Memories of a Catholic school on chopping block

In the news, San Francisco is banning Happy Meals while the federal government is going to have gruesome death pictures placed on packs of cigarettes since smokers are apparently unaware that the habit might be bad for their health. 

And Christ the King School in Yonkers, N.Y., might be closing. 

I was wandering around the Internet the other day looking up something. The Internet is not for the unfocused, offering distractions numbering in the gabillions. Being unfocused, I decided to sidetrack myself to see what was going on in the old hometown of Yonkers. 

A headline caught my eye: “Archdiocese to close five Catholic schools in Yonkers.” Since I played CYO basketball back in the day in about every Catholic grammar school gym in the city, I read on to see who was on the chopping block. 

And then it jumped right out at me: Christ the King School, opened in 1955, was on the list. My Christ the King School. I was a charter member, beginning in first grade that first year. 

As is the usual case, the headline was scarier than the reality. No decision has been made and a lot would happen before any school was closed. But Christ the King was on the “could be” list for sure. 

One of the rotten things that I have learned in six decades is that not much lasts. You can give it a philosophical nod and argue that if everything lasted forever nothing would be special. But that doesn’t make the taste of those ashes any less bitter when it’s your past going up in flames. 

I only have about 15,000 memories from Christ the King. I was there from 1955 through eighth-grade graduation in 1963. My wife says I remember more of that than the first 25 years of my working life.  

She’s probably right. But what’s worth remembering — a May 1983 budget report or watching a 10-year-old buddy named Harry pry up a loose tile from the classroom floor with the point of a math compass when the nun wasn’t looking? Case closed. 

I’m not alone in that. Talk to most people and they can tell you the name of their third-grade teacher quicker than the color of the tie they put on that morning. That’s particularly true with kids that went to Catholic school. 

After all, my third-grade teacher at Christ the King was Sister Leocretia. The third-grade teacher across the street at Public School 16 was probably something like Mrs. Brown. Maybe she had a lovely daughter, but you remember the name Sister Leocretia. 

It’s more than that, of course. Infinitely more. Christ the King School was where the faith from home came alive in the neighborhood. Baltimore Catechism questions were answered, the nuns took the kids through the paces for first Confession and Communion, and Scripture stories were told as a spring afternoon outside the classroom window made Creation so very real. 

Sure, Christ the King meant tossing wormy crabapples at the little kids, playing marbles, and the first time noticing that there was something strangely alluring — though incomprehensible — about a girl named Marilyn. It was basketball, baseball, stickball and spitballs. 

But it was also the Rosary and lives of the saints and statues of the Infant of Prague and the Blessed Mother. 

I do understand that not everything old becomes new again. It’s certainly true with each of us. And it’s certainly true of old schools when their time comes. Fifty-five years plus for a Catholic grammar school is a pretty good track record. 

If the decision is made that Christ the King has to close its doors, I’ll accept that. But I don’t have to like it. 

Lord, maybe it’s time for a smoke. Or a Happy Meal. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.