Friday, June 07, 2013

Our Lady of La Salette School, 1943-2013.

After seventy years of operation, Our Lady of La Salette School in Berkley, Michigan closes its doors forever this month. Like many other Catholic schools in the United States, La Salette was done in by a sagging economy and changing demographics. Having enrolled nearly 1,000 students in its heyday in the 1960s, La Salette saw its student population decline preciptously in recent years: enrollment for the 2012-13 school year was only 73, barely half of what it was as recently as five years ago.

The closing of the school touches me personally because I once taught there: the novitiate where I entered the Society of Jesus was located in Berkley, and one of the novitiate trials (or 'experiments') that I and many other novices underwent was a period teaching religion at La Salette. St. Ignatius of Loyola wanted all Jesuits to spend some time engaged in "the instruction of children and unlettered persons in Christianity," and teaching at La Salette was a means of fulfilling that mission. I wrote a little about my experience at La Salette on my old blog, and though I now wince at the sort of first-fervor superlatives that I used then - I wonder whether I really found teaching seventh-graders "delightful and truly invigorating" - I still recall my time at the school with affection. Getting out of the hothouse environment of the novitiate for a few hours a week was good for me, and I hope that the students took something positive away from my lessons (I honestly don't remember much of what I may have told them, though I may have some of my teaching notes somewhere in my files).

The closing of Our Lady La Salette School doesn't really surprise me, as I sensed that the writing was on the wall even when I was there eight years ago. The principal and teachers at the school struggled mightily to provide a good education with meager resources, while enrollment (then around 140, I think) was already a cause for concern. Though small, the student body drew members not merely from Berkley but from neighboring suburbs and even from Detroit itself; the closing of other Catholic grade schools in the area had led families in other parishes to send their to children to La Salette, while some families who were not Catholic saw the school as a desirable alternative to failing public schools. Photographs of the large classes of the 1950s and '60s lined the hallways, providing a reminder of the years when the school was bursting with students, while empty classrooms spoke of a very different present. In a certain sense, the novitiate itself was a part of the story of La Salette's decline: constructed to house the Sisters of Mercy who taught in the school, the building had been rented to the Jesuits after the nuns moved out on account of their own diminishing numbers. A large field next to the novitiate where some of my confreres played football remained vacant because plans to build a parish high school there had been scuttled after Catholic school enrollment started to decline in the late 1960s.

Grateful for the time that I spent there, I hope that the students, staff, and alumni of Our Lady of La Salette School are able to find some consolation in this time of loss. I hope, too, that the legacy of La Salette remains alive even as the school's once-raucous hallways become silent. AMDG.


At 6/14/2016 12:22 AM, Blogger Black Rock Mama said...

I attended when we had Sister Lourdes teaching music appreciation. She was most memorable a long with lay history/religious studies teacher Mr Brady and lay algebra and logic teacher Mr Dillon. We had little interaction with the Loyola Brothers, the priest and mother superior were fairly aged. Nuns were beginning to be allowed to wear lay clothes on outings. It's main failing was not having a senior high school as well.
My favourite times were at singing at guitar mass and the yearly carnival, with quite a production of rides, activities and food.
There was also a lovely lay teacher I can't recall who taught drama. She was a bright spark.
I failed algebra and logic sadly but I was an A student in all other subjects.
I have many happy and bitter sweet memories of my time there but there was excitement, love and energy and a kind of gentle rebelliousness won't forget.

At 4/15/2019 11:51 AM, Blogger Marianne Dilley said...

I was a student there from 1964 to 1968. second through fifth grade. One of my favorite teacher's was Miss Kovachs, a lay teacher. She taught second grade and she was native american, and was so nice. She even gave me a picture of herself with her writing on the back of it, "keep your winning smile." Unfortunately it disappeared. I remember her telling me how native american babies were named, which I still remember today. 4th grade math teacher Miss Blackwell, who married and her new last name was Mrs. Dunn Dunn. I had Mrs. Malone, who my mother said got me out of my shell. Mr. Dillon, I remember. I remember a boy in my class who had several asthma attacks, and 2 nuns, 1 on each side of him, would drag him out the door to make it easier for him to breathe in the fresh air. Very scary! I still remember his name. I remember the Principal Sister Mary Quinn, I think her name was. I got called into the office one day and she yelled at me because I walked in front of the bus! I remember the announcement they made each day over the PA, "all those wishing to make a purchase at the sore pass Go down the south stairs." I remember English class when the nun told us about St. Bernadette. I remembered it through the years! That is actually a dream trip for me. My mother bought a VHS movie "The Song of Bernadette" for me. We had watched it on TV together ad I remember feeling so holy after I watched it. Obviously, she was my Patron saint for Confirmation!

I still remember, with fondness, The May Crownings, behind the convent. The beautiful hymns! Such special memories.

I'm sure I have many more memories, such as my friends first and last names, not to mention Father MacDonald. (He never smiled!)

I wonder if any of your readers remember some of the above.

Sincerely, Marianne Jessmon/Dilley

At 4/16/2019 8:45 AM, Blogger Marianne Dilley said...

Regarding St. Bernadette, it was Religion class, not English. A few more memories, playing field hockey at recess! So much fun. Also, When the new church was being built, my superball bounced into the wet cement of the basement and I couldn't retrieve it. In the old church in the basement of the school, mass was held there, and I remember all the ushers standing at the back of the church, all in suits, and at the end of mass, they would yell, "Get your 50/50 tickets," repeating it a few times. Of course I had no clue of what they were talking about! Also, in the old church, I remember my mother doing The Stations of the Cross, and she sobbing at each one. My first communion and standing when the Bishop was walking up the aisle to the alter. It was so quiet, then the singing started, and we staring at him with awe.
Anyway, the memories keep flooding back!

Sincerely again, Marianne Jessmon/Dilley

At 3/31/2021 11:51 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I went to La Salette, like all my older sibs before me, 1st through 8th grade. I think it must have been 1964 - 1971? I had Mrs. Blackwell, Mr. Brady, Mrs. Malone (who also had everyone of my siblings (Oh no, not another Renaud), Mr. Dillon (who we loved to tease). I had nuns and lay teachers from an older nun who had been at the fire in Chicago that destroyed a Catholic school, to those who made sure our class picture had doves and peace signs on it. Mr. Fobart was another long time teacher who taught our whole family - he was special because he had had a heart attack and we were reminded of it every time he took a nitroglycerin pill in class. The principal was Sister Mary Alphonsus, later changed to Sister Gertrude. I got nabbed by her one time coming in late on a snowy day stomping my feet on the steps in from the front door creating a nuisance of myself. She came running out of her office which was right around the corner just steaming. I had to write "I will never come late and stomp my feet at Our Lady of La Salette Elementary School in Berkley, Michigan again" o(or some such thing) 500 times, due the next day. We all had our methods for writing things 500 times to get it over with as soon as possible. I remember hot dog lunches, the Christmas Bazaar, the last few years of church in the school basement, being chosen to clap erasers outside, First Communion and Confirmation, sex ed class haha - I think we were the first, all the kids from Fatima coming to La Salette when their school closed, I even remember the asthma attacks though the kid was in a different grade/class - it was a pretty big deal. we thought he was gonna die!

David Renaud


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