All the pews were filled, leaving standing room only, as nearly 500 people gathered inside in Willow Grove to celebrate the farewell mass.
The Catholic mass, which started at 12:30 p.m., June 10, invited parishioners, alumni and current St. David students to help mark the bittersweet occasion.
Rev. Monsignor Richard Bolger, pastor of St. David Church, presided over the mass and gave the homily.
While Bolger’s homily did not directly mention the cause for St. David School’s closure, namely the Philadelphia archdiocese’s decision to , Bolger did speak on the importance of having the presence of the St. David and Abington-based consolidated school, the Queen of Angels Catholic Regional School.
“We celebrate an ending, we celebrate a beginning and we celebrate a continuing of Catholic education in Willow Grove,” Bolger said in his homily.
Particularly addressing the hundreds of alumni present of nearly all decades from St. David School’s 92-year history, Bolger described how a faith-based education has helped shape their “God-given talents” to better themselves and their community.
“We are so grateful for those years, and I know by your presence, my dear alumni, we trust that … you would not be in this church, if what happened to you in your early days had not been a part of your life to this day,” Bolger said.
In his homily, Bolger described the leadership and work of the sisters of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), a Catholic order, which helped start the school in 1920. According to Bolger, the school’s inaugural year held 47 students. St. David School completed this school year with 240 pre-k through eighth-grade students.
The current students of St. David school also participated in the mass. Second-grade students dressed in their first communion outfits, first-grade students led the congregation in singing “The Lord’s Prayer,” and members of the eighth-grade class carried St. David memorabilia during the opening procession.
Bolger ended his homily with a prayer for vision, invoking the name of the incoming new Catholic regional school.
“We continue this journey in life, as we continue Catholic education in Willow Grove; and now we place ourselves, as we go forward, into the providential hands of your mother, our mother, as we pray, ‘Queen of Angels pray for us.’”
St. David Alumni Reception
Immediately after the mass, those in attendance were invited to a reception organized by the St. David School Alumni committee.
“I thought his homily expressed what every student of St. David’s was feeling at the time,” Kathleen Sickinger-Jennings, class of 1960, said.
Like most who attended the reception, Sickinger-Jennings waited in the long line to see the various class photos, memorabilia, news articles and slideshow the St. David Alumni committee organized for the reception.
Upon finding herself in a class photo as a little girl, Sickinger-Jennings became emotional.
“These were the best days of my life,” she said. “I wish I could go around again.”
The reception, which took place in Father Curran Hall, beneath the church, was meant to help alumni reconnect with each other and share memories of their time at St. David School.
“Although, this is a sad occasion, today really is a happy day for the St. David Church and school,” Deb Spinnraker, St. David alumni committee member, said.
Although not an alumna of St. David, Spinnraker had two children attend the school. She is also a pre-kindergarten teacher at St. David.
She said the alumni committee encouraged St. David Parish to hold the special farewell mass, which, she added, was whole-heartedly supported by the parish.
Wanting to reach out to as many alumni for the occasion as possible, Spinnraker said that the committee used its Facebook page and other social media tools. From such outreaches, the committee was also able to collect the various St. David School memorabilia.
“We gathered different photos, year books, articles,” Spinnraker said. “We had 92 years worth of memorabilia.”
The Far Reach of St. David School
According to alumni committee member Gina Crawford, the committee also took the opportunity to take another look at its alumni directory.
“We’re hoping to keep that list updated,” Crawford said. “People’s names get changed, and the rectory keeps a directory of the most updated alumni lists.”
She said that the committee hopes the reception will help spark renewed interest among alumni to keep in touch and celebrate other reunions.
Among those interested in keeping in touch with fellow alumni was Sister Maryanne Winterberg, current vice-principal of St. David School.
“This reception is wonderful," Winterberg said. "[There are] people visiting I never thought I would meet again,” Winterberg said.
Winterberg, class of 1956, is the eldest of five siblings, all of whom graduated from St. David. She was at the reception with two of her siblings, Terri Winterberg-Funk, class of 1964; and Tom, class of 1975.
“I think there’s a lot of great memories here, as my daughter said, ‘Good comes with change,’” Tom Winterberg said. “The key here is there’s going to be an education with God in the classroom.”
Along with siblings, several intergenerational families also walked the halls of St. David’s lower and upper schools.
“It’s change. When we have change, sometimes people embrace it, sometimes not,” Sam Valenza, Upper Moreland ward 6 commissioner, said. “But, it’s change to keep Catholic education here.”
Valenza, who graduated from the class of 1970 and has been a lifelong St. David parishioner, was preceded by two of his aunts, who graduated in the 1950s and 1940s. All his children also graduated from St. David School.
According to , Valenza was instrumental in enhancing the school’s academic rigors by orchestrating the purchases of interactive white boards for every classroom.
He said he hopes that fellow alumni embrace the incoming Queen of Angels School and stay involved with both the parish and school communities.
Two other sitting township commissioners also graduated from St. David School: Joe Lavalle and Kevin Spearing.
Spearing, who attended the reception, is a member of the class of 1973 and was president of the school’s HSA when his children attended. He points to the school’s consistent volunteer efforts in the larger community as a source of past and continuing pride.
“I’m grateful for the community involvement with St. David’s,” Spearing said.
In the recent past, St. David School students have participated in , as well as a variety of .
Regarding the incoming merger to the Queen of Angels School, Spearing noted that St. David’s has its own tight community, but expects they will embrace the Our Lady Help of Christians community next year.
“I’m curious to see how these two parishes come together in one school,” Spearing said. “But, I’m very optimistic.”
For more information about Queen of Angels School, contact the St. David Parish rectory at 215-657-0252 or contact Sister Angela Joseph at email@example.com
For more information about St. David Alumni, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org