Alumni groups keep traditions alive
By Eileen Jevis
The friendships, lessons and memories we recall from our school days help shape us into the people we are today. It is the shared values and common beliefs we learn in a Catholic school that bind us together despite physical distance, life changes and the passing of time. These lifelong connections are why there are alumni groups throughout the diocese that encourage involvement and membership — even if the school is no longer open.
Kimberly Johnson is the executive director of advancement and president of the Catholic Schools of Broome County (CSBC). She attended Blessed Sacrament Elementary School, St. James School and Seton Catholic Central in Binghamton. She said the alumni group is very active and her office works diligently to engage alumni from all the schools in the area. “We want them to know we are a resource for them, whether they are looking for a former classmate or helping to plan a reunion,” she said. Johnson said the office helps keep the Catholic Schools of Broome County connected. “The office creates a space where memories and traditions are shared and provides current students the opportunity to connect with alumni who are a resource for networking, mentoring and internship opportunities,” she said.
Sybil Preski, an artist, taught at Rome Free Academy for 30 years. She currently teaches art at Rome Catholic Elementary School. While she did not attend a Catholic school, her husband, mother, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins all attended various Catholic Schools in Rome.
As an art teacher and parishioner at St. Peter’s Church, Preski became aware of the exceptional education students received at a Catholic school. She and her husband were so impressed with values taught at Rome Catholic School, they enrolled both their children. At the time, the school offered instruction for kindergarten to 12th grade. Now, it serves K-6. When the high school closed in 2013, some students transitioned to Notre Dame High School.
As a teacher, Preski recognized that students from Rome Catholic schools were responsible, respectful and involved. “They had a love for learning and for participating in events and clubs that benefited the community,” she said. It was that commitment based on loyalty and service to others that spurred Preski to create the alumni group, Catholic Schools Association of Rome (CSAR).
The committee currently has seven members and is inviting others to join. “We plan a big event that brings alumni from all Catholic schools together for one night of celebration while letting the public know what a positive impact a Catholic education can have on a community.”
Jim Wright, an alumnus of St. Anthony of Padua in the heart of Syracuse, echoes Preski’s beliefs that his Catholic education had a positive impact on his life. Wright graduated from St. Anthony’s in 1970. “It provided ‘a road map and guard rails’ to live by for the rest of my life. We were taught morals, respect, discipline, a good work ethic and faith in God,” he said. Wright said he has very fond memories of his school days — Friday night basketball games, Sunday afternoon baseball games against the other parochial schools, the annual May crowning, a graduation breakfast and serving as an altar boy. The high school closed in 1974 and the elementary school closed in 1985. He and his wife have been members of the parish since being baptized there.
“Our alumni group is very active with class reunions that are attended by several hundred former students,” said Wright. “Our membership totals over 1,000 grads and friends of St. Anthony’s.” The group hosts holiday parties and golf events and publishes the annual newsletter. “The alumni group is steeped in the traditions and memories of St. Anthony’s and how much our Catholic education meant to us.”
Father James Serowik, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul/Blessed Sacrament in Vestal, works closely with the Broome County Catholic Schools alumni. He said alumni groups act as ambassadors for our schools and for Catholic education. “They invest their time, talents and treasure in support of our schools. They also support our schools by enrolling their children, the next generation of Catholics, in our school system,” he said. “Alumni groups are an important part of the Catholic schools family throughout the diocese.”