120-year legacy ends Wednesday

A staple in the Paris, Illinois community, St. Mary's Catholic School, is closing its doors Wednesday.

Posted: May 22, 2018 6:57 PM

PARIS, Ill. (WTHI) - After 120 years, a staple in the Paris, Illinois community is closing its doors Wednesday.

We’re talking about the St. Mary's Catholic School. Tuesday, teachers spent the day cleaning out their classrooms and making arrangements for those kids’ last day.

The school says declining enrollment over several years led to the school's closure.

In 2013, 95 students were enrolled at the school. This year, there were around 46.

The Paris location isn't the only one closing its doors. St. Mary's in Mattoon, Illinois is closing as well due to dropping enrollment.

News 10 spoke with former student Gary Henigman. He says the school will be missed by all.

Henigman shares, "I have really fond memories. I really value my time here at St. Mary's. I'm going to miss it. Being able to stop by once and a while and take a little peek in the door. I think the whole community is going to miss the school. Definitely."

Henigman has enough memories from the St. Mary's to last a lifetime.

He shares, "I think it was in fourth grade we learned about baptism. We actually learned how to baptize someone. We took turns baptizing each other with tap water."

Henigman has put that learning experience to good use. That’s as he’s baptized his own children, and also family friends’ children.

Henigman also made many connections at the school that stand to this day.

He says, "Whenever we have a high school reunion the St. Mary's kids tend to congregate and we take a group photo which is a lot of fun."

Henigman says after his father died, he had the choice of going to St. Mary's or going to public school. He says he's glad he chose St. Mary’s because it's shaped the person he is today.

He says, "I think it made me more aware of my responsibility to other people. How I treat other people, my behavior, and manners around other people."

While the school may be in its final chapter, Henigman's experience is something he'll carry with him the rest of his life.

Many have asked what will happen to the St. Mary's school when it's no longer a school.

The school’s principal says the church will still be using it for family gatherings and religious activities. As for a bigger purpose, that's still under wraps.

Students will spend the final day with mass in the morning, followed by a picnic.

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