For 70 years, Mary Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School served Cheektowaga and surrounding municipalities of Western New York, most of this time under its former name, Queen of Martyrs School. However, as the 2016-17 school year came to a close, the MQA community recognized the end of its era with a special field day of activities on June 2 and a Mass celebrating the school's history on June 21.
In March, Bishop Richard J. Malone accepted the school board of trustees' decision that MQA would not reopen in the fall for the 2017-18 school year, citing declining enrollment that would render the school unsustainable. Prior to the graduation ceremony for MQA's final eighth-grade class of 2017, its students, parents and faculty met at Cheektowaga Town Park for a field day of fun and activities.
"We wanted to do a fun activity for the end of the year that included all of our students, faculty and staff, and parents as well. We thought this would be a nice way to end the year on a high note," said Kristen Hada, principal of MQA, a Cheektowaga resident who attended St. Andrew School in Sloan.
With onlookers watching and cheering, students in grade levels from universal pre-K to eighth grade participated in traditional outdoor fun. Older students participated in activities such as sack races and wheelbarrow races, volleyball and basketball, while younger children enjoyed themselves on the playground, under the supervision of adults who reminisced among themselves. Steve Hunter, the school's music and computer teacher, called it a day "full of games, fun stuff and enjoying the outside."
"I haven't seen a lot of kids being very upset (about the closing)," he said of that day. As he spoke, he prepared a grill for the hot dogs that would be included in the day's supplied lunches. "The teachers are all trying to make it business as usual. We've got a year to finish out, so we're just going to keep everything as normal as we can. We always have an end-of-the-year celebration. This one happens to be at Town Park. It's a sad one. It's a big end celebration, but everybody is doing well, having fun with it."
Robert Lee, a Cheektowaga resident and MQA graduate who will be attending St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in Kenmore in the fall, said, "It's fun, because we get to do something out of school (before it closes). I'm going to miss this school. This is one of my favorite schools around here. It's sad."
Blessed Rwigamba, who will be a freshman at Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart in September, had similar feelings. "It's a really fun day to have fun with your friends, get out of the classroom and stuff, and not be just all stuffed up and trying to study for the exam, stressing out about it," Blessed, age 13, added. "It's just a day of fun stuff and having fun with your family and friends."
MQA's eighth-grade graduation ceremony took place on June 20, at Queen of Martyrs Church, with the kindergarten and UPK graduations taking place on June 9 and June 16, respectively. The school's canonical administrator, Father Jeffrey Nowak, led the celebrations held in the church. For the send-off Mass, doors were open to MQA's alumni and past staff and clergy to commemorate the school's final event.
"(Father Nowak) wanted to include all past and present students, their families, past and present faculty and staff, board members, community members, and then do a small reception in the gym," Hada said.
Hada said MQA served students from mostly Cheektowaga, Buffalo and Sloan, with a smaller number coming from West Seneca and Clarence. The school closing displaced more than 30 lay faculty and staff, and the diocese requested that the remaining Catholic schools in the area reach out to them.
"I know that a lot of our kids come from close by, so it's sad that they're not going to have that," Hunter said, noting the old MQA building will be rented out. "Hopefully (residents) will still enjoy having kids nearby and having a school nearby, even though it's not going to be Mary Queen of Angels."
According to data the diocese issued in March, the Catholic elementary school nearest to MQA is Christ the King School in Snyder, at 3.2 miles away. The next closest diocesan elementary schools are Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School in Depew (3.8 miles), St. Benedict in Eggertsville (4.1 miles), St. Joseph University in Buffalo (4.4 miles) and SS. Peter & Paul in Williamsville (4.6 miles).