June 11, 2007
By MONICA POLANCO, Courant Staff Writer
The former students, now slowed by age, walked up the stairs to the former St. Joseph Cathedral School Sunday with the precision that was once drilled into them: one behind the other in a double file.
Inside the old auditorium, they sidled up to former classmates and launched into tragicomic histories of their relationships.
"This guy used to bully me!" Tom Shea, a member of the Class of 1952, said about Mike Angelillo.
Angelillo, Shea recalled, was once promoted to the next grade on the condition that Shea tutor him during the summer.
"I became a teacher at Weaver for 38 years!" Angelillo joked. "I guess he was a good tutor."
It was one of many conversations during what would be the last class reunion at the former school on Asylum Avenue. The school, which in its heyday in the 1950s and `60s had more than 1,000 students through the 10th grade, closed in 2001 because of declining enrollment and increased costs. It will be converted into 28 two- and three-bedroom apartments for poor families.
The project, run by the Catholic Charities, is expected to be completed in 2008. The changes will be subsidized through forgivable loans and tax credits totaling about $8.3 million, but to qualify, Catholic Charities must make the apartments available for at least 60 years, said Rose Alma Senatore, Catholic Charities CEO.
"There's absolutely no intent to sell off the property," Senatore said. "Our intent is to continue to serve the poorest of the poor by having rents that are reasonable, affordable."
On Sunday, Virginia Filippelli, of the Class of 1946, made a beeline for a poster with brain teasers about life at St. Joseph's.
"I don't remember that - the rubber hose," Filippelli said.
But Dennis Sullivan will tell you that the hose, kept in the principal's office for all but the most well-behaved students, did exist.
"They used it, too," said Sullivan, 68, of New Britain.
Sullivan, who attended the school through the eighth grade in 1953 and was interviewed before the reunion, shared a string of memories about his Catholic school days. Once in the sixth grade, two boys started fighting when one of the nuns turned around.
"They were gone the next day - disappeared," he said. "In those days, they just got rid of people."
In the second grade, while the nun who was teaching Sullivan's class stepped into the hall, a girl passed Sullivan a marriage proposal. The nimble nun confiscated the note.
"Next thing I knew, my parents had to come to the school," he said. "I never talked to that girl again. I never got a marriage proposal again."
All kidding aside, the education the students received at St. Joseph's, although basic, prepared them well and sometimes made them stand out, students said.
Sullivan, who attended the University of Hartford, Columbia University and the University of Massachusetts, credited St. Joseph's with his success despite his lack of academic engagement as a young student.
"Because of that basic stuff in grammar school, I was able to still recover from that and go to college and get degrees and that was all because of those Sisters of Mercy," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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