The little Catholic school in Nimishillen Township closed in 2008.

NIMISHILLEN TWP.  The rumble of construction equipment can't drown out the memories for those connected to the former Sacred Heart of Mary School.

Since Saturday, demolition crews from Eslich Wrecking have been making quick work of the small building located on the grounds of Sacred Heart of Mary Catholic Church at 8277 Nickel Plate Ave. NE.

The school closed in 2008 as part of a reconfiguration plan set forth by the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown to address the dwindling number of children attending its parochial schools. 

"Saturday we had a good turnout of individuals who came to watch the demolition," said the Rev. Nicholas Mancini, the parish's priest.

Mancini said several hundred people had visited the school during open houses in December and January.

"Some came even from out of town who were here for the holidays," he said. "They said they had gone to school here, and they realize because of changing times, that we just had to do it."

Leaving the blue-painted front doors for last, the demolition crew has been setting up stacks of bricks for people to take as souvenirs.

Small classes, good education

 Last Saturday, Melissa Kohan and her mother visited and took a few. Kohan, her two younger siblings, and several cousins attended Sacred Heart in the 1980s.

"That was a great little school," she said. "I made a lot of friends. There are people I still am friends with now."

"It was really great; we got an excellent education there," said Wayne Schillig, a Sacred Heart alumnus from the 1960s. "When I got out of the eighth grade, what we had as freshmen at Marlington High School, we already had at Sacred Heart. We got waived out of some of our classes." 

Now a Marlboro Township trustee, Schilling said he toured his old school during the open house. It brought back good memories.

"Growing up Catholic, it's all true; you got smacked with rulers," he said laughing. "A lot of my classmates, I see today. In fact, I work with three former classmates." 

Kohan recalled some of her favorite teachers. 

"Sister Marcella (Houdek) was the first-grade teacher and everybody loved her," she said. "My eighth-grade science teacher, Mrs. (Nicki) Howard, was amazing. Everybody loved her. We did stuff that I did again, in high school."

Kohan said she attended an open house after the school closed.

"It was funny; it was tinier than you remember," she said. 

Kohan said Sacred Heart had about 100 children when she was there, and that her 1983 eighth-grade graduating class had just 12 students. 

"Going to high school was a little shock," she said, laughing. 

Jennifer Vernier wasn't Catholic at the time she married her husband, Bruce, but agreed to send their future children to his alma mater. 

"It was a great school," she said. "The teachers were wonderful. It was super-small, and that's what we liked about it, plus the Catholic education."

Vernier said the eldest of their three children was able to graduate from Sacred Heart before it closed. The younger children transferred to Regina Coeli Catholic School in Alliance.

Like Kohan, Vernier praised former Sacred Heart's teachers, particularly Clara Markert, who taught kindergarten.

"She would kill me for saying this because she's not that old, but my kids loved her like a grandmother," she said. "She was a real motherly type. The other one would probably be Terri Seibert, who taught second grade. When you're Catholic, second grade is a big deal because it's when you have your First Reconciliation (confession) and your First Communion, and she had a big impact."

Schilling said the nuns who taught him, including one nicknamed "Lead Bottom" probably would be "spinning in their graves" over the demolition.

"I kind of miss the old building even though I didn't hang around it much after I left," he said. "It's still sad to see it go. It was a good place to go to school and to grow up."

The origins of Sacred Heart of Mary parish go back to the 1820s when French settlers established farms between Harrisburg and Louisville. The school was organized 1862. The first teachers were lay people, followed by the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary. It closed in 1899, then reopened in 1901. It was operated by the order until 1925 when the Sisters of St. Augustine assumed responsibility.

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