Students, parents, faculty and staff gathered one last time May 24 to bid farewell to John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Manchester.
Appropriately, the final gathering consisted of a Mass and then fellowship, before the Kennedy Catholic community went their separate ways.
School president Father Richard Wosman choked back tears at the end of the homily, which also consisted of a video celebrating the final year accompanied by the song "For Good" from Wicked. Father Wosman echoed the song lyrics in closing: "Because I knew you, I'm changed forever." He also broke up in blessing JFK medallions to be given to the students.
Similar to other "last" events — an alumni gathering May 12, graduation May 18, numerous sports events and extracurriculars — laughter and tears of sadness co-existed on the last day as about 300 members of the Kennedy Catholic family celebrated the school's legacy while mourning its passing.
"It's very emotional," said rising senior Tyree Galtney, who will attend Duchesne High School in St. Charles for his final year. "Being here the last three years was amazing, but I feel like it's pretty sad.
"I get to see all of my friends one last time; I'll still see them in sports and stuff but not here."
Mia Lombardo was among about a dozen graduates who came back to school for the final Mass, with more arriving for fellowship. "This is our home; it's hard not to come back," Lombardo said.
Kennedy finished its final year with 181 students, down nearly 82 percent from the 1970s when enrollment reached 1,000. Only 33 freshmen were among Kennedy Catholic students this year, a 26.5 percent decline since last year and 42.6 percent over the past three years, according to archdiocesan statistics. In addition, enrollment declines at feeder Catholic grade schools made it unlikely for JFK's enrollment to rebound anytime soon
Despite the numbers, news of the closing devastated the JFK community in mid-September.
"Morale kind of went down," graduate Ryan Moore said after the graduation ceremony at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. "Everybody was down"
Within a week, though, students and the school community rebounded, with Father Wosman and principal Patty McMullen-Hellwig rallying the troops at meetings that set the tone for the turnaround.
McMullen-Hellwig "stood up and said, 'I know you guys want to blame someone; I want to blame someone, but we can't blame anyone,'" Moore said. "Just by saying that, giving that little speech, she said so much more to everyone in that room."
Students, faculty and staff came out determined to finish the year on a high note. In academic challenges, sports and other extra-curriculars, it was mission accomplished.
At the graduation ceremony, Kurt Nelson, archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic education, praised 2017 graduates for "demonstrating great resilience in the face of great adversity."
Campus minister Chuck Chiodini, who gave the faculty address at graduation, compared the final class to the school's namesake, by exemplifying the human spirit's ability to conquer new frontiers and by setting a standard of service. As John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Students took that to heart.
He called Kennedy Catholic "a truly great school" and commended the new graduates for developing into "a better version of yourselves."
"Being the very last in a very long line makes you a special group," Chiodini told graduates, adding that they will carry the spirit of Kennedy Catholic forward. "The legacy lives on. ... We are Celts forever."
On the front steps of the cathedral, after graduates had tossed their caps into the air, Moore spoke for many when he called his four years at JFK "an amazing experience."
"I love this school," he said, simply.
>> JFK, all the way
The Class of 2017 is the final of 46 graduation classes at John F. Kennedy Catholic High School, which opened for freshmen in 1968.
Class of 2017
Ashley Absolon, Paul Ahlering, John Alexander III, Margaret Barger, Danielle Belt, Conner Berry, Kathryn Berry, Ryan Boerner, Alexis Born, Bridget Bries, Jason Buehrig, Madeline Campbell, Brendan Cassidy, Kyle Clancy, Michael Clerc, Sydney Coleman, Francis Corbett, Alexander Coulter, Jennifer Crump, Lauren Davis, Reagan Delaney, Cydney Evans, Peter Fitzgibbon, James Geraghty, Joseph Gill, Samuel Gloriod, Conner Gray, Jessica Guiot, Frank Hagaman, Joshua Harman, Courtney Hauck, Henry Heppermann, Isabelle Herman, Emily Jackson, Margaret Kolodziej, Harrison Laurent, Mia Lombardo, Anna Luhmann, Ryan McAleenan, Sarah McGinnis, Rachael Miller, Alison Mines, Ryan Moore, Lauren Mushinski, Paige Mushinski, Brandon Novak, Matthew Oerding, Anthony Perez, Nathan Poeling, Jordan Rehmer, Logan Roleke, Robert Ruzicka, Justin Scego, Gabrielle Scheberle, Emily Schulenburg, Joseph Seib, Delaney Sheehan, Adrianna Slavik, Casey Sowell, Riley Tishma, Emma Vogel, Abigail Weidlick, Gabriel White, John Wisnewski, Conner Ziegler, Lauren Ziegler.
RELATED ARTICLE(S):Kennedy Catholic High School to close at end of school year
The vast majority of John F. Kennedy Catholic High School's underclassmen will continue their Catholic education, with 82 percent — 94 out of 115 — slated to attend Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Of that number, 69 percent (65) are expected to attend archdiocesan high schools.
Duchesne 30; Bishop DuBourg 18; St. Dominic 12; Ursuline Academy 10; Christian Brothers College High School 5; Barat Academy, St. John Vianney 3; Notre Dame, St. Joseph's Academy, St. Pius X 2; Chaminade College Preparatory School, De Smet Jesuit, Incarnate Word, Rosati-Kain, St. Francis Borgia, Trinity Catholic, Visitation Academy 1.
— Note: archdiocesan high schools are bold
Source: John F. Kennedy Catholic High School