DARBY BOROUGH >> It was a most joyous Mass at Blessed Virgin Mary Church on Sunday morning as hundreds celebrated the centennial anniversary of its school.
Parishioners and alumni of Blessed Virgin Mary School packed the church for a standing room only jubilation in honor of the tens of thousands who received an education at the parochial elementary school since its opening in September 1917. Bishop Michael Fitzgerald was the celebrant for this special Mass with Monsignor Francis Schmidt and BVM Pastor the Rev. Joseph Corley.
School Principal Sister Virginia Paschall said she is very proud that her school has made it to this landmark anniversary.
“We’re thinking about the 100th anniversary with our theme ‘we remember, we believe,’ thinking about the students educated here for 100 years,” Paschall said. “I truly believe community is the heart of a Catholic education. It’s the culture of what’s happening inside. It is awesome to think back, ‘whoa, 100 years of educating children.’”
Opened four years after the church by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Blessed Virgin Mary has always been situated at the corner of what is now MacDade Boulevard and Main Street. The school was originally housed in a mansion, which was torn down in the 1930s to make way for the church that still stands today. A new school was built in the 1950s. A former parochial school building still remains on the property.
“Over the years there has been much growth, much change, but constant is that message of faith, hope and love that we celebrate today,” said Bishop Fitzgerald of BVM School.
Included in that change is the way children learn. Technology has become a leading force in the way students are educated, and the school is building up its technological resources and increasing its STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) programming.
Herself a Catholic educator for over 40 years, the last 17 as principal at BVM, Paschall said a Catholic education is just as pertinent as ever.
“It’s important not only to educate children in the academics, but with today’s society it’s important to form good character and good faith and morals,” she said.
Blessed Virgin Mary educates students in the local communities including Darby, Yeadon and West Philadelphia.
Paschall said she gives a lot of credit with the church’s pastor, Rev. Corley, with whom she works hand-in-glove.
“As the spiritual leader and pastor of our school he has said many times that he believes BVM school is important for the community of Darby and to continue to provide a Catholic education to children of all faiths,” she said. “He is a strong spiritual leader for our school and working with him we’ve been able to really continue to provide through the goodness of people and dedicated lay faculty.
“He’s a beacon of hope,” Paschall said of the parish’s spiritual leader.
The school’s centennial comes at the exact time when the Catholic faithful celebrate the apparition of the Blessed Mother in Fatima, Portugal. Her message of love was conveyed to three children on the verge of the Great War.
“(Her message) was timely before World War I and in our world today,” Bishop Fitzgerald said. “The message … is the way to live our Catholic lives.”
Following Mass, BVM alumni could walk the halls of their former school and re-live memories while co-mingling with families of current students and even those interested in future enrollment.
“(The Mass will) bring together the past and present BVM community, which is very family-oriented,” said Paschall.
Alumni will have another chance to reconnect on Nov. 24 when the school plans to hold an all-family reunion at the Springfield Country Club