St. Helena Business/Commercial School alums to have memorial dedicated October 3

Sister Jean Thomas (c) a longtime principal at St. Helena Business High School with a group of alumni responsible for the upcoming placement of a memorial stone at the site of the former school, which was co-located on the campus of Monsignor Scanlan High School and closed in 2002.
Photo courtesy of Monsignor Scanlan High School

Alumni of a shuttered Bronx high school have come together to remember the learning center that shaped their futures.

Graduates of St. Helena Business High School, which from 1957 to 2002 was co-located on the campus of St. Helena/Monsignor Scanlan High School, have reactivated their alumni association.

They have a memorial stone dedication planned at the location on the grounds where their school once stood.

The monument to the school, known first as St. Helena Business and later as St. Helena Commercial, will be dedicated at Msgr. Scanlan at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 3.

The group of dedicated alums from 1964 to 1966 raised funds for the marker and contacted their fellow classmates, in the process adding contact information for roughly 250 graduates of St. Helena Business from the school to the Msgr. Scanlan High School development office.

Karen Gennarelli, Scanlan’s director of development, said she had long sought to add graduates from the St. Helena Business/Commercial High School to the alumni database, but few were ever added because during most of its existence it was really considered a separate entity.

“For whatever reason, the business school students…were treated differently from other students,” she said, explaining that the students were not given the respect they deserve by being included as Scanlan alumni after the school closed.

They were kept mostly separate from students in the boys and girls high schools, which later became the coeducational Msgr. Scanlan, who were on a college prep track.

The business school was seen mostly as a work force ready curriculum, and in the 1960s, their were not expected to attend college, though many eventually did.

“The work that these gentlemen have done added 250 names to our (alumni) database,” said Gennarelli, adding “They have been most successful in their endeavors, and we are now getting phone calls every day about the business school.”

The effort was spearheaded by Bob Louittit, who lamented the loss of regular reunions after 2002.

He put together a team that came to included business school alumni James Appollo, Roy Casse, Fred Driehl, Jerry Kroner, Kevin O’Kane and Bob Spinicchia.

“When I called them up and told them what I wanted to do, they didn’t need to be convinced,” said Louittit. “Everybody had the same reaction — ‘let’s do this,’ –because everybody loved the place.”

Driehl recalled his experience at the business school as a formative one, and credited a teacher and principal, Sister Jean Thomas.

“Sister Jean Thomas was a unique person,” said Driehl. “She was a young nun at the time who was the original tough love practitioner, and held everyone to a high standard, but at the same time pushed everyone to achieve at higher levels than we had set (as goals) for ourselves.”

The group chose to honor Sister Jean Thomas with a holiday dinner recently and again at a school function in May.

The dedication of the memorial should mark a rebirth of the St. Helena Business/Commercial High School’s alumni effort.

It will be situated near a group of buildings that once housed the former high school on the Msgr. Scanlan campus in Throggs Neck. It will be made of granite.

“We felt that there should be some memorial at the location that states that the school was there,” said Louittit.

Anyone who is interested in attending the dedication should visit the Scanlan website, Click on ‘Alumni Events’ and then ‘Business/Commercial School Dedication.’

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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