Southern Tier Catholic School celebrates new school year in new venue
A new school year is underway throughout the Diocese of Buffalo, but for students at Southern Tier Catholic School in Olean, it’s also a start in a new location, inside an old school building.
The students will now attend classes within the former St. John’s School building on North Union Street. On Thursday, Sept. 14, the students joined their families, teachers, staff and community supporters in a noon-hour Mass celebrating their “grand reopening,” next door at St. John the Evangelist Church.
Immediate access to the church is a benefit already appreciated by the school family.
“Not being as close to the church in the last so many years, we did not get Masses as often as we would have liked,” said first-year principal Brittany Nichols. “Now with the church right next door, we are able to attend church. And that is very important.”
Bishop Michael W. Fisher visited and participated as the lead celebrant of the Mass. Donning a red vestige to symbolize the Holy Spirit, he touched on the day’s Gospel reading, John 3:13-17. He explained it was a passage revealing that God loves us. He then asked the children, who else loves them?
Answers included “Mom and Dad,” grandparents, teachers and siblings. One student told the bishop, to the amusement of those in attendance, “I have a brother who has a girlfriend!”
Bishop Fisher also displayed his staff, shaped like a shepherd’s crook, as part of the theme.
“I’m the shepherd of the diocese, and I love you,” he told the congregation. “I love you because God has given you to me as my family to take care of.”
Again, the children’s questions drew some laughter, including from the bishop.
“Can you turn that into a snake?” asked one of the younger students.
The bishop’s response? “No, I don’t think I could do that. Moses might, but not me.”
Bishop Fisher also blessed some objects that will be displayed in the new school space. These include a Precious Moments shepherd figure, and a painted Cross adorned with multi-colored thumbprints of students.
A reception followed inside the gymnasium of the school building, which remains owned by the church but for many years has been rented to several entities. These include the city of Olean, which uses the space for an after-school program.
Southern Tier Catholic School was formed in 1987 through a merger between St. John’s School and St. Mary of the Angels. In 2009, the decision was made to move the school into the Archbishop Walsh building, along with high school students, to form Archbishop Walsh Academy.
The high school is now on hold. The Olean Times Herald reported Sept. 13 that no high school-aged students from the previous academic year renewed enrollment for 2023-24.
Southern Tier Catholic has 37 students enrolled, from pre-K through grade 7, and five teachers to educate them. Though small, that enrollment number is higher than was anticipated. But Nichols believes it could be better.
“It’s something that we need to work on, getting it even higher,” she said.
Listen to Michael Mroziak reporting.