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Examiner
  • St. Mary's students brace for school's closing

  • Hunter Soule was at a wrestling meet earlier this year when someone came up to him and asked about St. Mary’s High School.



    “He was actually part of the 1979 class and was glad to see that St. Mary’s was still open,” said the St. Mary’s freshman. “Everywhere you go, there seems to be someone that went to or knows someone who went to St. Mary’s.”

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  • Hunter Soule was at a wrestling meet earlier this year when someone came up to him and asked about St. Mary’s High School.
    “He was actually part of the 1979 class and was glad to see that St. Mary’s was still open,” said the St. Mary’s freshman. “Everywhere you go, there seems to be someone that went to or knows someone who went to St. Mary’s.”
    But that tradition, dating back almost 160 years, will come to an end in May. The Kansas City-St. Joseph Catholic Diocese announced in January that St. Mary’s High School will close at the end of the 2012-13 school year. Rapidly declining enrollment over the last few years was cited as the cause for the closing.
    “I think we were all surprised,” said senior Emily Echlin. “But we don’t really bring it up much. We don’t want to talk about it. It really is still surreal. I don’t think it has sunk in.”
    The threat of St. Mary’s closing has been looming over the heads of students, faculty and parents for years. The original plan was for both St. Mary’s and Archbishop O’Hara high schools to close and combine when St. Michael’s the Archangel, the new Catholic high school in Lee’s Summit, opens in a couple of years. Construction on that high school has not even started.
    Senior Lauren Martin said what makes the decision so difficult is that St. Mary’s High School is really like a family. Many students are multi-generational, meaning that their siblings, parents and even grandparents went to the high school.
    “It’s the closeness that makes this place special,” she said. “We are not separated by grades, and we get to be friends with everyone. It’s really nice to have those kinds of connections.”
    Some students have been together since kindergarten. With St. Mary’s closing, these tight-knit groups will be split up, which makes the transition even more difficult.
    “I think there is about 10 of us in the junior class who have been together since kindergarten at Nativity of Mary,” said junior Melody Kimbrough. “We have all been together for so long. It’s disappointing that we are not going to get to graduate with each other.”
    With the diocese’s decision to close St. Mary’s, it has offered an alternative for current students. Any remaining students will have the option to attend O’Hara or St. Pius X at the same tuition rate that would have been charged for the 2013-14 school year at St. Mary's. Freshman Olivia Crabtree said the St. Mary’s student body is mixed about what they want to do, however, a good sized group has expressed their desire to go to O’Hara.
    Page 2 of 2 - “O’Hara is an option for a lot of us,” she said. “Mr. O’Connor (the current principal of St. Mary’s and O’Hara) is a great principal and is making this transition easier for us. It’s a way for us to connect to that high school.”
    But Martin said there is a lot of bitterness among some of the students, and she said it is hard to let those feelings go.
    “There will always be bitterness,” she said. “It is hard to just forget and forgive. It’s tough to find the balance.”
    Soule said he will be going to public school for his remaining three years of high school, a transition that he admits makes him nervous.
    “I have been in Catholic school my whole life, so yes, it is going to be hard,” he said. “Adjusting to such a large environment with a very large crowd of people will be difficult and makes a lot of us nervous.”
    The student body is already making plans on how to best recognize St. Mary’s students during graduation ceremonies in May. The event is expected to not only draw the usual crowd of parents and well-wishers of the senior class, but the entire student body and alumni as well.
    “It is going to be 10 times as hard for the seniors this year because we know we are the last class,” Echlin said. “It is really a bittersweet feeling.”
     
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