By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – The Sisters of Mercy linger in the memories of those who attended Blessed Sacrament School.
An estimated 300 people, many of them former students from five of the elementary school’s six decades, attended a reunion Saturday.
The celebration started with Blessed Sacrament Parish’s vigil Mass, which Father Chester J. Misiewicz, the pastor, said highlighted 100 years of Catholic education there. He said he wanted this Mass to be the second main celebration of the parish’s centennial.
The first was the Corpus Christi procession from the church to the Park Avenue site where parishioners first worshipped, from 1912 to 1913, he told The Catholic Free Press. Then worshippers moved to a building on the corner of Park Avenue and Pleasant St., where the school opened in 1926, after the present church was dedicated, a parish history says. The school closed in 1974.
After Saturday’s Mass a dinner was held in the parish’s Phelan Center, to which the seventh and eighth grade had been moved in 1954.
In his homily Father Misiewicz noted that the Gospel told of Jesus saying, “Be opened,” when healing a deaf man. (Mk 7:31-37) A successful school and parish attempt to do something similar, he said. He told the former students the fact that they were there was a sign that the Sisters and others who taught them were successful.
“We are so happy to have so many of you returning for this reunion,” he said.
The former students were apparently so happy to reunite that traditional Catholic school discipline was hard to achieve.
“Where’s Sister Marshall?” organizer David Shortsleeve shouted into the microphone, after unsuccessful attempts to quiet the crowd for short presentations. “Can you get the ruler out, please? I really feel like I’m back in sixth grade here.” He was addressing his wife’s aunt, Sister Ann Marie Marshall, a Sister of Mercy who taught there.
When he finally got the crowd’s attention, he referred to an old school custom: “I want to thank our committee – girls on the left, boys on the right.”
Organizer Elaine Kelly said the class of 1969 was having annual reunions, so a decision was made to hold an all-school reunion.
John O’Brien, Class of 1966, shared memories of being at school when President John F. Kennedy was shot, and going with his class to see President Lyndon B. Johnson’s motorcade go by. He recalled friendships that grew out of the school and church.
“We had a community that was very special, though we didn’t realize it at the time,” he said.
Attendees were asked to stand according to their decade at the school, starting with the 1970s. They went back to the 1930s, thanks to the presence of Joseph Farley, Class of 1937.
“It was a wonderful place to be, except for Sister Mary Michael,” Mr. Farley told The Catholic Free Press, after naming several Sisters. “When you were a bad boy, she had the rosary beads in one hand and the ruler in the other.”
But that didn’t deter him; he and his wife bought a house in the parish and went there so their children could attend the school, he said.
“I was very relieved, when I was going to first grade, Sister Mary Consilii had changed her name to Sister Rita Mary,” said Kathleen (Kelly) Fraser, “the post Vatican II one” in her family. “I’d never be able to spell it.” (She still can’t.) She said she would have graduated with the Class of 1975 had her family not moved.
I went to all the school dances here,” said Elaine Bruso, there with her husband, Edward, Class of 1962. “As soon as I saw the reunion I said, ‘I’m going with you.’” She said she attended St. Charles Borromeo Parish, formed from Blessed Sacrament in 1954.
Ellen (Murley) Mirarchi, Class of 1965, there with her husband, Thomas, said their first six children attended Blessed Sacrament. But when they moved to St. Charles, the school didn’t have room for their seventh.
Mrs. Mirarchi had fond memories of her own days there.
“I love the Sisters of Mercy,” she said. “They weren’t like other nuns” in being too serious. “They could come out of themselves and understand where you were. If you were shy they would try to bring you out of yourself and find a friend for you. … They also encouraged you to do your best,” matching students with the opportunities suited to them. “It was very unusual, I think, in those days.”
She said there were 48 students in her class, but the nuns knew everyone’s family, and some even came to her father’s wake 10 years ago.
“There was a nurturing of the parents spiritually,” said Sister Marna Rogers, Class of 1958. “They encouraged parents to come together. It was such a nice place to be, and I think we were all prepared well for high school and for life. They nurtured my vocation.” She joined the Sisters of Notre Dame, who taught her at Ascension High School, but recalled the Our Lady of Good Counsel Club the Sisters of Mercy had for enhancing girls’ spiritual life.
She was amazed hearing Father Misiewicz recount the history, she said; she realized her grandparents probably helped found the school.
Ann (Woods) Kelleher, Class of 1968, noted that students are still in touch after all these years. She said she sees friends regularly, and attended a class reunion, unlike with her high school. At Blessed Sacrament “there’s more connection,” she said. “Everything happened at the church.”