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AR memories: 50 years and going strong

Members of the Archbishop Ryan High School family look back on the school's 50-year history

Something+that+was+removed+when+the+merge+happened+was+a+sign+reading+boys+division+above+the+south+main+entrance.+%0A
Something that was removed when the merge happened was a sign reading boys division above the south main entrance.

Something that was removed when the merge happened was a sign reading boys division above the south main entrance.

Something that was removed when the merge happened was a sign reading boys division above the south main entrance.

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For the past five decades, Archbishop Ryan has had faculty and alumni that dedicate their lives to setting the path for the next generation.

In 1966, Archbishop Ryan High School for Girls and Archbishop High School for Boys opened their doors as two separate schools on the same Academy Road campus in the Far Northeast. The girls’ school, on the north side of the campus, claimed purple and gold as its colors and a ragdoll as its mascot, while the boys’ school on the south side chose red and black as its colors and a raider as its mascot.

In the 50 years since then, tens of thousands of students have become Ryan alumni. The two schools became one, in 1989. The merged school adopted red, black and gold as the school colors, a blending of sorts of each school’s colors. The two schools’ mascots remained in place, however.

Also remaining in place at Ryan are people who have seen much of, and have been a part of, its history. For the school’s 50th anniversary, they shared some of their stories of Ryan’s past.

Debbie Ciraolo graduated from Archbishop Ryan in 1972 in a ceremony  at the Academy of Music. She was part of the second class to go through four years at the then-new school.

“A lot has changed since then,” stated Ciraolo. “Students today have to pay their bills for phone, for car insurance, for extracurricular activities like shore houses, or proms. When I went to school, we were only focused on school. There were no phones. There were no cars.”

The school day was longer back in those days, ending at about 4:10 p.m. On Fridays, students were let out early, at about 1:11 p.m. There were about 30 homerooms, and all of the homeroom mailboxes in student affairs were filled all the way across.

Ciraolo mentioned that there was a difference then in respect and rules and morals, and probably friendship.

  “It was not unusual for 30 to 40 girls to be together at all times, where today it’s two or three,” Ciraolo recalled. “We stayed after school almost everyday. We participated in all of the sports activities, and stayed after school to go to the girls basketball games. We sat out on the grass and embroidered our jeans with embroidery hoops, and thread, and decorated ourselves with purple and gold ribbons and streamers. We helped each other find our way home together after the basketball game, because if you went home and came back, you couldn’t get into the gym because it was so packed, so we stayed. We all had school spirit that was incredible, and we are all still friends till this day.”

As for the differences in rules, Ciraolo talked about the ones that kept the boys and girls separate.

   “We were not allowed to associate with the boys,” Ciraolo said.  “The gates were pulled, and passing notes, or talking to a boy was an infraction. If we did, we would spend time in detention.”

Speaking about the strictness of the school, Ciraolo recalled an experience she had with a nun.

“My hair was extremely long, and the sisters had clippers hidden inside their sleeves, so you never saw it coming, and we would have to kneel on the ground to check our uniform length. Well, my hair touched the ground so Sister cut 12 inches off, and sent me home that night.”

  The enrollment at Ryan was much higher back then than it is now, and Ciraolo attributed that to the boundaries set by the Archdiocese.

  “If you lived within a certain boundary, you had to attend that school,” she explained. “There wasn’t freedom to go to Little Flower or St. Hubert’s. Those girls were taken out of their boundaries, because the boundaries were redone when Ryan was built, and then Little Flower girls had to come to Ryan as freshmen and sophomores.”

Ciraolo noted that Ryan isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the past 50 years. The world has changed, she said.

   “We were going through the Vietnam war,” she explained.  “A lot of girls were dating boys that were in the service in Vietnam. We wore bracelets with their names on it, hoping that they would come back.”

Ciraolo said, “There was even a horse and carriage that delivered milk that carried milk and bread and all to us going down Academy Road in the morning when we would be going to school, and he would be delivering it to our homes. This was because there was only one car to every house and dad took it to work in the morning, so a lot of us walked. It was a new neighborhood, it was a new school. It was exciting.”

According to Ciraolo, the uniforms in 1972 were white blouses, gray jumpers with a v-neck and crisscross top tie, and a gray belt. There was also a gym uniform for the ladies: bloomers underneath a pleated dress, navy blue collar, gray uniform. Students had to sew their names and homeroom number on the upper part of the uniform. In the summer time, the girls wore striped searsucker summer uniforms. The seniors wore gold, juniors wore purple, sophomores wore pink, and freshmen wore green.

Ciraolo said, “Everything had to be done by the student. You weren’t allowed to take it home and have your mom sew your name on your gym uniform, because they knew the difference.”

As a dedicated member of the staff, Ciraolo loves the school environment at Ryan.

“I love being a Ryan alumni, I really love working here, I love the students, and watching things change, things stay the same. I love the whole thing about how this develops you into young adults, and it really moves you on. I think everything is relevant, what was relevant for me back in the ‘70s is still relevant for you kids in the 2000s,”stated Ciraolo.

   Mrs. Pamela McPeak, who works in the admissions office, graduated from Ryan in 1978.

   The uniform was changed when she came into her freshman year. Before, it was the gray jumper like Ciraolo wore. It was changed to a blue jumper, and Mrs.Mcpeak was not a big fan of the color. There were different color blouses that they could choose from to wear underneath: pink, blue, green, yellow, or white.

   “A lot of my friends and I would coordinate, like Mondays we will wear pink, and Tuesdays we will wear green this week, and that was kinda fun, and in some ways it was a way to express ourselves,”stated McPeak.

Mrs. McPeak said: “When I graduated in 1978, there were about 650 girls in my graduating class, so in quick math, I think there were probably 5,000 students in the combined schools. Today there’s 1,200. So I get concerned a lot when people say Ryan is a big school. Yes, physically the building is big, but the decline in number has given way to a lot of positive things. For example, each teacher now has their own homeroom. Back in the day there was a lot of classroom sharing. Another positive is that we also now have more computer labs. Classrooms have been converted into more guidance counseling offices.”

Mrs.McPeak suggested the decline is because families have fewer children now than they used to have..

   “It was not unusual for families to have up to nine children, and they’d all go to Catholic school. While there was tuition, it was an expense for families, but may have been a little more affordable. This is because back then our teachers were religious, and sisters and priests didn’t really get a paycheck like a regular faculty member would. In addition,there are more schools now than ever. Until very recently, 2000 and beyond, charter schools weren’t even in existence here in the East Coast.”

  Several  alums said  Ryan’s school spirit was incredible in its early years. Mrs.Mcpeak explained, “The school spirit, and student centered activities –We didn’t go home after school. I was so involved. We didn’t have the same setup as student council, and we didn’t have school ambassadors. We had a student council office to ourselves, and we got to paint it, and just the fact that we had pride and ownership in the building, really was a happier memory to me than my prom. I was really blessed to be the student council president. It afforded me so many opportunities, just in working with the faculty, being trusted by the faculty, being trusted by my peers to run things. The father-daughter dance will always stand out, and I could cry just thinking about it because I don’t have my dad anymore, and when I see young girls today that don’t invite their dad or father figure, it breaks my heart because I will always cherish that.”

   Mrs. McPeak emphasized that some of the best memories were of faculty, who empowered her, and demanded excellence.

   “One of the best lessons I’ve ever learned in student council is looking at dates, and looking at events, and the faculty allowing us to fail was a very valuable lesson and yet they supported us and stayed with us. I hope that students today, while they certainly don’t have the memories I have, they will have their own and will make time to have their own before the years go by, because then you can’t redo or come back,” stated McPeak.

Ms. Elizabeth Catagnus, a teacher in the Bonaventure program, graduated from Ryan in 1991. She started working at Ryan in 2006. She was the second class to graduate co-ed. The school became co-ed gradually.

  “They made the announcement my freshman year, when it was all girls, that they were going to make it co-ed. Then, my sophomore year, we were co-institutional, meaning lunches, and study halls were co-ed, and then my junior year was the full co-ed. The uniforms changed the year before my freshman year to the gray plaid uniforms. My freshman year, you could wear navy or gray. They announced that freshman and sophomores could only wear grey and junior and seniors could only wear navy.”

   Catagnus noticed that the girls were very fond of the school turning co-ed, and that they cared a little bit more about their appearance than before the transition.

   “The girls were different when we turned to co-ed. It was weird to see how they acted. They acted flirty. When we were all girls we would have normal conversation but if the boys were around, they acted differently. Before, they didn’t seem to care too much about doing their hair, but after the merge they were into the makeup and all,”stated Catagnus.

Catagnus explained that the girls of the school sometimes think their mascot is a raider when in fact it is a ragdoll.

“It irritates me that they think they are raiders,” Catagnus said.  “No, you are a ragdoll. At every dance that we had we would sing the song Rag Doll by Frankie Valli, I don’t think they do that anymore, but it was a tradition. Father-daughter dances were really big, too. They were so big that they would have them on two different weekends.”

According to Ms.Catagnus, the school day ended at 2:15, with five minutes in between classes, and schoolbags were allowed. 2006 was the first year the students weren’t allowed to bring school bags with them to each class.

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