Saturday Diary / So who has a grade school reunion after 50 years?

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I can't say I'm big on reunions, where those who have a common bond of shared experience get together again, be they families, classmates or comrades recalling a specific time.

But life is lived looking forward and understood looking back. So there are two reunions on my schedule.

Next week, the 1963 graduating class of St. Mary of the Nativity Parochial School will reunite in Uniontown for the first time in 50 years. Next month, a tight-knit band of brothers will get together again. They called themselves The Nasty Boys, formally known as Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne.

One will bring back memories of strict discipline, unflinching obedience to orders, marching in formation, the mine-fields, the fear and near death experiences, the flashbacks and the post-traumatic stress.

The other is about war in Iraq.

But seriously ...

Who in the world has a grade school reunion? We've been asked that more than once. But we were together for eight years, longer than the time spent in high school and college, and memories haven't faded even after 50 years.

The idea started when Richard Snyder, a friend and classmate, found an old photo from our eighth-grade graduating class. To help identify some of the faces, he contacted me. Eventually, we emailed another classmate, Judy Hudock, to complete the roster.

Mission accomplished for Richard, who had a career at the Better Business Bureau of Pittsburgh after being the recipient of a Purple Heart as a Marine in Vietnam.

He suggested we get together for old time sake. I mentioned we better do it now because it's been 50 years since we last had our picture taken together on the steps of the old school, which closed three years ago.

Then we decided to invite anybody else we could think of to join us. If it were just him and me, fine. If we could get five classmates, even better. Phone calls were made. Messages were sent.

The next thing you know, we have two dozen people coming back to tour the school, take another picture, attend a Mass and then spend an evening at Caporella's Ristorante in Uniontown for a trip down memory lane.

The graduation date of June 7, 1963, harkens back to a time before the Kennedy assassination, before the British invasion, before Vietnam, before Watergate and all those other events that shaped our lives. Still, we were the lucky ones who practiced hiding under our desks in the event of a nuclear attack during the Cuban missile crisis. Life's way of giving us a warning perhaps.

To us, St. Mary's was more than a school. It was an ideal. Our foundation for life.

The backstory is part of the fabric of the Pittsburgh region. This one started with a flame brought from the old country on storm-tossed ships. Boatloads of people, my grandparents among them, left the life they knew in Slovakia to toil in the coal fields fueling the steel mills during America's industrial age.

To have a beacon in a new land, they pooled their hard-earned pennies to build a church. The parish, which dates back to the beginning of the last century, had the largest Slovak church in Western Pennsylvania.

But those pioneers also believed in the importance of education and built a school.

Our teachers were the nuns of the Vincentian Sisters of Charity, founded in 1902 to tend to the needs of Slovak immigrants. The order doesn't exist anymore. The nuns transferred their vows to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth five years ago.

Stories abound about methods of child-rearing in Catholic schools from a half-century ago. I'll keep that between us. Besides, the parents and the nuns from back then now rest in peace, and the statute of limitations has expired.

One snapshot of life from back then was a championship baseball team, a subject that will be explored in Sports 'N 'At, a video blog that appears Monday on the Post-Gazette's web page.

No church function would be complete without a ritual, so we're lighting a symbolic candle. It's our way of honoring our ancestors who built the place, our parents who worked so hard to make a better life, those who have departed this world and all the classes before and after us.

No matter what, St. Mary's was a blessing. That's worth keeping the flame alive.

opinion_commentary

Bob Dvorchak has worked as a print journalist for 44 years, including 16 with the Post-Gazette (bdvorchak@post-gazette.com, 412-874-6761).


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