Yesterday's New York Times had a moving tribute to St. Martin of Tours, a Catholic grade school in the Bronx that is closing after eighty-six years of service. The author, David Gonzalez, is an alum, and he touches on the many factors that are leading to the closure of schools like St. Martin: a shortage of women religious; the weaknesses of the parish-sponsored-school system; shifting populations and declining enrollment. "The era when thriving congregations could support large schools staffed by nuns is long gone, taking with it the very concept of a parochial school," Gonzalez writes. But he also calls attention to the school's fidelity to its mission over the years, giving much-deserved credit to its lay faculty and the sisters who have kept it going.
This school has long been a sanctuary amid uncertainty as it was for me starting in 1964, when my parents fled Hunts Point for the safety of Crotona. The fires followed a few years later, and we moved away in 1969. But I still took two buses from Morris Heights past blocks reduced to rubble until I graduated.Forget the cheap jokes about ruler-swinging nuns gliding through the aisles in full-length habits. For those of us who saw our neighborhood almost vanish in smoke from arson or crack pipes, Sister Nora [McArt, OP, the principal] stands as a reminder of the sacrifices made happily and gifts given freely by women religious. Through word and deed they taught us the works of mercy: to feed the poor, clothe the naked and educate the ignorant.To comfort the afflicted.And now 40 years after I walked down the aisle clutching my diploma I returned to fulfill a final work of mercy: to bury the dead.Read the whole thing here. There is also a video (really a narrated slide show) with some powerful images: "The Last Days of St. Martin of Tours."