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Our Lady of Ransom says farewell

On Sunday, Our Lady of Ransom held a Mass and reception to mark the closing of the parish school, which opened in 1956. The reception took place in the auditorium, where students, alumni, faculty and others enjoyed refreshments, looked at old pictures and took a final tour of the school. (Tom Waring)

Katie Ortiz attended Solis-Cohen Elementary School from kindergarten through sixth grade before transferring to Our Lady of Ransom.

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Katie fit right in with her new classmates and others.

“They were very nice, friendly people,” she said.

In September, Katie will be on the move again, as Our Lady of Ransom will close for good next week.

An Archdiocese of Philadelphia blue ribbon commission recommended in January that Our Lady of Ransom, at Roosevelt Boulevard and Knorr Street in Castor Gardens, close because of dwindling enrollment. The students were being directed to Resurrection of Our Lord, in Rhawnhurst.

Resurrection accepted the merger, but Our Lady of Ransom appealed. The school held a rally to state its case, and parish and school administration met with an appeals committee, but there weren’t enough births and baptisms to guarantee that enrollment would hold steady. The parish tried to keep tuition low to boost enrollment, but it had a negligible effect.

In the end, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput granted 18 of the 24 elementary school appeals, but Our Lady of Ransom was one of the six that will see its doors close for good on June 15.

The pupils will miss their school.

“All the students are nice, and we have fun activities to do,” said seventh-grader Chris Reis.

Chris, Katie and other students attended a Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday to honor a school that opened in 1956 and is referred to by some as the “Beacon on the Boulevard.”

Afterward, guests were invited to tour the school and attend a reception in the auditorium that featured old school pictures, soft pretzels, bagels, doughnuts, cookies, pastries and drinks. Commemorative T-shirts were for sale.

The students proudly wore their uniforms, graduation and confirmation gowns and Holy Communion dresses and suits.

They’ll leave with fond memories.

“The teachers help us pass every grade, grow up to be smart kids and succeed in life,” said seventh-grader Alexa Wojciechowski.

“The teachers, students and especially the principal (Grace E. McGuirl) are so nice,” said Bianca Bissey.

The overwhelming majority of Our Lady of Ransom students will make the trek to Resurrection, at Castor and Shelmire avenues, next school year. Two buses will make the round trip each day.

The 21 seventh-graders are all in one classroom at Our Lady of Ransom. There will be three eighth-grade classrooms at Resurrection.

“We’re looking forward to it, but we’re nervous because we’ll all be split up,” Alexa said.

The seventh-graders might have it the toughest because they spent the most time at Our Lady of Ransom.

“It’s a new school. We have to start all over,” Chris said. “We’ve been here since kindergarten, and we won’t be able to graduate from our own grade school,” Bianca said.

The Rev. Thomas M. Sodano, parochial administrator at Our Lady of Ransom, said the students seemed to fit in well during an open house visit to Resurrection.

The youngsters will see some familiar, friendly faces, as eight of their teachers have been hired at the new Resurrection Regional Catholic School.

“Overall, the faculty is very happy with the way it turned out,” Sodano said.

Resurrection principal Joan Stulz will remain in place at the new school.

McGuirl is retiring after nine years at Our Lady of Ransom and 39½ years of Catholic education. She was principal of Mater Dolorosa, a Frankford elementary school that closed in 2003.

While the day was billed as a way for alumni and other parish friends to say goodbye to the school, the focus was largely on McGuirl. She was feted on the altar by the Rev. Edward Rauch in his homily and later by kindergarten teacher Mary Toczylowski.

The congregants gave McGuirl a standing ovation and bowed to her for a job well done, then watched a slide show at the reception that chronicled her nine years at the school.

Though the school will close, the church will remain open. The school auditorium will continue to be the site of indoor soccer games, parish socials, senior citizen meetings and the parish religious education program (PREP).

Parents have been willing and active volunteers over the years.

“It’s a family here,” said Rudy Bittner, whose son and daughter graduated from the school. “The kids grew up together. We still have our church and youth group.”

Eileen Carroll, a 1966 graduate, has lived her whole life on Kindred Street and remains a parishioner. When she attended Our Lady of Ransom, there were 76 students and one nun in her classroom.

“Times have changed,” she said. “I’m sorry to see the school close. It put out a lot of good graduates. The dedication of the IHM nuns and the teachers pulled us through. The memories are here.”

As the final school year winds down, the students will remember their final Spirit Day and cherish their last few days together.

“We’ll spend the last week hanging out with each other and doing fun things,” Chris said. ••

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