On a busy corner of New York Avenue, sits St. Augustine’s School, a mainstay in this diverse community of Union City, New Jersey. The Sisters of Charity opened its doors to this Catholic institution in September of 1891. This historic red building that welcomed children for 129 years, was abruptly instructed by the Archdiocese of Newark to close its doors on August 3rd. Now, St. Augustine’s School has joined the many other Catholic Schools with teachers and parents mourning the loss of a quality Catholic education. For those of us who chose to stay twenty-plus years, it was not a job, but a genuine vocation to serve the children in this inner-city school. So, before our school is seized by the realtors, I’d like to give St. Augustine’s School the praise and honor it deserves.
Our Sisters of Charity, past and present defined St. Augustine’s with their color, charisma, and strength of character. From the first moment one walked into the school, you sensed the years of warmth and love. From the lace curtains that swayed when the children passed them, to the cascading vines of the philodendron plants hanging from the award cases. Like any good home, cherished photographs on the walls were prominently displayed with those that established the school. The Sisters, with their Master and Doctorate degrees were excellent mentors for any new teacher.
St. Augustine’s was the first Catholic school in Hudson County to introduce Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. We applied this theory through a project called, “Raindrop by Raindrop.” Our goal was to engage students with opportunities to use all their learning styles to explore, research and discover the history of Union City, the city where their school first opened its doors in 1891. The passion for this project united students, teachers, and parents, rewarding us with our second Middle States Accreditation. Because of our success with the Multiple Intelligences Theory, five of our teachers took an online course given by Harvard furthering their education for the good of our students.
Every Christmas season, the children gathered in the church to present the Christmas story to family and friends. The lights bounced off the gold garland that adorned the girls’ halos. Shepherd boys filed onto the altar to join the angels. Collectively, they radiated a brilliance that swelled the hearts with Christmas joy.
Easter brought our seventh and eighth graders together to reenact the Easter story. Their sensitive and reverential portrayal of the Stations of the Cross conveyed a genuine sense of sadness. As the dim lights brighten, our “Jesus” walks down the aisle in a poised and triumphant stance conveying the message to the children that he is a champion that has conquered death. The enthusiastic applause at the conclusion gave all a reason to rejoice.
In contrast, it is quiet now. The hallway bulletin boards are bare. There’s an echo in the classrooms and rows of empty desks, six feet apart, wait for St. Augustine children to wiggle into their seats. Only those of us who walked the halls listening to classes of children singing, reciting, and giggling, understand the loss. Before we knew it, the rug was pulled out from under us, depriving us of a chance to say good-bye and thank you to our class of children and parents.
Despite the decline in enrollment, Sr. Lillian Sharrock, S.C, principal, Sr. Johanna Quinto, S.C., vice-principal, and Dr. Joan Walters, S.C., tenaciously pursued every path, never giving in to despair. The unfortunate misconception that was marketed to the newspapers was that St. Augustine’s merged with another school. We did not merge; we were closed now and forever. Ironically, in the past weeks, the Sisters received numerous phone calls from parents interested in registering their children for the 2020-2021 school year. Regrettably, they had to turn families away to the already overcrowded and shrinking number of Catholic schools still open in the area. With a profound sense of loss, the Sisters’ faith gave them the courage to accept the inevitable.
They may take St. Augustine’s School’s name off the building and take down the gold cross atop the corner turret, but for those of us who were fortunate enough to be part of its spirit and legacy, it will always remain St. Augustine’s School.
Mary Ann Franco
St. Augustine’s School