Erica Erwin

Kindergarten students Bailey Starkey and Harper Welker, of St. Francis School in Clearfield, are among many
students and faculty and families celebrating the 125th anniversary of St. Francis. Contributed photo.

The little boys and girls who Sheila Clancy once taught at St. Francis School in Clearfield have grown into men and women with children of their own, children who now sit in the very same classrooms their parents once did.

For some families, the roots run even deeper: one kindergartener is a fourth-generation St. Francis student, his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents having attended before him.

It’s a testament to just how intricately the school is woven into the fabric of the community.

“St. Francis has such a long history of impacting the lives of the children in Clearfield,” said Clancy, the school’s principal.

That history reaches 125 years this year, a milestone the school and community will celebrate with several events, including a special Mass celebrated by Bishop Lawrence Persico and an alumni reunion on April 6. One alumna is traveling from England to attend, Clancy said.

“People may not realize their doctor or their attorney or their mailman is a St. Francis grad,” Clancy said. “There’s such a long history, they don’t realize how many people around them graduated from St. Francis. It also shows the support the community has for our school. They really appreciate what we do here.

“It’s not just a place you go to school,” she said. “It’s your second family.”

St. Francis isn’t the only diocesan school celebrating this year: St. Patrick School in Franklin also will mark its 125th anniversary.

The school, which serves 71 students in pre-K through eighth grade, was facing closure at the end of the 2017-18 school year until a grassroots campaign led by parents and community members raised enough money to keep the doors open. In September, it became part of a newly formed association aimed at strengthening Catholic education in the Oil City/Franklin area of Venango County. The Venango Region Catholic School association also includes St. Stephen School and Venango Catholic High School, both in Oil City.

“As we prepare for a future that entails being part of the Venango Region Catholic School system, we are taking the opportunity to thank God for the longevity of our parish-based school that has brought Catholic education to thousands of students,” St. Patrick Principal Carol Long said.

Like St. Francis, St. Patrick will celebrate its anniversary with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Persico on March 24, and an adults-only evening of food, drinks and music by the classic rock and Irish band Seamus on March 9, among other events. Tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased online at or at the door.

“It’s important to celebrate how we existed for so many years, and now we’re looking to the adventure of a new system,” Long said.

The impact of Catholic schools reaches far beyond their classrooms, beyond individual students, beyond the community that supports them, said Monsignor John Herbein, pastor of St. Patrick Parish. St. Patrick School was founded in 1894, during a period when many immigrants were arriving in the area, he said.

“Their children got a good education here in Franklin that could make them productive and raise them up to higher-paying jobs,” Monsignor Herbein said. “I think when you look at the history of Catholic schools, the greatest thing they did was take the raw material of immigration and build it into the populace that we have today that is very educated, that is thriving. The Catholic school system has changed the face of Catholicism in America, and we have been a part of that for all these years.”