NIAGARA FALLS — This year, students at Niagara Catholic Jr./Sr. High School will be learning about the many ways the world, and their own school, have changed since 1927. It's a creative way to mark how four different schools spanned nine decades of Catholic education on 66th Street.
"Everything that we do is going to solidify that connection of this school back to its original founding," said Principal Dr. Robert Cluckey. "We truly see it as an evolution of a tradition of excellence."
St. Mary's School was co-ed when it opened in 1927, and eventually split into two separate schools during the height of the baby boom. Bishop Duffy High School for boys opened in 1950, and Madonna High School for girls opened in 1959. Those schools merged into Niagara Catholic in 1975.
The school currently has about 200 students in grades seven through 12.
This year's social studies curriculum will focus on what was happening in the world back in 1927, what was happening in Catholic schools during the turbulent 1960s, and how things evolved up to this year. Science class will focus on how technology and the "space race" have developed over the past 90 years. Even mathematics has come a long way when you compare the textbooks of the last century to the current complexity of the ninth-grade math curriculum.
The art class will transform the school's bulletin board into a visual progression of the school's history, according to Mike Volpe, director of development and alumni at Niagara Catholic. "We're going to go through all of the yearbooks we have to compare and contrast pictures so everyone can see pictures of the school through the years," Volpe explained. Old programs from the school musicals will also clearly show how times have changed.
"Our overriding objective is to embrace the longevity of this evolution," said Cluckey. "It's not just one school closing and the next opening. The tradition of it has maintained all the way through the four different schools."
A yearlong celebration will connect current students with alumni like Carol Connor McCarthy, who just celebrated her 70th reunion with the St. Mary's class of 1947.
"The school was home for us," said McCarthy. "Teachings stayed with me and are my foundation for who I am today. Catholic school training is just unique, especially in high school. Those are formative growing years."
Knowledge, character, faith and service are the four tenets that appear on the school banners which grace the front of the school to this day, according to Cluckey, who said the school sees these as the essence of Niagara Catholic and the reason why the school calls itself a family.
"I just don't want it all to be about the past, but also how vibrant we currently are," Cluckey added, noting the construction of the Niagara Community Center field house next door, the school's Discovery Learning Lab and pre-engineering courses.
Recent graduates averaged about 24 college credit hours before entering college. "When they graduate from here, they're really starting as first-semester sophomores," said Cluckey. "Through recent investments, curricular upgrades and the building on the foundation of our school's rich history, Niagara Catholic looks forward to a bright future."