with the Catholic faith as its foundation and great traditions of Christmas programs and activities that positively influence the entire community.”

St. Mary’s Catholic School opened on Sept. 3, 1957. It fulfilled a dream of Pine City parishioners to provide a Catholic school in the southernmost parish of the Diocese of Duluth and overcame many challenges through time to deliver on that promise with consistently high academics in a faith-filled environment.

Enrollment fluctuations over the years were met with investments in technology and infrastructure, strong emphasis on accredited programming, grade configuration changes, and powerful, prayerful support by Pine City’s Immaculate Conception parish community. However, a steady decline in enrollment that began in 2009 ultimately led parish and diocesan school leaders to consider closure.

“St. Mary’s has explored many options for remaining a viable Catholic school in the Diocese of Duluth,” Welch said. “The school has been very creative in establishing classrooms that almost model the concept of a one-room schoolhouse, grouping students of various ages together under the direction of a teacher for multiple grades. It has offered some significant advantages for learning through differentiation and a strong community connection.”

Those bonds remain strong as the school enters its final stretch.

“The ‘family’ feeling of St. Mary’s will be missed,” Welch said. “There is a closeness between students, parents, faculty and staff. Whether working together on a fundraiser, rallying around a mother with cancer, helping a family in need or experiencing community in the classroom, there has always been a special bond of friendship and love at St. Mary’s.”

“It has been a joy to partner with with parents in providing Catholic education to the children at St. Mary’s Catholic School,” said Cynthia Zook, director of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Duluth. “Together we have had the opportunity to help children be formed in the ways of faith, knowledge and service to God. It is my prayer as we mark the final days of the school as we know it today that we can trust God has a plan for continued faith formation and education for children in the Pine City area.”

The school community thanks the priests, Benedictine sisters, lay principals, teachers, parents, students, support staff, parishioners and benefactors who have believed in St. Mary’s and its mission for so many years.

“Most of all, praise God for making it possible,” Welch said. “We are grateful.”

A Mass of Thanksgiving celebrating the blessings of St. Mary’s Catholic School will be held May 22 at 10 a.m. at Immaculate Conception Church, 535 Eighth St. S.W., in Pine City. Bishop Paul Sirba will preside. All are welcome.