Enthusiastic alumnae of the now-closed Bishop Kearney High School are returning to their old Bensonhurst stomping grounds on Oct. 16 to celebrate the co-naming of a Bensonhurst street corner “Bishop Kearney Way.”
The intersection of Bay Parkway and 60th Street, where the all-girls Roman Catholic high school lived for 60 years, will take on the new name — giving the school’s graduates a way to honor their beloved institution.
“When I heard that Bishop Kearney High School was closing that summer of 2019, it was heartbreaking, heartbreaking,” said alumnae Mary Ann Liotta. “Of course, you instantly recall your school days, your high school days, but it was more than that. It was a family.”
The school, named for Bishop Raymond Kearney of the Brooklyn diocese, educated thousands of mostly-local students, closing its doors in 2019 after years of waning enrollment and financial difficulties.
In its heyday, the school had an enrollment of about 1,200 students, said Monsignor David Cassato, pastor of the nearby St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church, who formerly served as the school’s chaplain.
“It was opened and it was very thriving, and demographic changes and the tuition cost caused the school to reduce in numbers until there were around 250,” he said. “When it reached 250, the Sisters of St. Joseph made a decision to close.”
The closure sent students and their families scrambling to find options to finish out their education elsewhere, but the impact didn’t stop there. Kearney students have a motto — “Once a Kearney girl, always a Kearney girl.”
That rang especially true for Liotta, who graduated from Kearney in 1977, and remembers fondly the bond that the school’s students forged with one another.
“You know how people went to college, and that’s where they met their sorority sisters?” she said. “It was that kind of bond. It was like, leave no man behind.”
Shortly after the closure, Liotta and her fellow Kearney girls began organizing an effort to get the street co-named, including gathering signatures for a petition, assisted by Cassato, who told his parishioners about it after Sunday services.
Local Councilmember Justin Brannan ultimately authored a bill, which passed in the legislature last year, to add the green “Bishop Kearney Way” roadway sign.
While Liotta and her classmates were upset to see their alma mater close, it was worse to know that future generations will miss out on the camaraderie and fun they experienced at Bishop Kearney.
“That was the biggest loss, you thought, ‘Oh my god, what a shame,’” she said. “When something is so good, and you see it ending, and you took it for granted, in that sense.”
“We thought, Bishop Kearney will never close, it [was] that great,” she added. “But, you know, things happen.”
Sister Virginia Lake, who worked at the school in different roles for 48 years, said the successful push for a renaming by her former students was anything but surprising.
“I’m never surprised by Kearney alumnae,” she said. “I just cross my fingers and toes and hope that everything goes okay.”
“You always know you’re at a Kearney event because the girls scream when they see each other. It’s just wonderful,” Lake added. “It’s not something that you teach at the school, but it’s something that they felt and that they’ve kept going.”
The day Bishop Kearney closed was “one of the saddest days of my life,” Cassato said.
“Buildings change in their use and their structure but this will always be a sign that this school touched our lives, it does allow that sense of closure,” the former chaplain added.
Cassato will be saying a blessing over the sign at Saturday’s ceremony.
The bond the former students share has kept them together through the years, but Lake and Liotta both admire the quality of the education Kearney’s students received.
“No matter where I go, you know, you go into a doctor’s office, and, oh my god, the doctor’s a Kearney alum,” she said. “Or you go to the hospital and the doctor that meets you is a Kearney alum.”
After she graduated, Liotta said, she found that Kearney’s name boosted her standing in job interviews in the way a top-tier college usually would.
“Bishop Kearney taught us that all things are possible to achieve when you apply yourself,” Liotta said. “I’ve never ever met a woman I graduated with, including myself, who didn’t share that feeling that you could do anything.”
While she has top billing this weekend, the success of the endeavor to memorialize Bishop Kearney High School was a result of all of her fellow alumnae, she said.
“It was an orchestrated effort, this tribute,” she said. “It truly was. An idea is one thing, but to make it happen, you need, sometimes, a few engines.”
“Everybody was very sad, so to see this, it was like a little bright light.”
The renaming will begin at noon on Saturday, Oct. 16, at the corner of Bay Parkway and 60th Street.