The title of the email had a ominous tone-"Sad and Serious News from Holy Angels Academy"- But nobody was prepared for just how bad the news would be.
At about 1:30 p.m. on the afternoon of April 30, Holy Angels Academy sent out the email announcing that the long time North Buffalo school would be closing its doors at the end of this school year after more than 150 years of serving Western New York.
"I originally thought, when I saw the title, that they were talking about possible an official or a senior member of the staff died," said Louise Ziarnowski, a Holy Angels mom. "I really thought it was going to be announcing a death. And, in actuality, it was announcing the
death of the school."
The closing, which also includes the recently opened middle school called Holy Angels Prep, would also cease operations. The decision is final.
Students were given the heartbreaking news Tuesday afternoon at an all-school meeting.
"I thought they broke it in the best way possible," said senior Rachel Ziarnowski. "We first said the rosary together. Then they told the teachers to wait out in the hallway, then they came in at the end of the rosary crying and we all looked at them like-everything is becoming very serious. We all sat down and they announced it to us."
Ziarnowski, who signed her National Letter of Intent to play D-I softball for Niagara University, in the Holy Angels gym last November, was understandably shaken by the news. As were all of her classmates.
"At first I thought everyone was going to be in disbelief," Ziarnowski said. "But everyone just started crying and everyone was hugging-from seniors to freshman. I immediately went to my senior friends and junior friends and they were just crying saying what are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?"
Signed by HAA president Joan D.Thomas and Board of Trustees Chairman, Paul T. Wietig, the email detailed the thought process and the very painful decision to close Holy Angels.
The board of trustees and the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart made the decision after many weeks of discussion, data analysis and deliberation among themselves and with school leaders.
Holy Angels has gone through some majors upgrades in recent years. Including the construction of a beautiful new gym, an upgraded fitness room and new class rooms. But the declining population in WNY has hit the Catholic school system especially hard. While it was no secret that Holy Angels enrollment was down, few thought it was this bad.
"I know the intention of the Prep School was to get enrollment up," said Louise Ziarnowski. "However we know the numbers for the incoming class for the fall (of 2013) were very low. At 41, is what I believe I was told...I don't think anyone thought it was that dire."
News of the closing spread like wild fire throughout the Holy Angels extended family.
Countless tears were shed as everyone tried to come to grips with the news.
As heartbreaking as this is for her Ziarnowski said her thoughts are with the faculty who are losing their jobs and all of the underclassmen who are facing relocation.
HAA director on admissions, Kathleen Tedesco (Class of 1988), has been put in charge of the outreach program to place underclassmen in other schools.
Bishop Malone has committed to assisting in the placement. Knowing how emotionally difficult this is for students and their families, HAA's goal is to provide the best possible options for its girls and are committed to making the transition as smooth as possible for everyone.
St. Mary's of Lancaster was slated to hold an emergency meeting on May 1 to formulate a plan to welcome Holy Angels students to SML.
Ziarnowski said that she and her classmates plan on making the last few weeks as memorable as possible by showing their school pride at athletic events.
And while the school may be closing its doors, the "Angel Pride" every girl carries is something that will never go away.
"We're still Angels," Ziarnowski said. "Just because we don't have a school building doesn't mean we're not still a school. We're still going to carry that identity wherever the girls go."