by Antonina Zielinska
To commemorate the close of the centennial year of St. Luke’s school, Whitestone, the parish invited Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and school alumni to participate in a Mass of thanksgiving and a dinner-dance.
“Our celebration of 100 years is in gratitude to all of those who answered the challenges of the past,” said Msgr. John Tosi, pastor. “And it is about answering the challenges of the next 100 years.”
In 1910, four Dominican sisters and a lay teacher opened the school, which had a registration of 120 children, grades one through six. By the 1950s, the school grew to one of the three largest Catholic elementary schools in the diocese, with a student body of more than 2,500 students.
In 1925, just 15 years into the schools existence, John L. Smith, the oldest known living alumnus of the school, started attending classes at the age of seven.
During the centennial dinner, Smith admitted to not liking school at first because he was not used to being away from home. With time, however, he became engulfed in the school and parish community.
The friendships he made at St. Luke’s School and the ties he made with the parish stayed with him throughout his life. As a teenager, he attended a parish dance.
“I asked this girl by the name of Dolores McNeill to dance,” he said, recalling the story with a smile on his face. “And a few years later I married her.”
After serving in the armed forces, Smith came home to marry his sweetheart. Together they started their own family in Whitestone and sent their children to St. Luke’s School.
At the Mass, Bishop DiMarzio stressed the importance of the long-term effects of a Catholic education.
“The primary purpose of our Catholic schools is to communicate our faith to the next generation,” he said.
Kevin Freile, who graduated from St. Luke’s in 2007 and is now preparing for Cathedral Seminary Residence, said it is the strong commitment to faith at St. Luke’s that allowed him to entertain thoughts of being a priest.
“This is where I first learned about God,” he said. “Here they gave us a firm basis and they helped me build my relationship with God.”
Freile said that the school continues to support him. When the centennial graduating class was in seventh grade, they sent him a book of letters encouraging him in his formation.
“Some of them brought me to tears,” he said. “Whenever I feel doubt in my vocation to the priesthood, I look through them and gain strength in how much the kids support me.”
Ericka Concon, who has been teaching at the school for the past 10 years, said that among the most rewarding aspects of her position is seeing students remain part of the St. Luke’s family long after they graduate.
Concon was responsible for finding volunteers for the day’s celebration and said she had more people call her to offer help than she needed. Among those who came to help were Caitlin McDanogh and Maria Macchiarulo, both of whom graduated in 2008.
Both say they are thankful to the school for the many things it has taught them.
“Now, in high school, I still remember what Ms. Vecchione taught us, and it helps in class,” saidMacciarulo.
Barbara Reiter, principal, said it is the teachers that create the family-like environment in school by doing a lot more than what they are paid for. She said the teachers often work at the school on the weekend and in the evenings to help the students achieve their personal best.
“Our teachers care as much as a parent cares,” she said. “They are fabulous teachers and they make me look good.”
In addition to its success in faith formation, the school has a strong academic curriculum, said Lucy Lugones, assistant principal. It offers an Aquinas Program for those students who are able to tackle a more challenging curriculum and special assistance programs for those students who require extra help. Lugones said the principal goes the extra mile looking for public assistance for students who require special attention.
The students are also challenged to develop new skills outside of the traditional curriculum, Lugones said, with a variety of clubs such as chess, robotics, music, art, performance and band.
Working with the teachers to help the school succeed is Msgr. Tosi. In his time as pastor, the school has increased its enrollment and the faculty is appreciative of his efforts.
“Monsignor cherishes the spirit of the children,” said Laura Durso, seventh-grade teacher.