Book Excerpts


St. Clare Elementary School, Scranton, Pennsylvania

Published by: RoseDog Books

Planted deeply in the history of St. Paul's Parish, Scranton, Pennsylvania, are the roots that supported its expanding branches, St. Clare's School, Convent and Church, dedicated on March 20, 1955. The same faith and generosity built these St. Clare structures which originally built a hemlock-log chapel as the first place of worship for some three hundred St. Paul's parishioners in 1887; replaced it in 1890 with a combined church, school and parish hall; built a convent for the sisters in 1898; built a new, three-story, fifteen-classroom grade/high school building which also housed the church in 1928; and completed a new, $375,000 church in 1952, debt-free. Under the leadership of zealous and dedicated pastors, the faith of the people of St. Paul's Parish was nurtured and spread. One of these, Monsignor John J. Vaughan, pastor from 1940 to 1971, was to preside over this parish in the years of phenomenal growth in both parish and school. The Green Ridge area of Scranton in which St. Paul's is located is an attractive and popular residential area, hence the influx of residents and the growth of the parish. In addition, it was Bishop William J. Hafey's desire that there be smaller, almost neighborhood-like Catholic churches and schools established in the various areas of the city of Scranton.

Thus it came to be that within a block of the Marywood College campus and the Motherhouse of the Sisters of IHM, that St. Clare's Convent, School and Church were erected. The first building in this triad was St. Clare's School, which opened on September 8, 1954, with 93 pupils in the first three grades. The faculty included Sister Eunice Corcoran, principal and first grade teacher; Mary Ann Zlotucha, an IHM postulant (Sister Eva Marie), grade two; and Sister Rosemary Cavanaugh, grade three. Sister Eunice had spent many years as an outstanding first grade teacher at St. Paul's, hence was well known and well received as principal and first grade teacher at St. Clare's.

St. Clare's School was officially dedicated on March 20, 1955, upon the completion of St. Clare Church. Bishop Hafey had died on May 12, 1954, and was succeeded by Bishop Jerome D. Hannan on September 30, 1954. It was Bishop Hannan, then, who officiated at the ceremonies of dedication of St. Clare's. Monsignor John J. Vaughan, pastor of St. Paul-St. Clare Parish, offered the solemn High Mass, with two natives of the parish, Reverend James Clarke and Reverend F. L. Dacey, serving as deacon and sub-deacon, respectively. Scores of people visited both the church and the school on that date.

It would be three and a half years later, February 10, 1958, before St. Clare Convent would be built. In the interim the sisters resided at St. Paul Convent and at the motherhouse at Marywood, just a few blocks away. And it would not be until June 16, 1967, that St. Clare's would become a parish in its own right, independent of St. Paul's, and having its own pastor and rectory.

But these matters in no way deterred the growth and development of St. Clare School. In its second year, 1955-1956, grade four was added and a total of 149 pupils was enrolled. The faculty in that year included Sister Eunice Corcoran, principal and grade four; Sister Rosemary Cavanaugh, grade three; Sister Leo Lehman, grade two; Sister St. Genevieve (Joanne) Pickard, grade one; and Sister Maryla Farfour, music teacher at Marywood Seminary, who served generously as part-time music teacher at St. Clare's. Sister Dorette Coleman was added to the faculty in 1956-1957. With five grades the school now enrolled 217 pupils. This competent faculty was to experience a deep loss, however, with the sudden death of Sister Rosemary on January 30, 1957. She had been on duty until a few days before she died, having administered the Diocesan mid-year examinations to her pupils on Friday, January 25, and leaving school in apparently good health. She became ill on Monday morning and died on Wednesday, January 30, at St. Joseph Hospital, Carbondale, Pennsylvania. Her funeral was held from St. Clare Church with Monsignor Vaughan as celebrant. Students, relatives, and friends felt the shock of her death and the loss of such a dedicated religious and talented teacher.

Mrs. James T. McGrail (Madeline Casey), a graduate of Marywood College, taught the third grade in Sister Rosemary's place for the remainder of the year.

In 1957-1958 sixth grade was added, with a total school enrollment of 294 pupils. The first grade was inundated with 64 students, second grade with 57, and a general state of overcrowding caused many applicants to be turned away.

St. Clare Convent was completed and blessed on February 10, 1958. This well planned and highly functional structure was finished on the exterior in a cream-colored brick to match the school and the church, completing a physical plant of which the people could be justifiably proud. The convent chapel was small, yet complete, and was conveniently located on the first floor. A large kitchen, with separate dishwashing pantry adjoining, dining room, parlors, two music rooms and a good-sized, screened-in outdoor porch completed the first floor. There were ten private bedrooms, several bathrooms, and the community room on second floor. Fortunately, the basement was also completed, providing future space for use by the school.

"Open house" was held for the sisters of the area on February 15. About 125 attended the luncheon that was served by the members of the St. Paul-St. Clare Guild. A steady stream of visitors to St. Clare Convent began almost at once, with council members, supervisors, and countless sisters being offered IHM hospitality. Monsignor Vaughan added to the flood of visitors, proudly bringing many clergy and lay friends to view his latest accomplishments.

It was soon apparent to the faculty of St. Clare's that they were strategically situated to benefit from the numerous cultural, spiritual and intellectual advantages of the nearby Marywood College campus. It would be recognized early on by the College, too, that St. Clare School was a rich resource as a practicum for aspiring college students in elementary education, art, music, communications, religious studies, and other programs of the College. Students from St. Clare have participated in demonstration classes and institutes in reading, music and other subjects at the College.

By 1958-1959 there were 338 pupils in St. Clare School, and in 1959-1960 when the full eight grades were complete, there were 410 pupils. The regular curriculum was supplemented with many enriching activities, and music ranked high among these. An orchestra, band, and glee club were formed, in addition to private music lessons in instrumental and piano for many youngsters. Thirty-six eighth graders, the first graduates of St. Clare School, completed their elementary school education on June 15, 1960. Ten went on to the Scranton Preparatory School, four girls to Marywood Seminary, and the remainder to St. Paul's High School. (245)

Sister Eunice Corcoran served as principal until 1962 at which time she was transferred to St. Ephrem's School, Brooklyn, New York. Sister Harold Mulderig became the new principal and superior of St. Clare's in August 1962. The faculty included six sisters and two lay teachers. In addition to Sister Harold, the sisters were: Sister Raymonda Farry, Sister Mariam Pfeifer, Sister Oswald Maria Hopkins, Sister Germana Radley, and Sister St. Aloysius Wilson.

As had been their practice since the opening of St. Clare's, the sisters, in addition to their regular classroom duties, taught catechetical instructions in the parish on Wednesdays and Sundays. Catholic children from the nearby Pennsylvania State School for the Deaf were also instructed.

On March 9, 1964, it was the first time that St. Clare's had its own Confirmation service separately from St. Paul's. There were 187 youngsters confirmed by Bishop Jerome D. Hannan. First Holy Communion, however, was still held at St. Paul's, with 82 St. Clare children included.

The year 1964-1965 was, undoubtedly, the peak enrollment year for St. Clare's School. The physical facilities were strained to the limit as 433 children (212 boys and 221 girls) began the school year. There were six IHM Sisters, namely, Sister Harold Mulderig, principal and eighth grade; Sister Oswald Maria Hopkins, third grade; Sister Moira McMonagle, second grade; Sister Madeleine Millets, sixth grade; Sister Mariam Pfeifer, fifth grade; and Sister St. Aloysius, first grade. Lay teachers included Mrs. Michael Sedonic, seventh grade; Mrs. James O'Donnell, fourth grade; and Mrs. Buckley, assisting in sixth grade.

This was a banner year also as Monsignor John Vaughan celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary as pastor. The school pupils joined in a musical tribute to him at a special function in March 1965. On August 17, 1965, Sister Oswald Maria underwent surgery for cancer. Upon recovery, she obtained the doctor's permission to return to her teaching, although she was aware of the terminal nature of her condition. The annals give an insight into this period in sister's life:

Sister returned to the work she loved--teaching God's little ones. Each day found her in the classroom giving her best, even though she was suffering intensely. Sister remained in school until after the mid-term examinations. With her papers corrected and reports finished, sister knew that, because of her failing health, she could not face another semester of work. (246)

On January 22, 1966, Sister Oswald Maria entered the hospital, and after three more weeks of intense suffering, died on February 12, 1966.

The year 1966-1967 brought some important changes to the Scranton Diocese and to St. Clare's. Bishop J. Carroll McCormick was appointed on March 3, 1966, as successor to Bishop Hannan who had died of pneumonia on December 15, 1965, while in Rome to attend sessions of the Second Vatican Council. (247)

Bishop McCormick visited St. Clare's early in his term, on September 9, 1966, and was accompanied by Monsignor Vaughan through the convent, school and church buildings. It may have been no surprise, then, to learn that St. Clare's was to become a separate parish, and no longer a mission of St. Paul's. Monsignor Robert A. McNulty was appointed first pastor of St. Clare's Parish on June 1, 1967. Since there was no parish rectory, a property was acquired across the street from the church on N. Washington Avenue. This had been a family home, so extensive renovations were required to make it into a suitable rectory for the pastor and his assistant, Reverend William Feldcamp. On April 4, 1968, "open house" was held for the parishioners so that Monsignor McNulty could express his gratitude for the beautifully renovated residence.

In 1969-1970 a practical change occurred which relieved the overcrowded conditions at St. Clare School. St. Clare's became a one-six grade school with 222 pupils; seventh and eighth grade students began attending classes at St. Paul's Junior High School. Thus space became available to set up a library and a listening room in two former classrooms. A departmental curricular program was set up for grades four, five and six with Mrs. Sedonic teaching social studies, Mrs. Ratchford, mathematics and science, and Sister Marie Eileen (Catherine) Luxner, music. Sister Rosarii Hemmer became superior and principal. In addition to the four faculty members, St. Clare's Convent housed Sister Sheila Reilly, the Congregation education consultant, two sister-students in attendance at the Marywood College School of Social Work, and Sister Teresina Thompson, in prayer ministry.

At the close of the year, Sister Rosarii was assigned as principal of Holy Trinity School in Poughkeepsie, New York. Sister Joan Marie Thompson as principal, superior and teacher of grade two followed her at St. Clare's. Two full-time and one part-time lay teachers assisted the four sisters; besides the principal, these included Sister Miriam Eugene Carroll, Sister Bernadette Horan, and Sister Catherine Luxner. The local community had the ministry diversity in 1971-1972 that would characterize it from then on, and which would begin to be increasingly descriptive of most of the Congregation's local houses. Sister Sheila, congregation education consultant, Sister Willemyn Gambrill, diocesan education consultant, and Sister Immaculate Severino, Marywood College music instructor, were part of the St. Clare local community. As Sister Joan Marie commented, "We had a very fine spirit; the diversity of ministries in which the sisters were engaged only added to the spirit." (248)

Late September of 1973 brought the news that St. Clare School was to become a kindergarten through grade three school in 1974, absorbing the children in these grades from Immaculate Conception and St. Paul's Parishes. St. Paul's was to become a grades four through eighth school. To accommodate this new arrangement, some changes in teachers were necessary. Sister Joan Marie continued as principal, but initiated the new kindergarten; two first grade teachers were needed, so, in addition to Sister Maria Rita Ruddy, Sister Dolorosa Loughney was added. Four lay teachers completed the faculty. Two sessions of the kindergarten were conducted each day for separate groups of students; grades one, two and three were each large enough to warrant double sections.

Several changes of principals and superiors occurred over the ensuing years: Sister Mary Alice Kane replaced Sister Joan Marie in 1975, with Sister Paula Baier as superior; Sister Marian Flannery, a Marywood College science faculty member in residence at St. Clare's became superior in 1976-1977; Sister Jeanne Gallagher became principal in 1977 and served in that capacity until 1981 when she was succeeded by Sister Mary Elizabeth Costello. Sisters serving as superior at St. Clare's in that period were Sister Claranne Nolan, Sister Maria Thomas Harrington, Sister Kathleen Kelly, and Sister Cecilian White. (249)

September 23, 1983 was a tragic and frightening day for St. Clare Parish as the church sustained heavy fire damage--the work of an arsonist. Daily and Sunday Masses were scheduled in the basement of the church as major renovations got underway. It was December 17 before these were completed and the Pontifical Mass of Rededication of the church could be held. The new Ordinary of the Diocese, Bishop John O'Connor, officiated. There were many congratulations for Monsignor Robert McNulty on his good taste in the redecorations. Beautiful stained-glass doors completed the overall enhancement of the church. The following December 9 witnessed the celebration of Monsignor McNulty's fiftieth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, so this refurbished church provided a fitting setting for the event.

It had long been a hope of the Congregation to have St. Clare's School become more closely tied to the teacher-preparation activities of Marywood College and to the "demonstration school" concept. Having already established this concept in the Early Childhood Center located at the IHM Generalate building at Marywood, under the direction of Sister Regina Barrett, it seemed that a logical extension to the next three grades might be possible at St. Clare's. Monsignor McNulty agreed to try out the unique arrangement of utilizing Sisters Regina Barrett and Marilyn Muro of the Marywood Early Childhood Center as principal and vice principal, respectively, of St. Clare School while they continued their commitments also at Marywood. This ambitious undertaking throughout 1985-1986 found teachers absorbed in many meetings and in-service activities, with Sisters Regina and Marilyn working untiringly to bring out the potential of this special all-primary level school. Dedicated and hardworking as they were, it was agreed that they were being stretched a bit too far. In the fall of 1986, therefore, Sister Ann Marie Lynott was appointed principal of St. Clare School. It was a year of many changes as Monsignor Robert McNulty retired to St. Joseph's Villa and Monsignor Joseph Fadden assumed the duties of pastor on September 10. It was the year of preparation for accreditation by the Middle States Association, so Sister Ann Marie had her work cut out for her as she worked with her faculty to attain the coveted approval. Spring days brought the good word that St. Clare's had earned Middle States Accreditation for ten years.

Since 1974 when St. Clare's first became a K-3 school, it has continued to enroll an average of 235 pupils. Sister St. Henry Haiss served as superior from 1984 through August 1987. In 1986-1987 the local community consisted of the following nine sisters: Sister Ann Marie Lynott, principal; Sister St. Henry Haiss, superior and grade one; Sister Nancy Christiano, grade three; Sister Ellen Carney, business manager, IHM Congregation; Sister Electa Schmidt, communications office manager, IHM Congregation; Sister Maria Gerald Shanley, receptionist, Marian Convent; Sister Kathleen Kelley, nurse's aide, Marian Convent; Sister Rosemary Goulet, assistant administrator, Marian Convent; and Sister Florence Langan, graphics art department, Marywood College. (250)