St. Luke's congregants share the Sign of Peace

St. Luke’s School celebrates 100 years of service

St. Luke’s School is marking a past that stretches back a century by looking forward.  At its 100th birthday celebration on Oct. 2, the school announced a $2 million fund-raising campaign in an effort to salute the past by securing the future.

At a time when the Archdiocese of New York is closing Catholic schools, the parish school on East 139th Street in Mott Haven is determined to be around for many more anniversaries.

“While it’s always a leap of faith, we are cautiously optimistic,” said Dan P. Butler, chair of the school’s education foundation.

“It’s a great school.  It’s like a close family,” said Confessor Rosa, whose niece Sonia graduated from St. Luke’s and now attends Cornell University.

“I never would have gotten to where I am now had I not gone to St. Luke’s,” said Manuelo Gonzalez, an accountant who graduated in 1972 and now serves on the parish’s finance committee.

Alumni and their families returned to the parish to join the festivities commemorating the school’s centennial. Recent graduates Sasha Garcia and Dimitri Herranz gave tours of the school, showing some of the new additions, such as the new science and computer labs.  Every classroom at St. Luke’s is now equipped with Apple computers.

At the Mass, people gathered for the familiar sights and sounds of Catholic ceremony: baby’s cries, the smell of incense, the priest sprinkling the congregants with holy water, and choir music accompanied by tambourine players and nylon-stringed guitarists. So many were in attendance that the sound has to be piped to a nearby location.

“It has brought back wonderful memories,” said Sheila Catlin, who got married at St. Luke’s 52 years ago.

The school has left an impression even on those who weren’t students there.

“For 35 years I had to listen to stories about St. Luke’s,” said Nancy McConville, who drove her parents to mass on Saturday.

During her address to the congregation, Principal Tracey Coleman reminded those present that one thing linked St. Luke’s past to its present in the experience of most of those there. She wasn’t referring to the school itself, or the church, but to a man—Monsignor Gerald Ryan, who first came to St. Luke’s in 1966 and has remained there since, making him the longest serving pastor in the Archdiocese of New York.

Ryan marched with Martin Luther King in Selma.  He witnessed the decay and drug addiction that took hold in the South Bronx during the 1970s.  In 1972, he and other parishioners renovated the basement of the church, turning it into a community center.

The monsignor said he has made an effort to help single mothers trying to get their children enrolled at St. Luke’s and some of the local Catholic High Schools.  He visits the school regularly and sends home a monthly reminder asking children to attend a special “promise Mass” for peace before school on the first Friday of every month.

According to Principal Coleman, St. Luke’s graduated every one of its students last year. About half of St. Luke’s current students are on some type of financial assistance, Coleman said. In addition to serving the parishes Roman Catholics, the school offers admission to students of other faiths: about 10 percent of its students are not Catholic.

At the end of Mass, the monsignor spoke about the history of the school and the importance of community.

“You are the parish of St. Luke’s,” Ryan said.  “We don’t ever let you leave.”

A version of this story appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of the Mott Haven Herald.

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