"This is the beginning of something special" was the phrase Jim "Git" McHugh (St. Ann's Class of 1945) proclaimed at the first ever All School Reunion that was held on Saturday, Nov. 28, at Penn's Peak, Jim Thorpe, for the 10 parochial schools of the Panther Valley area.
The highlight of the night was the introduction of Mrs. Ida Fortunato Totani, a 1927 graduate of St. Ann's in Lansford who is the oldest living alumni of all the schools that were part of the reunion celebration. She is the mother of seven children – all graduates of St. Ann's School - the grandmother of 23, great-grandmother of 38 and the great-great-grandmother of four.
Alumni from Saint Ann's School in Lansford and Saint Joseph's School in Summit Hill had the most number of representatives at the reunion, although every school was well represented.
Sister Lisa Valentini, MSC, Sr. Teresita Nolden, MSC (stationed at St. Michael's in 1979-80), Sr. Noreen Quigley, MSC (taught second grade at St. Michael's in 1965-66), Sr. Virginia Marie Chnapko, MSC (a 1952 graduate of St. Michael's School), Sr. Marie Raymond Gazo, MSC (a 1963 graduate of St. Michael's School), and Sr. Katharine Mary McGee, IHM (principal at Our Lady of the Valley from 1991-97), were in attendance representing two of the four religious communities who staffed the schools – the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Missionaries of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The other two religious communities who staffed the schools were the Sisters of Mercy and the Bernadine Sisters.
The reunion Mass was held on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Saint Katharine Drexel Church, Lansford, featuring children's choir from Our Lady of the Angels Academy. The liturgy was planned by Mary Totani, Mary Nahn and Sister Monica Silicia, IHM. Planning the music were Bob Ames and Kathy Crampsie.
Following the Mass, Our Lady of the Angels Academy opened its doors for guided tours by students for any alumni, parent or friend interested in seeing the school (formerly St. Michael's School). Sr. Regina Elinich, IHM, principal, coordinated the tours. A tribute to the history and legacy of Catholic education was been set up in the hallways of the schools – containing newspaper articles, photographs and other memorabilia.
George Stianche, president of the School's Advisory Board, welcomed each of the attendees to the reunion and Sister Regina gave an update on the school and the recent accomplishments of the students and faculty, including the addition of "Smartboards" to the classrooms.
Among the speakers at the reunion dinner were Janet Coury Smith, a 1965 graduate of St. Joseph's School; Emmett McCall, 1953 graduate of St. Ann's School; and Bill Polakovich, a 1962 graduate of St. Michael's School – all of whom spoke about the impact of a Catholic education on their lives and their family's lives. Fr. Kenneth Medve, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel, offered the invocation and Fr. James Burdess, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Summit Hill, gave the closing blessing.
Nate Halenar was recognized as the youngest alumni attending (Our Lady of the Angels Class of 2003); the longest married was Pat and Mario Iezzoni, (54 years); the first to respond was Jim McHugh, St. Ann Class of 1945; traveling the furthest was Sr. Katharine Mary McGee, IHM (Bristol, CT); the largest family attending, the McCullion family from Summit Hill; and the most grandchildren, Mrs. Totani with 23.
A silent auction was organized by Mary (Parker) Hoben and featured over 75 trophies and plaques from all of the Catholic elementary schools and many of the CYO teams, that were being stored in the school. In addition, premium tickets for Boston Red Sox Games in 2010 at Fenway Park, Notre Dame Football tickets for the 2010 season and a weekend stays in Boston at the Copley Marriott Hotel and the Sheraton Needham Hotel and a two-night stay at the LaPlaya Golf and Beach Resort in Naples, Fla., were just some of the auction items that were donated.
Alumni from Our Lady of the Angels Academy (Lansford), Our Lady of the Valley School (Lansford), Sacred Heart School (Nesquehoning), SS. Cyril and Methodius School (Coaldale), SS. Peter & Paul School (Lansford), St. Ann School (Lansford), St. Joseph School (Summit Hill), St. Mary School (Coaldale), St. Michael School (Lansford) and St. Stanislaus School (Summit Hill) attended.
The committee also prepared a comprehensive display of photographs, yearbooks, report cards, class photographs, CYO uniforms and photographs at the reunion. Mrs. Nicky Polakovich, Mrs. Jen Boyle Rehnert and Ms. Jane Dowling chaired the memorabilia committee.
Members of the reunion committee included: Sister Regina, Sister Monica T. Sicilia, IHM, OLOAA faculty; Bob Ames, St. Mary's 1962; Lydia Amodea, OLOAA parent; Rita Shigo DeFebo, SS. Cyril and Methodius, 1949; Jane Dowling, St. Ann's 1967; Linda Faust, St. Michael's 1979; Mary Pampanin Fulton, St. Joseph 1980; Larry Furey, St. Ann's 1975; Mary Parker Hoben, St. Michael's 1985; Tom McArdle, St. Ann's 1974; Diane Michalik, St. Ann's 1964; Mary Nahn, OLOAA faculty; Joe Nihen, OLOAA faculty; Marie Nihen, St. Michael's 1960; Betty Pampanin, St. Joseph's 1955; Nicky Polakovich, OLOAA faculty; Jen Boyle Rehnert, OLOV 1989; Frank Stanek, St. Joseph's 1979; George Stianche, Sacred Heart 1970; Mary Totani, St. Ann's 1965; and Dave Yusella, St. Joseph's 1978.
"The support of the reunion is really another clear and powerful statement from the alumni of all of the Catholic schools in the Panther Valley about the value they place on their Catholic education and sends a message across the Diocese of Allentown that Catholic education is thriving in the Panther Valley area," said Furey. "We could not be happier with the response to all of our efforts from our alumni, parents, grandparents and friends the last three years – now we have to keep the momentum going so that the school has all of the resources they need to provide a quality, Catholic education."
Proceeds from the reunion will benef the Tuition Assistance Fund at Our Lady of the Angels Academy. Alumni, parents and friends of any of the school who would like to update their personal information may contact the school at 123 E. Water St., Lansford, Pa. 18232. Reunion photographs are on the school's website (www.oloa.net) and also on the school's Facebook site.