Annual event shifts from fundraiser to farewell for St. Joe's

PITTSFIELD — In good times, the big April party helped St. Joseph Central High School sock away money for scholarships and operations.

Next week, this sturdy fundraiser becomes another requiem for St. Joe's, just weeks before the Catholic school graduates its final class.

The Springfield Diocese announced in October that insufficient enrollment and a long-running deficit would force it to close St. Joe's. The school ends its 120-year run June 16.

On April 28, as many as 125 people are expected to gather at the Crowne Plaza Hotel ballroom for dinner, music and a feast of recollection. In past years, these events netted as much as $100,000, through donations, program advertisements and ticket sales. Attendance back then hit 230 people.

This year, tickets are selling for only enough to cover banquet costs, says Lou Comarato, the school's business manager, and there will be no honorees. That has both thinned attendance and sharpened the event's focus.

"We just want to have a thank-you and a celebration of 120 years," said Comarato, who arrived at work Tuesday to find a string of phone messages about the gala.

Michael Nichols, a 1969 St. Joe's grad who volunteers in the business office, said past galas saluted as many as nine alumni, attracting tables full of their friends and supporters.

"It's a remembrance, a celebration of St. Joseph's," said Nichols. On Tuesday, despite it being a school vacation week, he and Comarato were taking care of business at the 22 Maplewood Ave. school, along with other staff.

A little after noon, Nichols stood outside watering a stand of recently planted trees, determined to have St. Joe's continue to show its best face.

People can still register to attend the April 28 event, which costs $50 a person. The school faced a Wednesday deadline from the hotel for a head count, but latecomers are welcome, said Principal Amy Gelinas.

The count stood at 113 around noon Tuesday, with Comarato expecting another dozen to join.

More than 20 of those already signed up have supplied written recollections of life at St. Joe's. Their thoughts will be shared as part of the program.

"Some people have written a whole paper, depending on how many memories they had," said Comarato

A video created by a volunteer, Francis Busener, will be shown at the hotel. A longer version may be shared more widely on Pittsfield Community TV, said Gelinas. Busener has interviewed people from the school's past and present, including the Rev. James Joyce, a former school leader, and Sister Jean Bostley, who runs the St. Joe's library.

"It's more of a farewell party, and a chance for people to gather," Gelinas said of the gala.


Next week's party will be followed by another that costs just $1.

On June 10, alumni will host "Stairway to Heaven," a prom-like event in the school gym, from 7 to 11 p.m. There will be a cash bar, "celebrity bartenders," live music and prizes. The event is open to the public.

Advertising copy on a flyer makes a bittersweet pitch: "Please join us for this once in a lifetime event."

Less than a month later, St. Joe's alumni will be out in the community July 4, marching alongside a school float to show they remain united despite the school's closing.

"They're hoping to get a lot of participation," Gelinas said of the float project.

While the institution will bow out of civic and religious life in Pittsfield, its graduates will carry its values forward, in her view.

"They still have a lot to offer, and an impact on the community. That's a powerful thing," Gelinas said.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.


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