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History of Saint Clare School

(Click online images or underlined links for more detail.)

1920s-1940s: The Beginnings

St. Clare Church, Great Kills, Staten Island, was originally a Mission of St. Patrick Church, Richmondtown, during 1918-1925. The Presentation Sisters began St. Clare's Religious Education program in the church's rented hall on Giffords Lane in 1922, and planning soon began for a full-time parish school.

On September 14, 1936, after a cost of approximately $175,000 despite the burden of the Great Depression, St. Clare School opened its doors to boys and girls at 151 Lindenwood Road. The classes were staffed by the devoted Presentation Sisters commuting daily. The cornerstone was inscribed "PRO DEO ET PATRIA" (For God And Country). The main floor housed four classrooms and a gym/auditorium with seating capacity 700 that doubled as a lunchroom. The second floor contained four more classrooms as well as a Teachers' Lunchroom and Principal's Office. The School was designed by parishioner Daniel P. Higgins, who earlier designed St. Clare's 1921 Church (today's Chapel) and later many prominent American buildings.

St. Clare School recorded a milestone in the spring of 1938 when 16 eighth-graders became its first graduates. By the following year, the senior class had nearly doubled to include 28 students. Kindergarten began in 1945 when World War Two ended. The Mothers' Club (1945) and Fathers' Club (1950) soon became active organizations supporting the School with enthusiastic family involvement.

1950s-1990s: Major Expansions

During the 1950s, Great Kills grew at an extraordinary rate, and the newly approved Narrows Bridge (today's Verrazzano) was sure to bring even more residents to Staten Island from Brooklyn. The time had come to move ahead on expanding the parish facilities. In February 1956, the Mansfield House and property next to the Church were purchased to serve as the site for the new Church and the expanded School.

Construction preparations involved relocating classes to make way for the School's new wing, as well as physically moving the old Church to allow space for the new Church's foundation. By September 1959, the School addition was ready for students. The three-story annex, faced in brick and limestone, more than doubled the capacity of the School by adding ten classrooms and a fully equipped cafeteria. Connected by two indoor passageways, the new St. Clare Church and the expanded School were officially blessed and dedicated by Francis Cardinal Spellman on May 22, 1960, followed by St. Clare's Presentation Convent in April 1964 and the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in November.

Architecture award for Pre-Kindergarten
During this rapid expansion, St. Clare's challenges of the 1960s were met head-on. The Second Vatican Council brought about many important reforms for the Catholic Church and its education programs, including the change from Latin Mass to English, the wider use of Scripture, and the expansion of congregational praying and singing. In 1965, there was an integration of St. Clare's male and female students, who had been taught in separate parts of the School for years. The introduction of Xerox technology let eighth-graders begin producing graduation yearbooks that became marvelous annual "time capsules" of the School and parish. (We have a complete set since 1965, except for the graduation classes of 1970 and 1971. If you, or anyone you know, can locate one of these missing yearbooks, please contact the School or Rectory office, and we'd be very grateful to copy it for our archives and quickly return your original. It's probably regular 8.5x11 paper size, with a soft plastic cover.)

Pre-Kindergarten started in 1977, initially using the same rented hall on Giffords Lane where St. Clare's began more than a half-century earlier. Pre-K received its own space in 1979 with the opening of the parish's Cardinal Cooke Center at 150 Nelson Avenue. A major renovation in 2001 added playfully modern colors and shapes that earned an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.

In 1990, more construction ensued for the "Big School," creating the Father Hicks Center to meet the growing needs of St. Clare students. This new wing of the School building included a library, computer lab, science room, offices, and meeting space. The School facilities now are fully air-conditioned. St. Clare's congregation continued to expand, becoming the largest in the entire Archdiocese of New York and keeping the School firmly supported.

The 2000s: St. Clare School Today

June 2004 saw, with the retirement of Sister Rosemary Ward as Principal, the end of the long and dedicated ministry of the Presentation Sisters at St. Clare School. The selfless devotion of these good women helped immeasurably to make St. Clare the school of "Faith, Service, Excellence" that it is today. The Sisters' tremendous contributions will never be forgotten, as their tradition continues.

Innovation award for St. Clare School
The School's science and technology aspects were greatly modernized through the 1990s and into the new century. In 2008, St. Clare received a "Catholic Schools for Tomorrow Award for Innovations in Education," one of only twelve schools nationwide. Students in the science enrichment program have earned frequent recognition for major community projects, and have been strong competitors in international technology tournaments. Hundreds of parish students also participate enthusiastically in sports, scouting, and the arts, including a 2016 Northeast division championship for St. Clare Cheerleading. All this is in addition to the academic achievements for which New York's Catholic schools are well known.

In 2011, St. Clare School marked its 75th Anniversary with events including a pair of special Masses led by Father Edmund Dobbin (a proud 1949 graduate) and Archbishop Timothy Dolan. The Archbishop returned as Cardinal in 2018 to lead a prayer service for the School and a feast-day Mass for the Religious Education students, as well as blessing the computer lab that was updated in the parish's $2 million capital campaign. The School then weathered the 2020-2021 coronavirus pandemic quite well, with hybrid schedules of online and in-person classes, face masks, ventilation upgrades, virus testing and other precautions. These combined to keep the School's teachers, staff, students and families in overall good health until vaccinations became available.

Centered on a sturdy Catholic foundation and spiritual values, St. Clare School continues to provide a solid education that exceeds state and national standards, bolstered by the archdiocesan Safe Environment Program. From pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, the nearly seven hundred boys and girls who attend St. Clare are promised a safe and orderly setting in which to learn, as well as an excellent education preparing them for successful futures.

Principals of Saint Clare School:
1. Mother Mary Dominic Ward, P.B.V.M. (1936-1943)
2. Sister Mary John, P.B.V.M. (1943-1951)
3. Sister Mary Monica Hussey, P.B.V.M. (1951-1964)
4. Sister Mary Assisium Schaber, P.B.V.M. (1964-1986)
5. Sister Rosemary H. Ward, P.B.V.M. (1986-2004)
6. Mrs. Jo N. Rossicone (2004-2015)
7. Mrs. Theresa M. Signorile (2015- )

Most of this School History was taken from "History of Saint Clare Parish" and adapted by Jo Rossicone and Gregg Patruno, under the supervision of Monsignor Richard Guastella. Further suggestions are welcome.

See also:
"Presentation Sisters," from Saint Clare Parish website.
"St. Clare's Church (Staten Island)," from Wikipedia.