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St. Gabriel School celebrates 150th anniversary

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Annabeth Feltz, a fifth grader at St. Gabriel School, serves as a lector during the anniversary Mass.  (CT Photo/Colleen Kelley)
Annabeth Feltz, a fifth grader at St. Gabriel School, serves as a lector during the anniversary Mass. (CT Photo/Colleen Kelley)

Students, parents, alumni, faculty and staff from the St. Gabriel Consolidated School came together Sept. 29, the feast day of their patron saint, for a special Mass that officially kicked off the school’s 150th anniversary celebration. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer presided at the liturgy, which was held at St. John the Evangelist Church in West Chester in order to accommodate the large group.

“The significance of the anniversary celebration is not lost on our community,” said Nicki Brainard, principal. “There’s a great deal of pride here that our school has been in existence for 150 years. It was started by parents who wanted a strong Catholic education for their children. It was a mission that began long ago, and we strive to continue to do the good work that those folks initially hoped for.”

St. Gabriel had its beginnings in 1866, when the present rectory was built as a school and to serve as a residence for the sisters who would teach there. At the request of Father William Carey, then pastor, the Sisters of Charity arrived to staff the school in 1867. The school grew steadily over the years, and by 1927, a new building had been completed and dedicated, providing space for both elementary and secondary students. The high school closed in 1958 with the opening of nearby Princeton High School.

Renovations to St. Gabriel in 1963 resulted in the addition of six classrooms and a multipurpose room. By 1928, the school had added a kindergarten under the tenure of Sister Mary Ann Kramer as principal. In 1993, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Matthias, St. Martin de Porres, St. John and St. Gabriel reached a consolidation agreement which officially made St. Gabriel Elementary School their parish school.

Today, the school serves 400 students, with a capacity of 450, said Brainard, who is in her fourth year as principal. Two of her children attend St. Gabriel, and a third will start kindergarten there next year. “What happens here is beyond good,” she said. “Our teachers are beyond outstanding. They always go the extra mile to make sure their lessons are engaging, and that truly makes a difference. We have such wonderful kids and wonderful families.”

Dianne Feltz, mother of fifth grader, Annabeth, and Cecilia, a third grader, recalls her first visit to the school and the “good feeling” she experienced. Feltz said she appreciates the Catholic values her daughters are being exposed to at St. Gabriel, the family atmosphere and caring teachers. “I think it is definitely an enriching experience for the girls. They’re really benefiting from the additional learning activities and cross curricular things. For example, students will be read a novel in English class, and the teachers will relate it something they’re learning in social studies.”

Feltz said Annabeth was especially excited to be asked to serve as a lector at the anniversary Mass. “I’m so proud of her. She did a wonderful job,” she said.
Fourth grade teacher Rosemary Helmick said every member of the school community is sharing in the excitement. “We’re proud and grateful to be involved in something that’s been in existence for 150 years. The anniversary is a time to reflect on our history, where we’ve been, where we’re going,” said Helmick, who has taught at St. Gabriel for 13 years.

The Mass was just the beginning of the celebration, Brainard said. All of the students will be receiving commemorative 150th anniversary T-shirts; hidden angels will be placed around the school building; and special art projects are in the works. In addition, there have been both interior and exterior renovations, including new concrete stairs, treads and risers. The students have signed the stairs, making a permanent mark on their school. Plans for an alumni event to be held in the spring are also underway, said Brainard.

“We’ve been building on a strong foundation for 150 years,” she noted. “We’re a little gem in the heart of Glendale.”

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