St. Mary’s building enters world of memory

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 21, 2003

A pile of debris sits where St. Mary’s Catholic School once stood next to St. Mary’s Catholic Church off Main Street Friday. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[7/20/03]Evelyn Floyd remembers the exact day, Nov. 14, 1934, when she got her first love letter from her husband, although she still hasn’t figured out how he got it past the nuns at St. Mary’s Catholic School.

“He said he fell in love with me in the fourth grade, but I wasn’t interested in boys then, but in the seventh grade I noticed him,” Floyd said.

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She never wrote him back, but the two were married after she graduated in 1940. Alone now after 54 years of marriage, Floyd looks over faded black-and-white photos of her husband and children and recalls fondly her days at St. Mary’s.

“It was like home to me,” Floyd said. “It’s just amazing what that school has done for so many.”

The last building that served as the high school at St. Mary’s from 1948 to 1964 was torn down Friday. Although no one remembers exactly when it was built, the building served as the parish hall and school auditorium before 1950 and housed kindergarten classes after the school closed.

During Floyd’s days at St. Mary’s, it was the place were they held school plays, graduation ceremonies and dances.

“There were some happy years there,” Floyd said.

Three generations of her family attended the school started in 1906 including Floyd’s mother and aunt, she and her husband and 11 of their 12 children. St. Mary’s Catholic School was started by four Sisters of the Holy Spirit from Illinois to educate Vicksburg’s black Catholics.

It was Mississippi’s oldest parochial high school and awarded diplomas to over 600 graduates. The high school shut down after Vicksburg’s Catholic school system consolidated with St. Francis and St. Aloysius, but kindergarten classes continued there until the Sisters of the Holy Spirit left in 1975.

The grammar school building, the larger of the two, was built in 1908 along 2nd North Street next to the church, but was torn down in 1984. The high school building was behind the grammar school and adjacent to the church.

The Rev. Charles Boykin, pastor of St. Mary’s, said the building had outlived its usefulness and had to be torn down.

“It was getting dangerous and the walls were buckling on one side,” Boykin said.

Irma Dease graduated from St. Mary’s in 1927 and taught elementary school there for 27 years. The walls in the home where she has lived since she was 2 hold plaques given to her by students.

“You couldn’t be lazy in my classroom,” Dease said. “They say I’m ticky, but I just want it done right.”

Dease still has photos of students she taught and continues to play the piano in the back of her home where she used to give lessons. She also remembers teaching students writing and songs.

“I’d write in on the board and have them read it three times and then I’d erase it,” she said. “By the end of the day, they’d know the whole song.”

Dease taught various age students from the second grade to the eighth grade, but said the fifth was her favorite. She also said that other teachers sent their children to St. Mary’s for the educational foundation the school offered.