Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Priscilla A. Greear - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | Archbishop Curley and Notre Dame High School’s 1969 graduates are calling all classmates to their 50th anniversary gathering in August, to renew friendships and celebrate their historic Miami alma mater — despite not having a campus to visit.
The all-girls Notre Dame and all-boys Curley merged in 1981 into Curley’s Buena Vista campus. The combined high school merged with Msgr. Edward Pace High in 2017 due to dwindling enrollment and increasing competition from charter and magnet schools.
Curley and Notre Dame held joint reunions from the beginning and live on today in alumni spirit. The reunion, set for the weekend of Aug. 23-25, features a full slate of activities, from a gala and golf tournament to a poolside lunch and “back to the future” reception. The reunion will take place at the Sea View Hotel, 9909 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour.
The festivities will conclude with a Mass celebrated by reunion committee member Lynne Villeneuve Librizzi’s oldest son, Father Mark Librizzi, followed by a brunch.
“You can do as much as you want or as little as you want,” said Librizzi, who lives in Titusville, Florida. “We enjoyed being together and have a lot of good memories. Facebook is helping to catch up with each other’s lives and we can’t wait to get together to catch up in person and catch up on the old memories and make new ones. And hopefully we can get together in smaller groups more frequently.”
Notre Dame and its brother school, Archbishop Curley, located 13 blocks away along Miami’s N.E. Second Avenue, both opened in 1953. They were the first schools in Florida — public or private — to quietly desegregate in 1960 and the first Catholic schools to integrate in the entire southeastern U.S.
Around the same time, they welcomed Cuban refugees who had come without their parents via the Pedro Pan exodus. After the 1981 merger, Notre Dame, located on N.E. Second Avenue and 62nd Street, became a mission for Haitians: Notre Dame d’Haiti Church and the Pierre Toussaint Outreach Center.
Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame High School itself became a model for economic and cultural diversity and race relations, with its student body equal parts Hispanic, white and African-American. The Edmund Rice Christian Brothers administered ACND from 1985 to 2012. They pursued grants and partnerships to pay for needed improvements such as renovating the office, chapel and athletic fields, rewiring the school for Wi-Fi connectivity, and becoming the first Catholic school in Miami to provide iPads for all students.
But as the neighborhood became poorer, enrollment declined and those on scholarships struggled to pay their half of the $10,000 tuition. Its merger with Msgr. Pace for the 2017-18 academic year was part of a nationwide 13.2 percent decrease in Catholic schools since 2009. In a bittersweet development, the Buena Vista area has experienced gentrification with its proximity to the Design District arts scene, only a decade too late for ACND.
But the school’s Catholic insignia is engraved in Miami history. In the late 1960s, Librizzi remembers Notre Dame as a caring community with a spirit of Catholic unity and sense of brotherhood with Curley. Their cheerleaders rooted for Curley athletic teams and the two schools held joint homecoming celebrations.
“We were all just girls trying to do our best,” she recalled. “Everybody dressed the same, you didn’t have to worry about somebody being rich or poor. We were good Catholic people.”
The Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters of Philadelphia who administered Notre Dame were STEM sisters before it was trendy. “The nuns were incredibly kind and very educated. They pretty much let us all know we could do anything we wanted,” recalled Librizzi, a math club participant. “They were very heavy into literature, math and science.”
In planning the reunion, she said she enjoyed the memoriam of the 1969 Madonna year book: first guitar Mass; snappy blue shorts and saddle shoes; Kool-Aid for a nickel; memorized conjugations; silent lunches of penance for conduct; “attention girls. Prayer.”
Curley graduate John Di Nicola fondly remembers his football playing days and true brotherhood on the gridiron: about 15 of the 24 football players were black, as were 10 of the 15 players on their top-ranked basketball team, while many rival teams were mostly white.
“We had a good time and we did everything together. They came to my house and I went to their house. We didn’t have any (race) problem at all at our school,” said Di Nicola, who won a college football scholarship. “Our archrival Columbus was down in Westchester. They had maybe one or two blacks but it was pretty much predominantly white. We were archrivals and we didn’t back down from nobody. It was a unique group of guys to be with in the ‘60s.”
Among his favorite memories were winning a red Camaro in a school fundraiser as a lowly sophomore. He also never forgot being approached by the dean on the football field and told that he was becoming more focused — at least as an athlete.
Di Nicola recalled the dean telling him, “‘You do crazy things’ and I said, ‘I enjoy life.’ He said some day you’re going to go on the other side of that line and probably be a halfway decent person and have success in life,” said Di Nicola. “At about 20-21 I had that going through my head and I thought it’s time for me to put all that seriousness and thought into my real life, and it kind of worked out.”
To the surprise of more than a few classmates, he became an educator himself, eventually serving as an engineering lead teacher and school counselor. For years he and classmates met every Thanksgiving morning for a football Buzzard Bowl game against Pace. A little less invincible, they now meet for a Denny’s Thanksgiving breakfast. “I had a good time and got my values.”
A Miami resident, Di Nicola made a final walk through the school before it closed in 2017 with classmate Frank Gomez, who died last July.
“It was bittersweet because he (Gomez) was there with me and a couple other guys when we went to look at it the summer before it closed,” he remembered. “It was disheartening when you knew it was going to close because we had a lot of good guys there. We stuck together because we were a small school.”
The retired teacher reflected on the challenges created by the growing charter school movement in Florida. The archdiocese “is doing everything it can” but competition from tuition-free charter schools has hurt a lot of the parochial schools, he acknowledged. “The archdiocese has to make decisions and it’s tough.”
Nevertheless, Di Nicola believes that now is the time to celebrate Catholic education and for alumni to reconnect with their past. “It’s going to be a good time. We’ve got a great hotel with a sea view on the harbor, like the second hotel built on the island,” he said. “The whole thing is about getting together.”
IF YOU GO
- For information and to register visit the Facebook website: ACND 1969 Class 50th Reunion. Events registration deadline was June 15 but individuals can still register for individual events.
- For more information contact Librizzi at 321-591-4011 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or write committee members Eduardo Abadia, email@example.com, Liz Bravo Rega, firstname.lastname@example.org, John Di Nicola, email@example.com, Lynne Raymond Zaun, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Grady Gonzalez, email@example.com.
- Special hotel rates are available through July 15 by calling the Sea View at 305-866-4441.