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School celebrates 140 years of Catholic-based education

By: Sarah Cormier | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published March 18, 2011

 The third-grade class at St. Mary School today. Enrollment at the school has continued to rise, and in 1999, another facility was added to accommodate the increasing number of students.

The third-grade class at St. Mary School today. Enrollment at the school has continued to rise, and in 1999, another facility was added to accommodate the increasing number of students.

Photo by Deb Jacques


MOUNT CLEMENS — Bringing parochial education to the area was a goal for Father Camillus Maes, the pastor of St. Peter Church, which opened in Mount Clemens in 1843.

It was 1870, and he thought the then-village could use a school that focused on Catholic values. Maes contacted the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Convent in Monroe and asked if they would educate 80 students. The nuns agreed, requesting that the facility, which was built on property adjoining St. Peter Church, be called St. Mary School.

The school opened that year as a small, two-story wooden building with just two rooms. Girls and boys received their instruction in separate areas.

In 1889, more improvements were made. In 1902, the school was doubled in size and a third floor auditorium was added, making it one of the premier schools in the area.

The campus experienced some bad times — St. Peter Church burned to the ground in 1957 and had to be rebuilt, plus the St. Mary High School that opened in 1911 was shut down in 1970 — but St. Mary School endured.

In fact, in 1999, another building in Clinton Township was purchased to accommodate the growth in the school’s student population. Since then, the primary campus is used to educated preschool through first-graders, while the main campus of St. Mary School, still located on Market, services children in grades two through eight.

Despite the many changes to the school over the years, the lessons taught there remain the same, said Principal Tina Forsythe.

“There is still those strong Catholic values that were started years ago, and we continue on with them here,” she said.

Moreover, many of the families that send their children to the school now have a history with the facility.

“We not only have students that have been here not the first generation, but we have a history of generations being here,” explained Forsythe.

The growth has been remarkable, and current parishioners are excited. In order to make note of this achievement, leaders at the church and school have decided to celebrate.

On April 2, from 6 p.m. to midnight, St. Mary School will be putting on a 140th Anniversary Dinner Dance at the Mirage Banquet Center, located at 16980 18 Mile Road in Clinton Township. At the event, appetizers, a family-style dinner, a premium bar, a band, a DJ, desserts and a 50/50 raffle will all be a part of the celebration.

Rose Ann Pine, a parent of three St. Mary School students who helped organize the event, said the dinner dance is for alumni of St. Mary School, as well as current students and the parishioners of St. Peter Church. About 350 people are expected to attend the event, which is being held to honor St. Mary School’s history.

“It’s to have a fun evening out with the present and past families of St. Mary’s and to enjoy in the success of the school,” Pine explained. “There’s never been a celebration of its kind in St. Mary.”

Pine described the school as an “historical landmark in Mount Clemens” and said she is proud to send her children there for their education.

“It’s a warm, caring environment,” she said. “It’s small, it’s warm, it’s cozy.”

Forsythe agrees.

“I think St. Mary’s is a wonderful place to be as a parent … I think we have a great staff; we have great students; we have great parents; and I think that makes us … the best school in the archdiocese,” she said.

Tickets for the 140th Anniversary Dinner Dance, which can be purchased until March 28, are available at St Mary School’s primary campus, located at 24475 St. Francis in Clinton Township. For more information, call (586) 465-5471