Historic Catholic grade school, St. Aloysius on the Ohio (St. Al’s), announced its closure for the upcoming school year due to lack of finances. After 149 years of business, St. Al’s has fallen upon hard financial times from low enrollment and lack of parish support. Though small in community, the loss that is felt among the families and alumni of St. Al’s is huge. Current students and staff, retired staff, and alumni have come forward to share the importance of Catholic education and vouch for their tiny school with a big legacy.
Averaging around ninety students a year, St. Aloysius on the Ohio’s small, family-like community is its defining quality that everyone – students, alumni, and staff alike – agrees. In this tiny environment, relationships between the students and one another, the students and their teachers, and teachers with parents thrive. Current student Carter Jung explains, “It’s a small school, it’s very special to me…I have my friends there, I’ve been with them since preschool.” St. Al’s is a one class per grade school; therefore, students are with the same kids in every class, every year they are at St. Al’s. Teacher Jennifer Ostertag recognizes that her students “look out for each other. They show compassion and love to one another every day.” This closeness creates a bond that lasts beyond their grade school years. Alum Tom Jung, class of 1984, recalls that he is “still friends with at least half of the people that I graduated with from St. Al’s.” A family atmosphere is created by these strong bonds with one another. Alum Anna Hoferer, class of 2014, describes this feeling as “a close-knit family. There is no possible way to feel as though you are alone in anything because the whole community is always there for any support needed.” The family atmosphere then transcends to the school community and the relationships students have with their teachers. Principal Kristen Penley explains that the school community is “a tight knit group of dedicated parents, faculty, and students. The school environment is energetic and collaborative.” Current student Megan Armstrong notes that what she likes most about St. Al’s is the connection she has with her teachers. With a ten to one student teacher ratio, teachers are able to “truly know their students” (Penley).
With a “tiny but mighty” (Penley) mentality, the school really does show its might through academics. With a small community and small classes, teachers are able to give their students the individualized attention that other schools cannot give. Jennifer Ostertag explains that she feels grateful to teach at St. Al’s which gives her the “opportunity to work one on one with each student to help them achieve success.” Alum Caroline Klug, class of 2015, points out that “The curriculum at St. Al’s is at a higher level and the student to teacher ratio allowed me to learn something new every day and get help if I needed it.” Alum Shay Espich, class of 2017, follows her point closely by saying that the teachers “focused more on the parts of the lesson that their students were struggling with and what activities would help them” more than their own work such as grading. The main focus on the school is the student’s success. Penley explains that “students have individualized attention with their teachers which helps build confidence and understanding.” The confidence that is key to successful education comes not only from the attention of the teacher but also a comfortable class environment. Tom Jung explains that “the more people know you, the more comfortable you are in your surroundings, the better you’re going to learn.” He goes on to discuss that all aspects of his Catholic education – Mass, May crowning, sacraments – allowed him to create a bond with his classmates which led to him not having “that fear of failure and that fear of being judged.” Carter Jung also adds that he enjoys his smaller class sizes because “people don’t talk as much. If there was a bigger class, there would be more distractions.”
With hundreds of alumni joined with current students, the legacy of St. Al’s is huge. Tom Jung explains that he lives out the legacy of St. Al’s by “sending my kids there…[and] being part of the infrastructure now.” Tom Jung currently is the athletic coordinator for St. Al’s and teaches Baptism class and attends PTC meetings with his wife Marci Jung. Alum Anna Hoferer says her legacy involves her entire family: “My family has been large supporters of St. Al’s for a while…from St. Al’s library to the food booth at the festival to the PTC board, my family genuinely loves to be included in anything St. Al’s related.” Jean Hoferer, dedicated her life to encouraging the students’ love for reading and being the St. Al’s librarian for many years – even using her old home as the library building. Now that the school faces closure, students, alumni, and staff must decide how they will continue to live on the St. Al’s legacy in their lives. Kristen Penley, after working at St. Al’s for fifteen years, “hope[s] our students remember their love of learning and the excitement they had to come to school each day” and says that “St. Al’s will forever hold a special place in my heart.” Current students Carter Jung and Megan Armstrong plan to continue “being a good listener, a good reader, and a good friend” (Jung) and “wearing some of their spirit wear” (Armstrong) to keep the name alive. Alum Caroline Klug plans to “continually remind myself of the lessons I learned there such as supporting my friends and family and being someone people can trust.” Another alum Shay Espich says she will continue the legacy by “being the great person that all of my old peers and teachers taught me how to be.” As a parent and active parishioner, Tom Jung plans on continuing the legacy of St. Al’s in a different way. Jung recognizes that St. Al’s is not the only parish that is facing decreasing numbers. Other parishes that once held large followings are now dealing with smaller budgets and less volunteers. Jung believes he “can bring some comfort and some morale boost to a bigger parish that might be shrinking” by having experience with a small school community. The St. Al’s name will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of its community.
Though St. Al’s is unique, it is a part of a large community of Catholic grade schools. In the Cincinnati area, there are a steady supply of Catholic churches and schools, and they each different missions to pass on the faith to the next generation. To the students, Catholic education gives them a safe environment to learn about the faith and what it means to them. It also is an opportunity to deepen friendships in a unique way and learn valuable lessons that are not taught anywhere else. Shay Espich likes going to a Catholic school because “faith is an outstanding virtue” and “Catholic schools put more work into being a family rather than just people who see each other for six hours a day.” Carter Jung enjoys his Catholic education because “You get to go to church a lot and respect and worship God and that can lead you to good things.” Catholic schools are able to implement lessons to deepen and challenge the students’ faith as they go through so they are able to have an understanding of what their faith means to them. Anna Hoferer claims that “a massive part of my Catholic school education is the principle that you should trust in God and believe that He will lead you to the right path.” Through preparing for sacraments, celebrating Mass, retreats, and volunteering together, Catholic schools give its students plenty of opportunities to own, live, and connect with their faith. To the staff and parents of the students, this Catholic influence is truly appreciated as they look upon the foundation that is being built. While looking back on his own Catholic education and the lessons it taught, Tom Jung recalls that “I really have an appreciation of how important that it is to the Catholic faith. To take time away from your studies and focus on God, focus on your faith, focusing on practicing your faith.” Retired St. Al’s teacher, Mary Ann Hensley explains that “Our religion classes center on the life of Christ and his disciples. We try to instill in the students the idea of living a Christlike life.” Kristen Penley discusses how the Catholic education has a positive influence on students because “we teach children that our faith is part of our everyday life…I like to believe that we work with the parents to establish a strong moral compass for their children.” Catholic education is critical for the blossoming Christian as the institution is equally focused on the education, and moral and faith development of the student. Caroline Klug adds that “Catholic schools make sure their students grow as not only students academically but also as individuals who know how to love and serve others and God in everything they do.” There is a community aspect that is built among the students that encourages them to go out and serve others while witnessing their faith and bringing home a gleaming report card.
Historic grade school St. Al’s may have reached its last year in business, but its legacy has just begun. As their former students search for a new place to call home, there is no telling what they will do to show their St. Al’s pride no matter where they end up. With the lessons that St. Al’s taught them with the support of the Catholic education community, one can be confident that these kids will go on to do great things.
St. Aloysius on the Ohio. Facebook. 23 January 2014, https://www.facebook.com/saotobolts/. Accessed 29 January 2018