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Former students and staff return to St. Joseph

AUSTINTOWN — The Rev. Gregory Fedor, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, said he welcomed former students and staff of the parish’s school to celebrate what it offered to so many families before its closing.

A reunion celebration was held recently at the church to show the classrooms that were used for the school. School memorabilia and photos were on display.

“There has been inquiries from the congregation members of having a grade-school reunion. Our focus was to bring people together and have a time to share and reminisce about the school,” Fedor said.

The reunion included a special Mass followed by tours of the school, sharing of memories and dinner.

The parish was established in June 1966 by the Rev. James Malone, then-bishop for the Diocese of Youngstown.

The first Mass was celebrated at Wellman Wedgewood Cinema in the Wedgewood Plaza.

Tom Sauline, a parish member and one of the coordinators of the event, said shortly after the parish was established, they made plans to construct a church, school, social center and rectory.

He said the first Mass was offered in the new church in June 1968. St. Joseph School began that same year in September under the direction of the Sisters of Notre Dame.

In 2009-2010, St. Joseph School merged with Immaculate Heart of Mary School at the IH campus. Within five years, the school closed.

Sauline said the parish has an initiative creating a culture of calling and is among 25 congregations across the country taking part in the Vibrant Faith initiative.

“Our initiative is to help raise the parish’s appreciation of God’s calling in our lives,” he said.

Barbara Demesko said she started at the school in 1975 and spent seven years teaching first grade and 28 years teaching kindergarten.

“I am a parish member here and volunteer. It was nice we were able to hold a reunion,” she said.

Demesko, who retired in 2012, said while most of her teaching career was spent at St. Joseph, she did teach her last three years at Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“It was nice to see the class photos and other pictures. It was nice to see my former students who are now parents and some are teachers. They will come up to me and say ‘Mrs. Demesko’ and I have to look at their name tags. They remember me but I had them when they were 5 and 6. I didn’t realize the man playing the organ at church was one of my students. It was nice to see them and ask how they are doing,” she said.

Fedor said he started after the school had moved to the Immaculate Heart of Mary site.

“I still knew all the teachers and staff then,” he said.

Fedor said those taking the tours remarked they remembered the classrooms and the all-purpose room, which was the cafeteria.

“There was only one entrance to the cafeteria then. We have added another entrance,” he said.

Sharon Nicastro, a teacher who retired in 2013, said the event brought back many good memories.

Sharon Machuga, who was a former teacher, said the classrooms appear smaller.

“What I enjoyed was seeing the other teachers and my former students,” she said.

Jacob Potkanowicz of Austintown said he attended the school up to the sixth grade.

“I liked seeing my teachers. They remembered me, which was great,” he said.

Zach Potkanowicz of Austintown, said he attended the school up to third grade and then went to other school site.

Tracy Snider Markovitch of Austintown said she attended the schools from 1972 to 1977 to the fifth grade.

“I go to church here so it was wonderful this was held,” she said.