Catholic Free Press

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  • Sep
  • 29

Celebrating 125 years of love

Posted By September 29, 2011 | 1:02 pm | Lead Story #1, Local
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By Michael O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

FITCHBURG – So, how difficult was it for the St. Bernard’s Elementary School choir to synch up 31 voices and 31 well-timed hand claps for a spot-on delivery of the Catholic anthem “Gloria, Gloria, in excelsis Deo”?
“Not hard,” said 10-year-old fifth grader Alex Sweet of Fitchburg. “We just kept singing it over and over again until we got it right.”
Alex and his classmates carried the day Sunday, Sept. 25, as the elementary school celebrated its 125th anniversary at an afternoon Mass at St. Bernard’s Parish here in Fitchburg. The choir regaled more than 225 attendees with a string of standards including “Gather the People,” “Alleluia,” “Ave Maria,” “Lift Up Your Hearts” and “Thank You, God.”
During his homily, St. Bernard’s Pastor Father Joseph Dolan talked about the meaning of the school’s longtime motto: “Deeds, not words.” He talked about how Jesus invited people to participate in a life of love – a life of “loving deeds.”
“We’re not just celebrating the 125th anniversary of the institution,” he said. “We’re celebrating the love that brought that school to be, and the love that has sustained it over the years.”
St. Bernard’s Elementary School  got its start in 1886, when the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary founded a school on First Street, just across the Nashua River from Fitchburg’s Main Street. The sisters added a separate girls school five years later, and in 1966 the two schools merged. The sisters maintained an active role in the school for decades, and even today two members continue on, handling administrative work, teaching kindergarten and overseeing the music program.
As Father Dolan related in his homily, the sisters’ mission dating back to 1755 in Ireland’s County Cork has been to “educate a child to see the world through the eyes of love.”
“This is the wisdom the Sisters of the Presentation wanted to bring to the city of Fitchburg 125 years ago, and this is the wisdom we teach today,” Father Dolan said.
Sister Patricia Anastacio, president, PBVM, told the crowd about how her order was founded – as a reaction to a law that forbade Catholics to be educated. Founder Nano Nagle started a group of secret schools in Ireland, in barns and along hedges. Her successors brought her mission to the United States 1874, founding their first school in New York City. Twelve years later, they expanded into Fitchburg.
“I congratulate you,” Sister Patricia said during her Thanksgiving reflection, “on this truly remarkable milestone.”
Readers included current Principal David Farnsworth and former Principal Thomas McGuirk.
Sister Irene Goguen, PBVM, started teaching at St. Bernard’s Boys Elementary School 38 years ago, four years before the two schools merged. And she’s still going strong, teaching kindergarten and melding the choir’s 31 voices into a well-orchestrated instrument.
Sister Irene said she’s proud of what her religious order and her school have accomplished.
“It’s very important to show we have survived all these years,” she said. “And I can still be a part of it. It’s our sisters, and we’re following in the footsteps of our founders.”