By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer
Bishop of Allentown Alfred Schlert will celebrate a special Mass Sunday, Aug. 26 to commemorate the 275th anniversary of the oldest currently operating co-educational Catholic school in the nation.
St. Francis Academy, Bally, also the oldest Roman Catholic school in the original 13 colonies, began as a single classroom in 1743, educating both Catholic and Mennonite students.
The Most Blessed Sacrament and St. Francis Academy Alumni Association, which has been leading and organizing the celebratory year, kicked off the anniversary by unveiling a new outdoor St. Francis Statue and a sign identifying the academy as the oldest school in the 13 original colonies.
In addition, students conducted a year-long “Hedge Fund” project to raise money for new landscaping, learned about the folk art popular in Bally during the time the school was established, and learned about the vocation story of two alumni priests – Father Andrew Gehringer, pastor of Holy Infancy, Bethlehem; and Father Richard Brensinger, director of Diocesan Campus Ministry and Catholic chaplain for Albright College, Reading and Kutztown University.
In observance of the anniversary, students and alumni also recognized the more than 100 years of service by the Sisters of St. Francis with cupcakes, and enjoyed “Alumni Recess” for past and present students.
The academy was first established as St. Aloysius Academy by Father Theodore Schneider, a Jesuit missionary, who also founded Most Blessed Sacrament Church (originally St. Paul), Bally in 1741.
Father Schneider personally taught reading, writing and religion, and his endeavor marked the beginnings of Catholic primary education in Pennsylvania.
True to the Jesuit mission in education, the school continues to offer instruction for the “whole person” in a curriculum that promotes faith and learning.
In 1837 Father Augustine Bally arrived at the parish and in 1850 erected a new brick school building.
In 1884 a new religious order, Sisters of St. Francis, managed St. Aloysius and taught there for 109 years, until 1993, when the Allentown Diocese hired the school’s first lay administrator. In honor of their service, the Diocese also changed the school’s name to St. Francis Academy.
To close out the anniversary year, Mass will be celebrated at 2 p.m. at Most Blessed Sacrament Church, 610 Pine St., Bally, and followed by a banquet honoring the staff and graduates.
The committee is also planning a commemorative keepsake booklet, which highlights the rich history of the school. The goal is to raise at least $15,000 for the teaching staff for the 2018-19 school year.
Space is available for purchase and may include a picture of family, parents, school class or best friends. Five space options are available from $25 to $275.
For more information about the banquet and purchasing or sponsoring booklet space, click here.