Remembering The Past: St. Mary’s Grammar School Memories

by Diane Norek Harrison

SOUTH AMBOY-I received the following in an e-mail from Bob Renna:

“Dear Ms. Harrison, I have just read your Dec. 12, 2008 column with memories of St. Mary’s. I was very sadden to read about the closing of St. Mary’s Grammar School in 2007.

“The school was brand new when I attended the third through sixth grades and the nuns were so proud of their new building. The school opened in 1958.

“I remember hearing then, that there had been a devastating fire in an elementary school, Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago, Illinois. Teachers and students who survived were injured in their escape from broken glass of the small windows in the class room doors. Those glass windows were held in place by wood molding. The fire burned through the wood moldings causing the glass to fall and break into hundred of sharp and jagged pieces. It also allowed the fire to enter the classrooms.

“St. Mary’s prided itself on the fact that the small windows in its doors were held in place by molding made of strips of steel and thus making us safe and the classrooms impenetrable from fire. At least that is what we impressionable and gullible kids were told anyway.

“I remember standing on the asphalt covered play area, lined up two by two, when all of a sudden we heard the bells of the church across the street begin to peal. They were announcing the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958.

“The order of nuns who taught at St. Mary’s were Religious Sisters of Mercy, R.S.M. My teachers were: Sr. Mary Clotilda, R.S.M., Mrs. Dorothy Drear, Sr. Mary Charity, R.S.M., and Sr. Mary Consuelo, R.S.M. Another nun I remember was Sr. Mary Hedwig, R.S.M. Sr. Mary Cleophas, R.S.M. was the principal and she won a write-in, WABC radio contest for Best Principal (1963) with D.J. Cousin Brucie, the year after I left. The pastor of St. Mary’s Parish was Msgr. Francis Sullivan and St. Mary’s High School principal was Sr. Mary David, R.S.M. In the mornings we would all wait for the sisters to leave their convent across the street and walk toward them in the school yard, each of us vying for the honor of carrying their black leather satchels.

“There was a small florist shop across the street (Asterita’s), where we would buy the small, fresh flower crown which we would place on the head of Mary’s statue every day in May. We would sing, ‘Bring flowerers of the fairest. Bring flowers of the rarest’

“I haven’t thought about any of this in over fifty years. Thanks for bringing me along ‘memory lane.’

My thanks to Bob for the memories of our beloved, now closed, St. Mary’s Grammar School. I will have more memories from Bob in December.

If you have your own memories or past material for any school in any of the towns below, please send for another column. I am already receiving winter and Christmas memories for my December columns. It is never too early to start sending them.

If you have your own memories or past information for Carteret, Edison, Metuchen, Perth Amboy, Sayreville, South Amboy or Woodbridge you can email me at or send “copies” of your material to me c/o CMD Media, 1139 East Jersey St., Suite 503, Elizabeth NJ, 07201.

Sr. Mary Consuelo, who is remembered by Bob Renna, with Diane Norek Harrison in 1966.

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