Alumni of former Catholic school in Springfield reunite, give back

St. Mary Catholic School alum Tony Mancuso donates a check for $2,250 from the eighth grade graduating class of 1975 to the Ark Children's Rescue Center's Nancy Lutz, which houses the former school's gym, during a reunion event on Aug. 1. BRETT TURNER/CONTRIBUTOR
St. Mary Catholic School alum Tony Mancuso donates a check for $2,250 from the eighth grade graduating class of 1975 to the Ark Children's Rescue Center's Nancy Lutz, which houses the former school's gym, during a reunion event on Aug. 1. BRETT TURNER/CONTRIBUTOR

By Brett Turner

The school itself is gone; only its gym, the church associated with it, the priest’s house and a few sights remain. The memories came alive for the eighth grade graduating class of 1975 of the former St. Mary Catholic School recently.

Several St. Mary ’75 alumni traveled from as far as Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan for the small, socially distanced reunion at the gym, the building that currently houses the Ark Children’s Rescue Center at 1027 W. High St.

As St. Mary gave them life lessons they still carry, the ’75 classmates gave back to the Ark, donating $2,250 to the organization, which has struggled the past few months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While school reunions are annual summer staples, they mainly involve high school classes. It was at a 40th class reunion at Catholic Central High School a year ago that Anthony Mancuso got the self-described crazy idea of organizing a St. Mary reunion.

“This was a group that was very close, we’d known each other since the late ’60s,” said Mancuso, who lived across the alley from the school and is now an attorney in Columbus. “We took our first communions and baptisms together and this was like a second home to us.”

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Mancuso plowed ahead and got an enthusiastic response. Then, the pandemic hit.

“It’s been hard, there were impediments because of the quarantine,” he said.

It was a waiting game as new restrictions and safety measures emerged, but it worked out.

While many of the alumni went to Catholic Central, others scattered to Springfield schools including North, South and Shawnee. A few hadn’t met since their St. Mary days, making it that much more of a priority to be there.

Rob Nangle’s parents were also St. Mary alumni from the early 1950s and he admired their frequent class reunions. Many ’75 classmates’ families still live here.

Nangle didn’t just attend school there, but worked there during summers. When Mancuso suggested the reunion, he was on board.

Bridget Lyons Lovinger and Dwayne Purcell were surprised to find they lived in the same general area in Atlanta and were the farthest travelers to the Aug. 1 reunion.

Lovinger’s mom was a secretary at St. Mary, joking she and another classmate’s family member were a buffer between the kids and staff when they acted up. She was grateful for the no-nonsense approach.

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“For us, what’s lucky was the unity of the parish, the small number,” Lovinger said. “A lot of families worked their butts off to pay to get their kids into these schools. They could be tough as nails here, but it was good for us and speaks to our community.”

The alumni toured the Ark building, recognizing what used to be there, and St. Mary church where some were married and shared other milestones.

Tales of basketball victories and losses, throwing snowballs at passing cars, how many steps it takes to reach the top of a hill and neighborhood changes were among the classmates’ banter.

Although St. Mary’s is long gone, the class of ’75′s spirit will live on, even when the donation has been spent. The group also donated a plaque with the classmates’ names reading “Thanks for your great work in the renovation and care of our school” which will hang in the center.

The Ark, a free ministry program that has been around since 2006, draws about 30 kids in kindergarten through sixth grade after school. The gym also hosts adult basketball, pickleball and karate classes.

Its funds come from churches, individual donors and area foundations. As the pandemic has slowed these, this financial contribution took co-board chair Nancy Lutz by surprise.

“This was totally unexpected,” she said. “We’ve lost thousands of dollars from not being able to rent the gym. When Tony called, we were excited. What was here to help our community then is still here, to help further learning about God still going.”