Generations of students gather on common ground


GREENVILLE — St. Mary’s School Alumni Association hosted a “Homecoming Sunday” for all alumni, students, and friends of St. Mary’s last Sunday, May 16, as the first event in observance of the school’s 100th anniversary in 2000.

The reunion brought together more than 450 alumni and former students from the 1920s to the 1990s. Some families representing three generations of school enrollment attended, as did former teachers and staff.

Activities for the day began with Mass at 12:30 p.m., which featured alumni serving as readers, ushers, gift bearers and altar servers. Presiders at the service were Father D. Anthony Droze, pastor; Father Edward Mullen, who served at St. Mary’s in the early 1960s; and Msgr. Charles J. Baum, pastor emeritus.

Msgr. Baum, a concelebrant at the liturgy, is a legend in the Upstate Catholic community, serving in Greenville for the past 47 years since his assignment there in 1952.

After Msgr. Baum’s arrival at St. Mary’s, a cafeteria for the school was built in Gallivan Hall, so the students could enjoy a hot lunch. In 1962, he led a building program that oversaw the completion of the junior high building. In 1968, under Msgr. Baum’s leadership, the parish convent was razed and a new one was built. This building became the parish office in recent years. In March of this year, the newly constructed parish athletic activities’ building was formally dedicated the Msgr. Charles J. Baum Recreation Center.

On Pentecost Sunday, Msgr. Baum will celebrate the 65th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood for service in the Diocese of Charleston.

In his homily at the Homecoming Sunday Mass, Father Droze said that St. Mary’s School has been the primary experience of community to many in attendance that day, and that prayer has helped the faith community to flourish.

He said that, in the past, the primary endowment to the schools was personnel — priests and nuns serving as teachers and in administration. Now, the pastor added, with financial considerations a primary concern at schools due to a lack of religious staffing, the sisters who served the school represent the patrimony.

Father Droze then asked the nuns in attendance to stand, and they were given a hearty round of applause.

At the conclusion of Mass, an outdoor procession and crowning of a statue of the Blessed Mother in St. Mary’s School yard was held. Alumni representatives Florence Sease Brothers, class of 1920, and Jamile J. Francis, class of 1928, crowned the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary after student representatives from each grade at the school placed flowers at the grotto.

This was followed by an open house and catered picnic in the Msgr. Baum recreation center.

This year, 340 students are enrolled at St. Mary’s in classes K-4 through eighth grade. Our Lady of Mercy Sister Veronica Janas is the school’s only nun and has served as principal since 1988. St. Mary’s operates at a full-student level, staff turnover is minimal, and students rank in the top levels of state and national testing. Many of the faculty members also have post-graduate degrees, and several members of the faculty are St. Mary’s School alumni and members of the alumni association.

“St. Mary’s School has a very rich history in Greenville and has provided an outstanding education to 2,000 students since 1900,” states Bill Biediger, a member of the class of 1961 as well as the Steering Committee of the St. Mary’s School Alumni Association.

The association began 10 years ago when the late Sam Francis hosted a group at his home to discuss the formation of the organization. After Francis’ death, the association lay dormant for several years until 1998 when Sister Janas asked two alumni, Rita McKinney and Lib McGrady, to get the organization back on track in preparation for the school’s 100th anniversary.

The association began a membership drive last April, and funds generated by the group will be used for capital improvements at the school, enhancing religious education, and administrative expenses. Membership is open to all alumni, former students, parents and friends of the school.

Jay Pitts, alumni association president and member of the class of 1976, said in remarks at the liturgy that the Homecoming Sunday gathering was the first event put together by the organization, and that a mission and vision statement would soon be developed and planning for centennial celebrations undertaken.

PHOTO: In 1992, the St. Mary’s School kindergarten class was assigned a project to draw and color the St. Mary’s School building. The above picture was the work of Davis Bradley (Class fo 2001).