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St. Anthony Catholic school celebrates 125 years of close-knit learning


The celebration was simple enough: a special Mass, followed by a pizza lunch and ice cream treats doled out to each student, courtesy of the family of late alum Jerry Schrader.

"When Jerry was in school, when you stayed after school and helped to clean the cafeteria, you got a free ice cream," explained Sister Roberta Bailey, principal of St. Anthony Interparochial Catholic School.

There were a lot of memories like that swirling around Wednesday, as Pasco's oldest school celebrated its 125th anniversary. The school that started in the fall of 1883 with 14 students in the kitchen of Mrs. Cecilia Morse has grown to 165 students in kindergarten through eighth grade in a three-story brick building and a handful of portable classrooms.

Eddie Herrmann, 73, one of four generations to attend the school over the years, remembered how he was called upon to ring the church bells at the end of World War II.

County Commissioner Ted Schrader, 53, recalled being in a second grade classroom when he learned that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

Mary Plazewski, 76, graduated from the school in 1946 and saw each of her six children and now four of her grandchildren attend the school.

"This was such a wonderful place. Everything was so nice," said Plazewski. "We played together, we worked together. We had Mass every morning before school. We cleaned blackboards: That was a reward. And we all got a good education."

"There were nine girls and three boys in my class," said Mary Lynn Beaumont, 54, who cobbled together a grown-up school uniform complete with blue skirt, white shirt and saddle shoes to wear for the occasion. "You weren't allowed to talk to the boys. If you did, you had to stay after school.

"We had to stay after school A LOT."

"It was nice, though," she added. "Everybody knew everybody. We were like one big family."

And, it turn, out, that's still the case, according to today's students.

"I like how it's a closed environment and how everyone knows each other," said Madison Killen, 12, who attends the school along with her younger brother, Cody, 10.

"We have small classes. We have nice teachers and there are a lot of activities," said Alana Innerbichler, 12.

Alana has no problem wearing a school uniform every day.

"We're all the same here," she said. "You're judged in public school for what you wear, but not here."

The small-town school has a reputation for churning out some of Pasco's best and brightest: About 10 graduates have become valedictorians or salutatorians at local public or Catholic high schools. Alumni have gone on to Harvard and Yale.

"I like how it prepares us for the future: high school and college," Robert Pitton, 14, said. "And it's easy to make friends here because there's not too many people."

And people who share similar values tend to look out for each other, Sister Bailey said.

"There's a family clustering here," she said. "Students walk to school or are driven here, so we have a lot of parent involvement."

"Students get a faith-based education here. They learn how to respect each other. And they know how too learn. Obviously they're not going to know everything when they leave here, but if they know how to tackle problems, that will serve them well."

Time line

Fall of 1883: Mrs. Cecilia Morse begins school classes for 14 students in the kitchen of her home.

Dec. 13, 1888: Mr. and Mrs. Thomas J. Quigley deed 5 acres in front of the parish property to Father Gerard for use by the town and parish.

Sept. 1, 1889: The Benedictine Sisters, newly arrived from Pennsylvania, take over the administration and staffing of St. Anthony School and nearby St. Joseph School.

August 1891: The Pasco County School Board grants the request of the resident pastor and appoints two sisters as teachers to "San Antonio Public School #14."

1892: A larger school, a two-story frame building, was completed on the site of the present school The building served as school and social hall until 1922, when it was torn down to make room for the three-story brick structure that now houses the school.

1918: Sisters were no longer permitted to teach in public schools, so members of St. Anthony parish assumed full responsibility for the continuance of St. Anthony School.

1988: Renovations were made to bring the school building in line with current fire safety codes.

2003: The school leased three classroom buildings from the Benedictine Sisters of Florida to operate an early education program. In the summer of 2009, this portion of the program will be closed and kindergarten moved to a house on the school's main campus.

2004-05: The school sustained water damage from two major hurricanes.

Today: The school serves 165 students in kindergarten through grade 8 and has an operating budget in excess of $1 million.

St. Anthony Catholic school celebrates 125 years of close-knit learning 04/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 10:05pm]
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