Assumption School closes after 105 years

Some current students, grads, faculty members and friends on the Assumption School entrance steps. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

As they gathered for last Sunday’s noon Mass at Bellevue’s Assumption Church, many of the parish members, as well as throngs of visitors, no doubt shared a sense of sadness about the commemoration of the closing of Assumption School after 105 years of service to students and families of Bellevue and beyond.

If most in that gathering would have had their say, this moment might not have come to be.

But the closing and merging of several schools within the Pittsburgh Diocese was never an issue put to a vote of the Bellevue faithful. Instead, it was a part of the Diocese’s elementary school “regionalization” plan and part of the larger “On Mission for the Church Alive.”

Assumption graduate Veronica Garcia spoke of “change” in words that were easily understood by everyone in the pews.

“Many years ago, our tests, reports and information were saved in what we called ‘pee chee’ folders. Today we use flash drives to store data,” Garcia said.

She continued, “Tests or letters to be sent home were created on carbon paper or dittos. Today, we send e-mail blasts. Higher level math calculations were done on slide rules. Now, we use graphing calculators. Reports were done on paper and bound with staples or string or even ribbon. Today, reports are created and shared on our Google Drives.”

But the sadness that some had anticipated as part of last Sunday’s service never really materialized. Instead, from beginning to end, the Mass and the preceding and concluding announcements were so positive and upbeat that most in attendance exited the church with smiles and an optimistic look to the future.

Much of that optimism was sparked by comments from Pastor Dennis Buranosky who set the tone of the service by stating, “This is not a day of sorrow. This is a day of joy. What we are witnessing is God’s love.”

He noted that over a century ago, four Sisters of St. Joseph had a vision for the school that grew to 1,300 students by the mid-1950s, ending now with just 107, K-8.

“But we are blessed with an army of men, women, and children who celebrated the Catholic faith.”

He then went on to welcome current students, teachers and the Assumption family, as well as all staff members, with special acknowledgement given to former pastor, Father John Gallagher, the congregation recognizing all of them with resounding applause.

Fr. Dennis then invited grads to stand, decade by decade, dating back to the 1940s, with loudest cheers and applause saved for those making up the final student body.

Theresa Gallick, mother of two Assumption School daughters, one graduated, one still enrolled, had prepared a video of the school, to be shown following the Mass. She reminisced of the school in its heyday when the enrollment included students from the City of Pittsburgh, North Hills, Montour, Avonworth, North Allegheny.

“And now we are scattering to the four winds. All of the options for our children are good,” she said, wistfully adding, “but they are not the same as being here. I can look to the future, though, because I believe that children often can be more resilient than adults.”

Assumption students will have several options of schools to attend, including Northside Catholic, located in the St. Cyril’s of Alexandria parish, Brighton Heights; St. James School in Sewickley; Holy Cross Academy, located in the St. Sebastian parish in Ross Township and recently combined with St. Teresa, also of Ross; or in either of Northgate’s elementary schools, Bellevue or Avalon.

“Just because you are leaving Assumption does not mean that Assumption is leaving you,” Fr. Dennis said. “Go out and tell people who taught you here. Tell them that you were taught by the best.”

And he exhorted them to remember that “Nothing has ended. Go out these doors and let the light of Jesus Christ shine!”

The Mass and the program concluded with students, administrators, and staff personnel exiting to applause, with cheers added for the final class as they walked out the center aisle of the church.

A message in the weekly bulletin acknowledged the history of the school and the values it has provided: “Lifelong friendships have been made; an Assumption family has truly been formed. That will never change. Thank you to families who have sacrificed so their children could be a part of the profound experience, to faculty and staff who cared for and nurtured our children and to parishioners who valued Assumption School.”

And where does it go from here?

Many of the trophies were given to the team members who earned them. Desks will remain for religious classes, and most of the books and supplies will be sent to Northside Catholic.
The building itself will still be used, mainly for religious education and parish events.

Principal Mary Ann Miller provided some final words on the closing, saying, “Some things never change. Our school has always been based on hope and dedicated to providing service based on strong Faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It has been protected by our Mother Mary, and, most importantly, Jesus Christ has always been the reason for this school, the unseen but ever present teacher in its classes, the inspiration of its students, teachers, administrators and staff.”