A century and a half after its founding, St. Paul School, Burlington, is still making an indelible impression on the students and parents who call the storied school their own.
St. Paul School affiliates reflect on 150 years of building a ‘second home’
The St. Paul School community began celebrating its sesquicentennial in early 2020 and had scheduled a variety of events to commemorate the year. While the school did enjoy a feature segment on “Kelly’s Classroom” on Fox 29, Philadelphia, in early 2020, a good number of the events were canceled because of the coronavirus lockdown.
PHOTO GALLERY: Burlington Catholic school marks 150th anniversary with Mass with Bishop
Now, all are looking forward to Dec. 5, when Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., will join the school and its parish community of St. Katharine Drexel, Burlington, for a Mass of Thanksgiving to mark the celebratory year. After Mass, which will be celebrated in St. Paul Church and livestreamed on the school’s Facebook page, the Bishop is expected to visit St. Paul School, which is about a mile away from the church, to offer an anniversary blessing. St. Paul is one of two worship sites of St. Katharine Drexel Parish; the other is All Saints Church, also in Burlington.
“Having the Bishop celebrate Mass with us will be a perfect way to end our anniversary year,” said Lucy Tomczynski, an active school parent and a former PTA president who has been chairing the anniversary planning committee.
Among those who laud St. Paul School for its virtues are members of the Ciechanowski family, who have experienced multiple generations of exemplary Catholic education at the cherished institution.
Jennifer Ciechanowski fondly recounted that her in-laws, Walter and Maryann Ciechanowski, started kindergarten in 1947 and continued in the school until they graduated. Her own first-hand experience includes being a school parent, with one daughter having graduated and another who is currently enrolled, as well as having a niece who is now in the first grade. She couldn’t help but credit the school’s longevity largely to the capable faculty and staff it has employed over the years.
“[The school] always has great teachers who go above and beyond for their students,” Ciechanowski said.
Jennifer Stankiewicz echoes those sentiments, saying it’s her belief that St. Paul School’s success has been grounded in its mission to educate all students in a rich Catholic tradition.
“Everything we do is built on and around our faith,” said Stankiewicz, who currently serves as the school’s administrative assistant and is the mother of two graduates. “Our faith drives our success.”
Reflecting on the impact that St. Paul School has had on the parish community as well as area residents, Father Jerome Guld, St. Katharine Drexel Parish pastor, spoke of all the support the school receives from parents and families. While the pandemic may have hampered some of the celebratory events, he said there was no mistaking that the anniversary marked a major milestone in the school’s history.
“Every occasion, event, fundraiser and newsletter has blown the ‘150 Year’ trumpet,” Father Guld said, noting that an anniversary banner has been hung on the front of the school building and that each class has found ways to “repeatedly bring the special anniversary into their class work, especially in their art works.”
St. Paul School traces its roots to 1870, when Father Michael Kirwan, pastor of St. Paul Parish from 1868 to 1876, renovated the basement of what was then St. Paul Church. The building formerly served as barracks for British troops in the French and Indian War. Today, that building still stands on East Broad Street and is the hall for the Knights of Columbus Burlington Council.
The students who attended classes there were taught by four lay teachers until 1873, when the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse assumed the school’s leadership. In the early 1900s, the Sisters of Mercy from North Plainfield succeeded the Franciscan Sisters.
In 1904, Father Henri Russi, St. Paul’s pastor from 1899 to 1934, built a more suitable school, also on East Broad Street, in front of the old St. Paul Cemetery. In 1925, the present St. Paul Church, convent and rectory were built on nearby East Union Street.
As the years progressed, the St. Paul School enrollment tripled and grade levels continued to be added. By the mid-1950s, when it became apparent that a bigger school facility was needed, Father Joseph Miller, pastor from 1956 to 1987, purchased a 20-acre site from the city of Burlington on James Street, which was about a mile away from the church, to build the “new” St. Paul School. The school was dedicated, and the cornerstone was laid by Bishop George W. Ahr on Dec. 20, 1959. Today, the school employs 34 full-time, part-time and custodial staff members and has an enrollment of 161 students.
For Tomczynski, the 150th anniversary has served as a reminder of what it means to be part of a community.
“I know that many schools believe this to be true, but we really are a family,” she said. “There’s always that feeling of family you get as soon as you walk through the door.”
After citing the list of guests who have been invited to attend the celebration, including former priests who have served in St. Paul and St. Katharine Drexel Parishes – Msgr. James Dubell; Father Christopher Picollo and Father Cesar Anson, and former principal, Donna Healey, principal William Robbins shared his own thoughts about St. Paul School being “a very unique place.
“To most of our children, it is a second home,” he said. “Our students feel so comfortable here that they often comment that they enter as students as leave as family.”