TICONDEROGA - Half a century ago Catholic schools opened across the North Country at the urging of then-Bishop James Navagh.
Only a few remain - including St. Mary's School in Ticonderoga.
"It's been a lot of hard work and dedication on the part of our parish, community, faculty, parents and students," Sister Sharon Dalton, St. Mary's principal said. "The same things had brought us here will keep us here."
St. Mary's School will celebrate its 50th anniversary the weekend of June 5-7.
There will be a dinner and dancing for adults Friday, June 5, at 6 p.m. at the Ti Armory. The band Category 5 will perform. Reservations are required by calling the school.
Family Day will be held at the school Saturday, June 6. It will begin with the Nun Run road race at 9 a.m. followed by a pig roast noon-3 p.m., a Mass at adjacent St. Mary's Church at 4:30 p.m. and alumni basketball games at 7 p.m.
The celebration will conclude Sunday, June 7, with a commemorative Mass at 9 a.m. at the church followed by a breakfast at the school.
All St. Mary's graduates, their families and friends of the school - "basically, everybody" - are invited, Dalton said.
For information call the school at 585-7433 or go online at firstname.lastname@example.org
At the urging of Bishop Navagh, who wanted a Catholic school in every community, St. Mary's Church committed to building a school. Sept. 30, 1957, the Knights of Columbus hosted a kick-off dinner and raised $46,000 that night.
Construction started on the school on Amherst Avenue in March 1958 and the first students attended classes in September 1959.
When St. Mary's School opened it welcomed 171 students in grades 1-4. An additional class was added each year until the school had eight grades in 1963-64.
The school was staffed then - and now - by the Sisters of St. Joseph. In 1959 the faculty consisted of all nuns. The first lay teacher joined the faculty in 1961.
"We've been privileged to be here all 50 years," said Dalton, a member of the religious order.
Dalton has been principal of the school 23 years, although another person has been there even longer.
Karlene Gonyeau attended St. Mary's as a student and has taught at the school the past 23 years. That's 31 years at the school.
"Most of my life I've been part of St. Mary's," Gonyeau said. "I feel very proud to have been able to impart the Gospel of Jesus through the curriculum and spread the good news."
St. Mary's teaches faith, values and character, Gonyeau said, though she's quick to point out St. Mary's graduates are also well-prepared academically and excel as they go on to high school and college.
"The children leave St. Mary's with a very strong education," she said. "Overall, I feel the transition from St. Mary's to high school is a good one for our students."
St. Mary's School has changed a lot during the decades, Gonyeau said, but the core principles remain the same.
"It's been exciting to see the changes, all the new technology like computers and smart boards," she said. "But it's our faith, families and friends who make our school. I feel very blessed to be part of it. When I'm at St. Mary's I feel like I'm home."
Megan Jebb is St. Mary's newest teacher, arriving just this academic year. Like Gonyeau, she is also a St. Mary's graduate.
"As a student I loved St. Mary's," Jebb said, "but as a teacher I have a new appreciation for it. It's a spiritual place; you can actually feel the love. It's like a family."
Jebb credits students, parents and the community with making St. Mary's a special place, but she and Gonyeau agree Dalton is the spark that ignites St. Mary's.
"Sister Sharon is so committed to this school," Jebb said. "She's built a strong team and is a strong leader. Sister Sharon is St. Mary's."
"We've been blessed to have Sister Sharon at St. Mary's," she said. "She's responsible for all our success."
Dalton deflects such praise.
"St. Mary's School could not have accomplished 50 years of its mission without the overwhelmingly generous support of the St. Mary's parishioners and the families of Ticonderoga and its surrounding communities," Dalton said.
"We are grateful, too, for the many years of diocesan support and the leadership of the diocesan Office of Education," she added. "Of course, the support of our local parish priests has been vital and we thank Father Bill Muench for his continuing dedication to our operation.
"Finally, we acknowledge our students and staff who have worked so hard over the years to make this a special place of knowledge, hope and growth," Dalton concluded.