Cortland's St. Mary's School reaches 90-year milestone

Ladeen Case, a teacher at St. Mary's School, teaches students how to pronounce their vowels (Photos by Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice).

CORTLAND, N.Y. — Cortland's only Catholic school is celebrating 90 years as an institution on North Main Street.

The school was founded in 1928 as a Parish Catholic School by Patrick Donohoe, whose wish was to bring Catholic education to local youth. He was able to accomplish his mission with the support of his fellow parishioners, and the school was run by the Sisters of St. Francis of Allegany until the late 1970s.

Denise Hall has been the principal at St. Mary's School since 2010, though she taught at the school from 2002-2010.

"We are really trying to teach them to be the light of Christ, to serve others," Hall said of the school's mission. "We teach them to put others first and to take care of your fellow man and your community."

Denise Hall has been principal at St. Mary's School since 2010.

St. Mary's School is renowned for its music program, which is led by Michael Roddy, a certified teacher and a performing musician. The school also benefits from Julie Carr, a retired schoolteacher and current faculty member at Ithaca College. Carr supervises college students who then provide orchestral and instrumentals lessons to students.

Many students end up taking part in community service projects, and more recently, the school has also become a learning space for individuals with disabilities from the JM Murray Center who are learning to be self-sufficient.

The school is made up of 147 students in Pre-K through sixth grade. At its peak, there were 430 students enrolled, though that number has declined by about 9 percent on a yearly basis since the early 2000s, Hall said. She attributes that to the cost of tuition, but maintains that the smaller atmosphere creates a beneficial learning environment for the students.

"I'd love to see 400 again, but I'm not sure if that will happen," Hall said. "You have to pay tuition, and every family has priorities." Those who want to continue Catholic education after sixth grade have to commute to Ithaca, Syracuse, or Binghamton.

The school will celebrate its 90th birthday by showing a free movie on Friday, Sept. 28. The following morning, there will be a kids' fun run, a 5K, and a pancake breakfast, followed by dinner at Tinelli's in the evening. A mass will be held on Sunday.

St. Mary's School is located at 61 N. Main St.