Beginning as we always do with the Apostles’ Creed I was reminded of how, for over 140 years, young Catholics had been taught the very elements of our faith that the Creed represents. More than that, we had been taught to live that Creed in our daily lives. We were reminded that we were not the first to have come through those doors and that, just as we were part of the long history of St. Mary, we were also part of the long history of the Church, a history stretching back to the Apostles themselves.
Continuing on to the Our Father, Hail Mary’s and Glory Be I thought of how we were taught to rely, first and foremost, on God the Father. But we were also taught that the Virgin Mary was our Mother as well and would always be there for us. We were surrounded by reminders of Mary – statues in the classrooms, the grotto outside the office, May Crowning and rosaries. We knew Mary was our Mother and would intercede for us and protect us.
As we began the first mystery – the Annunciation – I was struck by how our lives were changed by St. Mary’s, just as Mary’s life was changed by the angel Gabriel’s words. How many kindergarteners and first graders have passed through those doors, both eager to begin and afraid of what might happen? How many life changing events have occurred in those halls, both grand events – First Communions, Confirmations, graduations – and small – reading your first word, first dances, even a first kiss or two? And through them all St. Mary’s was there to guide and teach, reassure and counsel.
The second mystery – the Visitation – brought memories of all the meetings which have taken place in that Grand Old Lady. How many lifelong friendships were formed? How many husbands and wives exchanged their first hellos beneath those stamped ceilings? How many teachers impacted their students’ lives in ways they never knew? But more than that, more than the human relationships we formed, St. Mary’s helped us encounter Jesus – in prayers, in class, in our friends and in the Eucharist. As John the Baptist recognized Jesus in Mary’s womb, we were taught to recognize Jesus in each other and love one another because of that.
As we continued to the third mystery – the Nativity – my mind turned to how unexpected Jesus’ birth must have been. In a strange town in a stable without any of her family to help her, Mary must surely have never expected this to be the way she brought her son into the world. And yet, it was under these conditions that Mary received the greatest gift – the Son of God. How many unexpected events populate the history of St. Mary’s – fires, deaths and departures? Yet St. Mary’s survived each of these and grew stronger because of them. It was in these times of distress that students and teachers, parents and clergy came together to build a better St. Mary’s – a St. Mary’s that would grow stronger and achieve greater things than anyone could imagine.
With the fourth mystery – the Presentation – I was drawn to the idea of dedication. Mary and Joseph dedicated Jesus’s life to God. In the same way, St. Mary’s was dedicated to God as a beacon of education for St. Peter’s and Mount Clemens. Her teachers were dedicated to educating their students and challenging them to become the best people they can be. Her students were dedicated to sharing her – her traditions and stories, secrets and quirks – with generation after generation. And even now, that dedication shows in the testimonies and memorials, final goodbyes and last photos. It is a dedication that will continue to endure for generations to come.
As we neared the end of our prayer with the fifth mystery – the Finding in the Temple – it brought to mind how many teachers have walked those hallowed halls. Of course, there are the good sisters who established the school and continued to teach there for over a century. There are the lay teachers who worked alongside them and fearlessly accepted the mantle of leadership from them. However, there are so many more teachers than that – older students teaching younger students how to be a Mountaineer, coaches teaching their athletes, classmates helping each other learn the day’s lesson, and even students teaching their teachers about what it means to be young. In the end, each one of us who played part in the life of St. Mary’s was a teacher to someone, even if we never knew it.
So as we bid farewell to the Queen of Mount Clemens, we must remember that it is not the building that is important. It is not the building that represents our life, our sweetness and our hope. We will not be banished because she is no longer there, condemned to a life of mourning and tears. Rather, it is in our hearts and memories that she will live forever. Through her eyes, we have been shown the way to live and love. And though her loss may feel like we are being exiled, we know that her Son, Jesus, will always bring us home to where we belong. There is sadness in parting with a place that has played such an important role in our lives. But out of every end comes a new beginning, out of every death comes a resurrection. Though St. Mary’s will no longer be present in front of our eyes, she will always endure. She has not abandoned us, and we have not abandoned her for she is a part of each of us and always will be. And so we bid a fond farewell, knowing that, wherever we go, St. Mary’s will always be with us.