Monday, June 19, 2017
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
MIAMI | Christine Ettman Kenyon just stopped in to say goodbye.
A 2003 graduate of Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame Prep, she now lives in Boston with her husband and their 3-month-old son. But she was one of dozens of the school’s alumni who visited the campus for a farewell open house May 27.
“A lot of good memories,” she said. “It was a special place.”
The school, founded in 1953 as all-boys Archbishop Curley High and all-girls Notre Dame Academy, graduated its last class May 20. Years of declining enrollment and untenable finances led the archdiocese to merge ACND with its former crosstown rival, Msgr. Edward Pace High in Miami Gardens. (See accompanying stories)
Curley and Notre Dame had themselves merged in 1981, with the girls joining the boys at the Curley campus.
The archdiocese announced the ACND-Pace merger at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. In March, the archdiocese also announced that it had accepted an unsolicited offer for Curley-Notre Dame’s 15.56-acre Buena Vista campus, an area just north of the Design District that has recently become one of Miami’s hottest real estate markets. The sale is currently being finalized.
At Curley-Notre Dame on Memorial Day weekend, however, the focus was on the past. On great memories and good friends. On an education that stood the test of time and left its mark on both mind and soul.
Alumni browsed through old yearbooks. Dug through boxes of old pictures. Reminisced with classmates. Took home souvenirs: beer glasses from an old golf tournament and shirts courtesy of the baseball team.
Many walked the halls with their children in tow. Some brought along their parents.
“Curley-Notre Dame gave everything to my daughter, to all the students who passed through here,” said a teary-eyed Stella Buenaventura, who walked the halls with her daughter, Lucia Baez, class of 2001.
Baez teaches English at Miami Beach High — just like her favorite teacher at Curley-Notre Dame, Edmund Rice Christian Brother John Corcoran.
“He remembered me! I’m so proud,” said Baez after posing for pictures with Brother Corcoran, who is also legendary for his years of coaching the cross-country team.
Baez, one of 97 in her graduating class, praised the all-around formation she received at Curley-Notre Dame. “Not only did they instruct you theologically, but we also had the highest quality of learning,” she said. “I had over $1 million in scholarships offered to me.”
“I know that everything has to finish,” said her mother. “But it’s very sad.”
Allan Blondell, class of 1965, came down from Maryland for the occasion. He said he felt two emotions. From a business perspective, “I understand.” From an emotional perspective, “It’s traumatic.”
Blondell was one of the students who helped Archbishop Curley and Notre Dame Academy make history. In 1960, they became the first high schools in Florida — public or private — to accept black students; and the first Catholic schools in the entire southeastern U.S. to do so.
Blondell went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a master’s from Virginia Tech. “Curley prepared me well,” he said.
He described the school’s integration as “a bold move done without fanfare. They wanted to preclude a lot of crazy people at the gates.”
He remembers being one of about a dozen black students among “600 white guys.” To the public, their presence at Curley “was a secret until I ran out on the football field. Folks went into shock.”
He also recalls rival fans holding up signs that depicted monkeys or said “go back to Africa.”
Once, returning from a game in Key West, the players’ bus stopped for a meal along the way. The white boys can go in, they were told. But the black ones would have to eat on the bus. Blondell remembers the coaches’ reply: “Then nobody eats.” And everyone got back on the bus.
“It was not unexpected to us. We lived in segregated Miami,” Blondell noted. For better and worse, he added, “Time marches on. Things change.”
‘BETTER THAN YOU ARE’
Vonley Williams, class of 1986, stood next to a relief of the school’s mascot, the Curley Knight, taking pictures. He wore an orange wristband that read, “We are A.C.N.D.”
He grew up in Liberty City. “My parents scraped together everything they could to send me and my sister here,” he said.
Now living in Plantation and working as a school resource officer, he remembers most of all “the camaraderie, the community stewardship that the school taught us.”
“They challenged us at every twist and turn to work up to and beyond our ability. Bring out that person you never thought you could become. Push you to be better than you are,” he said. “That’s what I loved about coming here. I hated it then. But I love it now.”
For Frances Fresneda, class of 1989, Curley-Notre Dame means family. She teaches physical education at St. James School in North Miami, one of the high school’s feeder schools. For 12 years running, students in ACND’s graduating class have named her “the teacher that inspired them.” She’s proud of that because it’s what ACND did for her.
“I love sports,” she said. “Sports kept me out of trouble. They changed my life. My coaches were like family.”News of the merger made Gary Graziani feel “terrible. But the world is not the same either,” he said.
A retired school teacher and member of Archbishop Curley’s class of 1960, he remembers going to school on a city bus, riding from his home near Sts. Peter and Paul Church then transferring to another bus at Gesu. Some days, he would hitchhike.
“This place was so beautiful. I can’t tell you how much they taught me,” Graziani said. “They gave us a beautiful education. But most of all they bought us time — to grow up.”
Israel Powell was set to graduate from Curley-Notre Dame in 2018. Instead, she will be completing her senior year at Pace High.
“It was really devastating because this is my home,” said Israel, who entered Curley-Notre Dame in eighth grade, through its middle school, the Brother Rice Honors Academy. “Graduating here would have been a dream for me.”
Her classmate, Tajmara Antoine, expressed resignation. She will also finish her high school years at Pace. “It’s a different school, but it’s senior year so I’m going to have to get used to it,” she said. “Wherever I go it’s going to be the same way, so I might as well go to Pace.”
Bruni Egan only taught at Curley-Notre Dame for three years, 2013-2016. But she made it a point to return for the open house.
“It’s really funny because it doesn’t matter where you go, there’s something about Curley-Notre Dame that just holds your heart here,” said Egan, who now teaches theology at Chaminade-Madonna College Prep in Hollywood.
Pointing to some students who stopped by to hug her, she touched perhaps on the reason for such fond memories and alumni loyalty.
“These are not my students. These are my kids,” she said. “I’m hoping that the charism that lives here will move to all the places that the students and faculty move on to.”