St. Mary’s school backstory
During my time at St. Mary’s, the school had two teachers – its pastor, the late Rev. Gregory Petruska, who served as principal, bus driver and teacher for the upper grades; and Angelica Villarin, who taught the lower grades.
With Petruska donating his time and parishioners making donations to the school, the church could offer free tuition to parishioners, which kept enrollment steady. But in 1988, the bishop at that time transferred the pastor – who was assigned to St. Mary’s in 1955 – and closed the school.
Parishioners unsuccessfully appealed the decision all the way to Rome. At the time of the school’s closing, St. Mary’s had an active outreach to residents in the neighborhood, who largely were Hispanic. Many of these residents also belonged to the church; their students attended school.
Each Sunday, Petruska offered two Divine Liturgies, one in English and one in Old Slavonic. In the Eastern rite churches, the entire liturgy is chanted. The students were expected to sit with their classmates in the front rows on Sundays and actively participate. It was impressive to see these young Hispanic children fluently – and confidently – sing in both English and Old Slavonic.
During Saturday’s reunion, people swapped stories about Petruska – his corporal punishment methods and habit of teaching college-level algebra to eighth-graders. I remember disliking him the first time I met him. He was inflexible and opinionated, but then, so was I. But he also was extremely hardworking and dedicated to St. Mary’s, and my opinion over time softened.
According to his obituary, (he died in September 2017) Petruska accomplished the following during his administration at St. Mary’s: renovation of the church’s interior (1957); the construction of St. Basil’s Hall and garage (1958); St. Mary’s Elementary School (1959); a convent (1960); an auditorium/gymnasium (1965, also gone); and annex to St. Basil’s Hall (1977).
He taught seventh and eighth grades starting in 1960 as well as fifth and sixth after the Benedictine sisters left in 1986 and Villarin stepped in.
Petruska also was the school’s bus driver from 1960 to 1988 and he had a standing offer – if anyone ever needed a ride to church, he would pick them up. And he did.