Grade school reunions honor bonds of praying and playing together

By Patrick Butler | Contributor
Sunday, September 11, 2011

Grade school reunions honor bonds of praying and playing together

Cardinal George finds himself in a picture in the hall of St. Pascal School following an All-Class Reunion Mass at St. Pascal Church in 2010. St. Pascal pastor Father Paul Seaman looks on. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
Rita Hubacek (class of 1943), Mary Ann Lampa (class of 1949), and Al Plys (class of 1943), visit during a reunion celebrating 100th anniversary of St. Florian School on Nov. 17, 2007. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

Students at Catholic grade schools “prayed together and played together,” and for many of them, that has created a bond that lasts for life.

That’s why so many grade school reunions are listed in the pages of the Catholic New World and parish bulletins throughout the archdiocese, said Bob Syzman, a member of St. Kilian’s class of 1961, and Tom Carmody, St. Basil class of 1956.

The two men are helping to organize their respective grade school reunions this year, St. Kilian’s Oct. 17 reunion at the Garden Globe in Worth; St. Basil’s Oct. 1 at Gaelic Park.

“Last year I had to advertise in 28 different papers,” Carmody said. “I don’t have to advertise now. People are just popping up.”

Sharing a faith life helps bring and keep classes together, more like college sororities and fraternities than schoolmates, he said.

“It’s not the same as going to a public school. You have the religious factor, plus deeper memories and closer bonds,” said Carmody, a retired firefighter.

In fact, St. Basil’s alumni have had a private club — much like an American Legion or VFW hall — for the past 40 years, although they keep the location private.

The bond is probably even more obvious at the high school level, said Syzman, who’s also a Mount Carmel graduate. “The wife of one of my classmates says Mount Carmel isn’t a high school. It’s a cult.”

Nancy Czernik Gagner, one of the organizers of a Sept. 22-25 reunion for St. George School said about 40 of their former classmates and their spouses are expected at the Tinley Park campus. For many, it will be their first visit back to their old school in half a century.

Gagner and her classmates had hoped their trip down memory lane could have included an appearance by Dick Biondi. But the longtime radio DJ already had a previous engagement that day — being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “so I guess he had a pretty good excuse,” she said.

Those attending the St. George reunion will also have a chance to bid on pieces of the church’s old stained glass windows.

While more than their old neighborhood has changed a lot over 50 years, “we’re still a tightly knit group. All we had was each other” back when there were only 3,500 people in the entire Southwest suburb — with classrooms of 60 kids at St. George’s.

“Reunion attendance I think, would depend a lot on how long people hung around together after graduation,” said John Roche, who’s helping put together the first St. Leo grade school class of 1961 reunion in 50 years. “It takes us a little time to get going,” he quipped.

While 40 have already made paid reservations for the Oct. 15 festivities at Bourbon Street in Marionette Park, Roche expects a lot of last-minute signups.

Like others, the Leo Class of 1961 “has been reaching out through church bulletins, community newspapers, and the Catholic New World,” he said.

Roche expects long-term benefits from the reunion.

“We’ve got about 10 guys who have been meeting together every few weeks to plan this, but I think we’ve formed friendships that will last well beyond that,” he said.