GOWANDA - Walking through the halls, standing in the classrooms and hearing the story of St. Joseph School, there is a sense of sadness that this story has to come to an end.
The 54 students enrolled (which includes pre-k) and eight full-time teachers will need to find another home come the end of the school year. Principal Patrick Brady wishes this didn't have to happen.
"We were very disappointed," he said. "We knew because of our low numbers we were in danger of closing, but we hoped and prayed our isolation would keep that from happening."
OBSERVER Photo by Jasmine Willis
Principal Patrick Brady goes through old photos of St. Joseph School as he talks about the days when the Church and the School shared the same home.
The Buffalo Diocese said it would do everything they could to help with a smooth transition for the students.
The students are being encouraged to go to St. Aloysius Regional School in Springville, since that is the one closest to them.
The future of the teachers rests on where they apply and whether they can find openings in other schools.
There had been a six year partnership with SUNY Fredonia to do a music program for the students at St. Joseph.
Brady said it was a great program and the students really enjoyed it.
"It was a big program and a wonderful thing to have for the kids," he said.
Brady said he believes the problem with low numbers comes from a lack of students and the economy.
"People are not having big families anymore," he said. "The tri-county population has gone down and the economy drags on the situation."
Brady is very thankful to all those who have supported St. Joseph over the years.
"I can't say enough about our benefactors," he said. "Our community has been wonderful and we are so grateful."
On the day Brady learned about the school closing Pastor Joseph Porpiglia had sent out an e-mail informing everyone. Brady took what Porpiglia wrote and sent it out as well as his own letter to parents.
"We wanted the parents to tell their kids about the closing," he said.
Porpiglia wrote he wanted a beautiful farewell to the school.
"Our school has a long tradition of making children feel welcome and secure, and will continue to do so through the end of the school year. Our teachers will continue to teach and we will continue to nurture your child," he continued. "Let us support one another and pray for one another as our school community undergoes this change. It is going to be difficult for all of us."
Brady sent out his own heartfelt letter.
"This is a very sad day in the history of St. Joseph Parish, Gowanda and the tri-county area and the Diocese of Buffalo. We all hoped and prayed that this day would never come," he wrote. "As I write this my heart is very heavy; St. Joseph School has been a blessing in the lives of so many for 90 years and it has certainly been a blessing in my life."
Brady ended with an Irish Prayer: May God give you ... for every storm, a rainbow, for every tear, a smile, for every care, a promise, and a blessing for every trial, for every sigh a sweet song, and an answer for each prayer.
Brady said they are very proud of what goes on at St. Joseph.
When the school opened its doors in 1925, there were 54 students, Brady said it is ironic they are ending with 54 students.
In the beginning, the church shared the building with the school and in 1957, St. Joseph's Church was built next to it. Until 1957, the church was on the second floor of the school.
"They use to bring in coffins on a pulley through the secretary's office," Brady said.
Brady said they bred good character and responsibility into the kids and without it they couldn't call themselves a Christian School.
"We had such an amazing place, it is very sad, we had such a great history," Brady said.
Brady added he would've preferred not to have the honor of being the last principal of St. Joseph.
Pastor Porpiglia had a morning Mass for the school community Thursday morning and Brady said it was very nice.
"It was a wonderful place for the kids to gain not only success in this life but life ever after," Brady said. "That was our aim."
Brady ended the interview with an emotional goodbye.
"It has been a great 90 years," he said.
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