St. Bernard School closes after teaching New Washington students since 1844

Rosanna King, longtime secretary at St. Bernard School in New Washington, looks in the school library Thursday after the facility closed for good.

NEW WASHINGTON – The rooms of St. Bernard School were silent as Rosanna King walked them around on Thursday, two dozen years after becoming school secretary.

“It’s the breezeway,” she said. “Here are the bathrooms – that was the first part of the school.”

Stacks of books, a few old computers and scattered chairs filled the aisles that once housed a myriad of students of all ages.

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“There were 182 K-8 students when I came here in 1997,” King said.

Thursday morning, there were no more.

The school officially closed on Wednesday, according to Mary Obringer, the school’s last principal.

The school’s closure ends a tradition of education that began in 1844.

“It’s really sad,” Obringer said.

A parish and an immigrant school

The school was formed in New Washington by parishioners of St. Bernard Catholic Church, according to Joe Blum, the village historian.

The parish was formed by immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine, a territory between France and Germany that has been captured and retaken many times by each of the great nations throughout history.

His great-grandfather was one of many who fled French control in the 1840s to sail to America. He moved his young family west to Ohio, where they settled in northern Crawford County.

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“They moved from a Catholic school in France to here,” Blum said.

But the school was in a smaller building in the mid-1800s. For the first 20 years of the parish, children learned in a small room attached to the original church building in downtown New Washington.

“They sold their property downtown and bought this property,” Blum said.

New Washington Village Historian Joe Blum stands in a classroom at St. Bernard School, where he studied in the early 1960s.

New Washington Village Historian Joe Blum stands in a classroom at St. Bernard School, where he studied in the early 1960s.

The new church, still very close to downtown, was built in 1866. The students attended their classes in an old log cabin that was on the property when the parishioners moved.

“I had a great aunt who told me to go to school in that log cabin,” Blum said. “It was quite cold in the winter.”

By 1895 the church had raised enough money to build a four-room schoolhouse on land next to the church.

“The priest at the time was a farmer,” Blum said with a chuckle, “so he turned the old school into a shed for his steers. He left the blackboards up and everything.”

The old hut was finally demolished, but at the back there remained two outbuildings: one for the boys and one for the girls.

“My dad had to use this addiction,” Blum said. “They didn’t have indoor bathrooms until the 1930s.”

A rich history of traditions

These bathrooms were built under the back of the original school – the children walked down the stairs to the toilets and sometimes to music lessons.

“There was a classroom behind the toilet,” King explained. “The boys would go this way and the girls would go this way and we would meet over there on the other side.”

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The next expansion came in 1966, when a new building was added with a covered walkway that connected the two parts of the school.

It was fun for the children to talk about the different eras of the school, since the stories had been passed down from generation to generation.

“Four generations for us,” Blum said. “That’s true for a lot of families. There was never a question of where you went to elementary school.”

The front portion of St. Bernard School in New Washington was built in 1895.

The front portion of St. Bernard School in New Washington was built in 1895.

His grandfather was the first in the family to attend Saint-Bernard. His father came second, they him. Her daughter was the last in the family to attend – her children attend Hilliard Catholic School.

Since the school only went to eighth grade, students would then attend Buckeye Central High School.

“When the kids came from St. Bernard, they were a class ahead of everyone else,” Blum said. “Public speaking and stuff. They were confident. It was a friendly, friendly place.”

Slowly reduced student body size

The school’s student body had slowly dwindled over the years, but not because of families leaving or lack of church attendance.

“Forty years ago people had five or six kids,” Obringer said. “Now it’s one or two. That’s a big difference.”

She started teaching at the school in 2001. She had three classes that year, each with 20 students each. Within a few years, there were only five children each.

“Our tuition was the lowest in the diocese,” Obringer added.

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She became principal of the school in 2014. To help maintain the viability of the establishment, the staff chose to combine several levels into one class.

The principal remembers how this combination helped one student, who excelled in fourth-grade math. They moved her to learn with the older students.

“As an eighth grader, she was taking geometry, which was a 10th grade subject,” Obringer said.

In the last years of school, students learned about robotics and enjoyed special presentations from NASA scientists.

“It just wasn’t doable”

Unfortunately, the parish has decided that the time has come to permanently close the doors of the school.

“We had 12 confirmed students for the following year,” Obringer said.

These students were dispersed among K-8 grades, which would make teaching them more difficult than ever.

“It just wasn’t possible for us to continue,” Obringer said. “It breaks my heart, but it was not possible to continue.”

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The last day of classes was May 21. The last day for staff was June 30.

The first day of the new parish orientation was Thursday.

“One thing Father George (Mahas) said was that this school was the mission of the parish,” Obringer said. “Now that the school is gone, we want to find a new mission. What this mission is, I don’t know yet.”


Twitter: @zachtuggle

This article originally appeared on Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum: St. Bernard School closes after teaching students since 1844

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