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Benet Academy’s 50th Anniversary

A Celebration of Change

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“Change does not change tradition. It strengthens it. Change is a challenge and an opportunity, not a threat” – Prince Philip
September 5, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of Sacred Heart Academy and St. Procopius Academy combining. When these two Benedictine communities came together, a new school was formed. Benet Academy students, faculty, and staff celebrated the school’s journey from 1967 to the present, savoring the change that had produced the school known and loved today.
The festivities honoring this event actually began before the fifth, with the previous school week seeing speeches given by teachers who had been present at Benet Academy in the decades after the famed 1967 merger of Sacred Heart and St. Procopius schools. Tales of how the school had changed and yet remained the same were shared as students were treated to several blasts to the past from their instructors, including Mr. Tim White, Mrs. Susie Shuma, Ms. Mary Margaret Eraci, Mrs. Gretchen Renfro, Mrs. Erin Goralski, Mr. Pat Marshall, Mr. Steve Fry, and Mrs. Leticia Mitchell. The celebration on September 5th proved to be the capstone of this happy trip down memory lane, with the day’s schedule being rearranged to allow for back-to-back all-school mass and assembly from one to three o’clock in the afternoon.
The mass began as always with a speech from Principal Stephen Marth. His message to the school was that change is an opportunity for growth, a view he substantiated with how much Benet Academy was able to grow and improve upon its predecessors after the 1967 merger. After Mr. Marth’s speech and the opening of the mass, Abbot Austin delivered his homily, which served to provide both a spiritual and school message for students. He agreed with Mr. Marth that Benet is a great school, largely due to the merger of Sacred Heart and St. Procopius, but he also argued that it was not merely a school. Rather, Abbot Austin said that Benet Academy was a gift to its students, as God worked through the school’s dedicated faculty and staff since 1967 to craft an atmosphere of love and family that culminated in the beloved school that exists today. This message was made all the more poignant when students looked to the first rows of seats on the gym floor and saw past Benet teachers and faculty sitting there, members of an extended family who returned for a celebration of a proud heritage.
After the mass came three speeches made by former Benet teachers and administrators, with a PowerPoint presentation placed between the second and third speeches showcasing the Academy’s history since 1967. Former Dean of Students Mr. Martin Wiora was the first to speak, a proud student of St. Procopius who graduated the year before the school merged with Sacred Heart. He regaled the student body with stories of his time at the former all-boys school and poked fun at how when the merger was announced, his class believed it was bound to be a disaster. Mr. Wiora finished with the strong message that even though this change may have seemed ridiculous and possibly world-ending then, today it has produced an even better, stronger school. He finished his speech with a rousing cheer, leading the student body in chanting “B-E-N-E-T!”
As the roar from the crowd subsided, the next speaker, Mrs. Carol Arthurs, approached the podium. She is the former chair of the Science Department at Benet and also taught chemistry in her numerous years at the Academy, retiring last year. Her speech dealt with the girls’ perspective of the 1967 merger (just as negative as the boys’) as she attended both Sacred Heart and Benet Academy in the late 60’s. She shared her own amusing stories of her time at Benet and her disappointment of leaving her old school to move down Maple Avenue, but like Mr. Wiora, Mrs. Arthurs agreed that in the end that change was a chance for the school to grow. She remarked that it was not only the school, but also herself that was impacted, as that decision to combine Sacred Heart and St. Procopius lead to her dedicating almost fifty years of her life to Benet and allowed her to share with the student body her life story.
After Mrs. Arthurs finished, a PowerPoint showcasing photographs of Benet from 1967 to the present began. As the photos slowly turned from black and white to color, past to present, one thing remained unchanged: a constant dedication to excellence and pride in this school. Once this slideshow concluded, former principal and educator Mr. Ernie Stark rose to deliver his speech to the student body. His message agreed with Abbot Austin’s homily, as Mr. Stark said the greatest thing about Benet was how much of a gift it is to its students. He was so happy to see that Benet, throughout his time as a part of the school, was a place where students could learn and express themselves freely, with no regard for race, gender, ethnicity, or and other label. Mr. Stark told the students that Benet taught students to put on love, to be accepting of others, a skill badly needed in a world where acceptance is needed more than ever. He told the students that they are the future leaders of the world and encouraged them to continue to spread Benet’s message of love beyond its campus.
And then it was over. The gym quickly emptied to the sound of risers being dismantled and song sheets collected, the entire gym quickly disassembled and returned to its ordinary state. The end of the assembly did not mark the end of the celebration, however. The Benet community constantly remembers and praises its changes. The past fifty years of expansion and improvement have stemmed from that day in 1967, its impact constantly felt as Benet marches forward in time. This assembly was merely an acknowledgement of the powerful effects of that merger, a formal recognition of a clear vision. Over the next fifty years, Benet will keep remembering that change, keep being influenced by one first scary, yet ultimately valuable decision. As the Academy grows older, it will keep changing and expanding, as it has since its inception. Luckily, one thing will never change at Benet, no matter how far in the future: it will always be a good day to be a Redwing.

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Benet Academy’s 50th Anniversary