For 100-plus years in Jamestown, parents and children have had an alternative choice for education if they chose to take that particular ''road to success.'' I'm speaking of private or faith-based schools which have been a part of our community for more than a century.
Throughout the years, Chautauqua County has shared in the rich heritage of such schools, all outstanding in their own right, stretching from Dunkirk to Jamestown, including Fredonia and Falconer, encompassing Catholic, Baptist and Christian schools, offering a choice alongside the excellent public schools throughout the county.
For many years, Dunkirk was home to the only Catholic high school, Cardinal Mindszenty, while Falconer was the site of Levant Christian Academy, offering educations ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, as did/does Bethel Baptist Academy in Jamestown. Dunkirk, Fredonia, Falconer, and Jamestown also were locations of numerous parochial schools which thrived for many years in those communities.
I was fortunate to have been a part of one of those parochial schools, having gone to St. James School in Jamestown, from kindergarten through ninth grade. I learned much from that experience. I learned about my faith, which was a very important part of our family's life. I learned reading, writing and arithmetic, and learned them well enough to succeed in high school, go on to college and have a fairly successful career for more than 30 years. I made wonderful friendships there, though at the time I didn't realize how important those people were/are to me. Now, later in my life, I've realized how special my classmates/schoolmates from St. James are to me, just being a part of all of those years at St. James School. I love seeing them out and about, at reunions, on Facebook, or wherever. Many of us were together on a daily basis for the better part of 10 years. How can that not make them special?
The education we received was quality education. Some of it came from the good sisters, some from passionate lay persons, who not only knew their subject matter well and taught it to us intensely, they taught us with a discipline and dedication, instilling in us the needed appreciation for that education, and for all of us to take that education, use it to work as hard as we could, strive to reach our potential, and then take what we learned and share it with the rest of the world outside of St. James.
Our experiences in parochial school allowed us to enjoy a "second family." It became more than an education. It became a "life within our life." There weren't quite as many opportunities, though we had sports (not as many in today's parochial schools), and we had music (not band in my day, though there is that opportunity today). We had the greatest home-cooked lunches in my day, and we had opportunities to participate in faith-based plays and programs offered by the church and school. The faith-based schools which remain in our area today don't have as much as their predecessors, and certainly not as much as public schools can offer due to different budgets, but if the people who choose to support the faith-based schools and their children are okay with that, what's the problem? The problem is that these schools don't have the enrollment they once had and unfortunately that's led to the closing of many of these faith-based educational institutions over the years. Jamestown is now facing the possibility of losing its last parochial school due to declining enrollment. The Catholic Academy of the Holy Family, formerly Holy Family Catholic School, and before that Ss. Peter and Paul Parochial School, is up against a deadline in May to increase its student enrollment or be forced to close its doors, possibly at the end of this school year.
I've had the opportunity to be involved with the Catholic Academy of the Holy Family as the parent of a student there, a volunteer there, a substitute teacher there, and I've even served on the school's board of consulters. I've chaired some committees there and served on others. I witnessed firsthand the wonderful dedication and passion of the faculty, staff and administration of CAHF and have been proud to be a part of much fundraising, some of the special projects, and some of the opportunities to share weekly Mass with the students there. In all my experiences with the Catholic Academy of the Holy Family, I saw many of the teachings of the Catholic and Christian faith in action.
It'll be a sad day for me and my family, as it was for many former faith-based school alumni from the area who saw their former schools bolt the doors, and as it will be for many of the family members and parish members of the community, who have worked so hard to keep this choice for education in our communities alive for so long, if and/or when the doors of CAHF close.
I applaud and thank everyone associated with the Catholic Academy of the Holy Family for what they've done for this community, and for my family, for many years. No matter what happens in the coming months or, hopefully, years of CAHF, and other schools like it, I ask the good Lord's blessings upon all of you, and all who have served faith-based educational opportunities for all children throughout the county, throughout the years.