No one shed a tear at the June 20 farewell party for departing St. David School teachers Jen Pitonyak, Joe Smith and Pat Kensey.
Doing so would have missed the point of the occasion.
“We just wanted to turn this into something nice for them,” Jenny Mars, a St. David School parent, said.
Nearly 200 St. David School parents, students and alumni (some of whom graduated in the early 1970s) gathered at for the early evening party. Each participant made their way to bid one final farewell to the teachers they’ve never forgotten.
“You ever have a teacher that you talk about all your life?” Jen Falsone, also a St. David School parent, asked. “That’s these teachers.”
Both Mars and Falsone were part of a core group of the St. David School parent community, who took it upon themselves to hold an event honoring the three teachers’ service to the school.
The party was casual in nature, and paid for entirely by the event’s organizers. A potluck of refreshments was available, including personalized cakes donated by What’s For Dessert? of Holland, PA.
While Pitonyak, who was unable to attend the event, served as a St. David School teacher for one year, the lion’s share of the celebration revolved around Smith, who served 14 years, and Kensey, who served 24.
“We couldn’t let them go without a party,” Falsone said.
However, much like the recent , the party was bittersweet.
By the end of April, the core group of St. David School parents circulated an online petition with the hopes of having the departing teachers continue their service at the incoming Philadelphia Archdiocese’s merger school: .
According to St. David School parents, the petition was widely signed, but was unable to see its goal.
Next school year, Queen of Angels will be made up of students and teachers from both St. David and Our Lady Help of Christians (OLHC) schools.
According to a St. David School staff member, when the archdiocese closed both schools, all teachers were laid off and had to undergo a re-hiring process for the new regional school.
Parents from both St. David School and OLHC explained the original intent of the schools’ merger was to have two teachers from every grade continue work next year. However, mostly due to enrollment, three teachers from each school could not be rehired for Queen of Angels.
A Fond Farewell
Throughout the farewell party, participants flocked around both Smith and Kensey. Each participant wanted to give a grateful handshake, warm embrace and share a fond memory with their beloved teachers.
“I think it’s great, because it’s being held for teachers that were here a long time,” Daniel Lips, incoming sixth-grade Queen of Angels student, said. “Mrs. Kensey was my favorite teacher, because she played fun games.”
Several fellow St. David School teachers attended the event, including Kelly Bachich, pre-Kindergarten teacher, and Joanne Carroll, physical education teacher.
“It’s a great tribute to two wonderful educators,” Bachich said.
“They have given countless years to Catholic education,” Carroll added.
Also among the well-wishers was Ward 4 commissioner Joe Lavalle, whose two children both graduated from St. David School.
“[Kensey and Smith] were a positive influence on both their academic and spiritual development,” he said of his children, now attending their respective final years at St. Joseph’s Preparatory and Penn State. “Under their care, on a daily basis, they treated them with respect and dignity.”
Event participants were also given the opportunity to sign blown-up pictures of Kensey and Smith, as well as write on note cards personal messages to be sorted and given as scrapbooks to the two teachers.
“I like to say that Ms. Kensey teaches you the basics of Catholicism and Mr. Smith really connects with the adolescence, preparing them for high school,” Bobby King, whose children graduated from St. David School, said. “It’s a loss for our parish, school and community.”
The highlight of the event was a presentation given by Gina Rodinelli, a consultant outreach specialist for state representative Tom Murt. She presented his Pennsylvania House of Representatives certificate of appreciation [see above photo gallery for text]. The certificate was given in recognition of the teachers’ years dedicated to education.
“The Kids Keep Me Young”
Kensey, who has spent over 30 years teaching in the archdiocese as a whole, said she never expected to feel so loved.
“They told me it was going to be a ‘little barbecue,’” Kensey said. “I could never have believed or imagined all the love and support, the prayers and care.”
Kensey, who taught first grade, said she often has the pleasure of bumping into students when out in her Willow Grove neighborhood. However, Kensey expressed surprise when some of those former students came up to greet her at the party.
“I can picture them in my room, they were little people,” Kensey said. “Now, they’re in high school and college and adults.”
As a member of St. David Parish, Kensey said that she will still be able to see the families she’s come to love over the years. A few of the families at the party fondly recalled how Kensey would readily accept invitations to their homes, taking her personal time to do so. During these invitations, Kensey would lead an arts and crafts activity or simply help celebrate the family’s special occasion.
“If I’m invited, I will show my love with everybody,” Kesnsey said.
Kensey added that it’s this feeling of love from her students and their families, which she will most the most.
Currently, Kensey is looking for employment. She expressed hope in returning to a Catholic school as a teacher, however, she said she has also applied for work as a teacher’s aid and a school librarian.
“Whatever it is, I want to work with children,” Kensey said. “I’m not ready to retire yet, the kids keep me young.”
Living Their Faith
Like Kensey, when asked about his favorite experience at St. David School, Smith replied, “Establishing relationships with families.”
Smith started his teaching career at St. David School, and wrapped up his 14th year of teaching this year.
Finding out the results of the merger was a tough time, Smith said. However, he was extremely grateful for the farewell party.
“It’s a very wonderful tribute. I couldn’t have imagined the school year ending in such a positive manner,” Smith said. “This is an example of people living their faith.”
Several of the parents at the party credit Smith for setting their children on the right path toward a successful high school career. Smith, who taught 6 – 8-grade math, also volunteered to mentor a team of his top students for the Bishop McDevitt High School Lancerian Academic Octathlon.
According to Smith, the Octathlon invites area archdiocesan elementary schools to compete in a quiz show-like competition on a variety of academic subjects. He has put together a St. David Octathlon team every year he’s been at the school, during which St. David had won three times, and finished in third place this year.
He said he now looks forward to putting together an Octathlon team at St. Martin of Tours, located in Northeast Philadelphia, where he will teach seventh-grade math in the fall.
“I’ll have to go out there and make new relationships,” Smith said.
He then turned his attention back to the many people gathered in gratitude for his and Kensey's dedication to educating children.
“Hopefully, God-willing, 15 years from now, maybe I get to see this again,” Smith said, referring to the students he’s yet to meet. “But, if not, I couldn’t ask for anything more than this.”