St. Germaine Catholic School Celebrates 50 years

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 12, 2014

 Parishioners, alumni and parents walk the halls of St. Germaine Catholic School and look at memory boards commemorating the school’s 50 years.

Parishioners, alumni and parents walk the halls of St. Germaine Catholic School and look at memory boards commemorating the school’s 50 years.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — A lot can change in 50 years.

At St. Germaine Catholic School, 50 years ago, there were only first- and second-graders in class and they were taught by nuns.

When St. Germaine Catholic School opened in 1964 with help from the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Rev. LaSalle Lenk was the founding pastor and Sister Mary Adelicia was the first principal. The nuns commuted from Regina High School until a convent was built in 1965.

Now, the school is home to students in preschool up through eighth-grade, taught by a lay staff. The Rev. Jim Bjorum has been pastor of the parish for a quarter century.

The school opened its doors Feb. 1 for an anniversary celebration with alumni, students, staff, parents and community members, who attended a mass celebrated by Archbishop Allen Vigneron, followed by a reception and a tour of the school so former students could take a walk down memory lane.

Lisa Agnello Larson, a member of the class of 1977, was excited to come back.

“I can’t wait to see what the school looks like,” she said after the anniversary mass. “I think it’s much nicer — much warmer and welcoming.”

Principal Julie DeGrez said she and the school and pastoral staff were very proud to have made it five decades, despite the fact that without state funding, it becomes difficult for some families to choose a faith-based education.

“Regardless, we’re still able to offer the outstanding programs, academically and spiritually,” she said. “Our reputation keeps us alive because anyone that’s been here and has graduated … speaks very positively and speaks highly of it.

“When they leave here, they realize how well-prepared they are.”

DeGrez is in her ninth year as principal of the school. She began working at St. Germaine 20 years ago as a substitute teacher.

“From the moment I started here, I called it home. I decided way back then (that) this is where I wanted to be,” she said. “That’s just the kind of atmosphere we have.

“Everyone is here … because they want to be. It’s not just a job to anyone.”

She’s not the only long-term staff member, either. The school secretary, Pauline Latessa, has been with the school for 30 years; second-grade teacher Janet Spooner is in her 25th year at the school; and gym teacher Sarah Chetcuti is among several others who have been at St. Germaine for decades. Bjorum has been pastor of St. Germaine — and now of the Our Lady of Hope, the umbrella parish for the school — for 25 years.

“I see us continuing for many, many years,” DeGrez said. “As long as there is a desire for it, we’re going to be here to provide it.”

With programs for toddlers — who can try out the preschool program with their parents during Toddler Time — on up through the eighth grade and a full-day latchkey program, St. Germaine has grown a lot in its 50 years. The school first opened with just first- and second-grade classes Sept. 8, 1964. Kindergarten was added in 1968, and the first eighth-grade graduating class said goodbye to the school June 16, 1971.

“The older alumni were amazed with the change in the building, the gym — because up until 1998, we did not have a gym,” DeGrez said.

Preschool was added in 1993, and 1998 saw the addition of the Fr. Jim Bjorum Activity Center — which includes the gymnasium — a music room, computer lab and second library.

“The folks that went to school here before then were most impressed,” DeGrez said.

Fiorino DiGregorio M.D., of Rochester Hills — a member of the first St. Germaine School graduating class in 1971 — said it’s “amazing” the school has made it to 50 years.

“I remember the close group of kids that were together,” he said. He also had good memories of several of the nuns who ran the school, who he said were “very inspiring.”

He praised the foresight of the school’s leadership and pastor, as well, for the milestone and the quality education the school provides.

Rick Peters, class of 1981, is still a member of the Our Lady of Hope Catholic parish — the new name for the combined churches of St. Germaine and St. Gertrude, which merged in 2009.

“I think it’s great with the school still being in operation,” he said. “They’re still going strong.”

Larson said she was glad to see so many fellow alumni at the anniversary celebration.

“A lot of people I recognize,” she said. “It’s very fun to reminisce because these were people you developed your personality with — you grew up with.”

DeGrez said more recent graduates remember their time at St. Germaine fondly, as well.

“They all come back with a feeling of being home; they all speak to that effect,” she said. “Our Lake Shore kids, or Lakeview kids, when they have a half-day or early release, they come here. They know they’re always welcome.”

The school first received accreditation in 1993 and is currently undergoing a full reaccreditation process from the Michigan Non-Public School Accrediting Association.

“Being an accredited school, it says something for our students that move on to accredited high schools,” she said. “It keeps us on our toes, too. We are accountable.”

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