St. Bernard School prepares to close its doors

| May 28, 2015 | 0 Comments
Franciscan Clarist Sister Jancy Nedumkallel, principal of St. Bernard School in Cologne, holds a basketball she gets ready to give to a student on the last day of classes May 28 at the school, which was set to close the next day after a school picnic. At right is pre-k student Adelynn Peterson, who held the soccer ball she got when her name was picked in a drawing. Each of the school's 42 students received at least one ball in the drawing, as the school staff looked for creative ways to give away supplies no longer needed. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Franciscan Clarist Sister Jancy Nedumkallel, principal of St. Bernard School in Cologne, holds a basketball she gets ready to give to a student on the last day of classes May 28 at the school, which was set to close the next day after a school picnic. At right is pre-k student Adelynn Peterson, who held the soccer ball she got when her name was picked in a drawing. Each of the school’s 42 students received at least one ball in the drawing, as the school staff looked for creative ways to give away supplies no longer needed. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Teacher Nellie Hennen asked a simple question of her nine first- and second-grade students at St. Bernard School in Cologne.

“How many of you love your school?” she said.

Almost in unison, nine hands shot up into the air.

The teacher flashed a smile, but her expression quickly turned sad. This would be the last day, May 28, that she could ask that question in her classroom — ever. It was the final day of classes for the school, which would close its doors for good the next day after a school picnic. The display board in front of the main office celebrating 135 years of the school’s history would be taken down.

As students in pre-k through sixth grade worked to clean up their classrooms and pack their belongings, teachers and principal Sister Jancy Nedumkallel reminisced — and shed some tears.

“They [students] are still praying for it not to close,” said Hennen, who has taught at the school for the last 31 years but is not the longest-tenured teacher there. “It’s very sad. I have a very hard time accepting it and moving on. All six of my children went here. Very hard — emotional. It was a fabulous school.”

The staff of six teachers, including Sister Jancy who teaches religion, expressed great pride in a school that regularly produced top students at local high schools. One of them, April Feist, a junior at Norwood-Young America High School, is at the top of her class and has a shot at being the school’s valedictorian next year.

“I feel very bad that the school is coming to an end,” said Sister Jancy, a member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation who has been principal at the school for the last 12 years. “Out of these last 12 years, we’ve had eight valedictorians or salutatorians. Isn’t that something? That tells the quality of education they receive here. We don’t have the quantity, but we have the quality.”

The school also has the loyalty of dedicated staff members like Sister Jancy, Hennen and Judy Glanders, who has worked for the longest time at the school — 39 years as a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher.

“I love this school,” she said. “It’s my life. It’s been my life for 39 years. Our parish will have a big hole where the school used to be.

“I grew up in this town. I went to school here. I taught my [three] children and I taught here for 39 years. And, it’s my parish, too. So, you can see why I’m sad. I was planning on coming back [to teach again in the fall]. It’s devastating.”

The teachers have put off thoughts of where they will go next, but now have to address that question. So, too, does Sister Jancy, who has served in Catholic education in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for the last 45 years. Before coming to St. Bernard, she was the principal at St. Therese in Deephaven, which continues to be served by her congregation. Another Clarist, Sister Pranitha Parambil, has been at St. Bernard for the last nine years.

“No idea where I’m going to be,” Sister Jancy said. “If some place needs my service, I will go and help.”

For now, Sister Jancy and her staff will mourn the loss of a school that offered an intimate type of Catholic atmosphere that they will miss.

“There’s no better place to be,” said Hennen, who hopes to get a teaching job at another Catholic school. “I believe God has something out there for us. But, I also believe the community is going to feel some hurt. They’re going to see that this was a good school and an important part of the community.”

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