Just a few months ago, at the end of the last school year, yesterday was a day that Morgan Cosgrove and her friends at St. Bridget Catholic School in Glassboro could have only imagined through tears.
"The last day, our whole seventh-grade class was crying because we weren't going to be together," Cosgrove said.
St. Bridget's was one of 15 schools in the Diocese of Camden slated for merger by the fall. It would join with St. Catherine of Siena in Clayton, the school St. Bridget's junior varsity girls beat in the basketball championship last year. The plan was for the schools to become one in St. Catherine's building with a new name, a new community.
Flash forward to yesterday.
The newly blue-and-beige-tiled halls were buzzing at St. Michael the Archangel Regional School, the former St. Catherine's. People who didn't know each other last year were now greeting like old friends after months of working closely on a common goal - the best school for their children.
"We had wonderful, wonderful people rise to the occasion and have faith, and that's how St. Michael's came to be," said Janice Bruni, principal of the new school and former principal of St. Catherine.
In fact, Sister Janice Novak, former principal of St. Bridget's, is St. Michael's middle school director. Most of the teachers from the two schools are now at St. Michael's, as are most of the two schools' students.
Yesterday, dedication ceremonies were held at six of the seven new schools, including St. Michael's. One was held Wednesday.
All the new schools have their own stories of how they came to be.
St. Michael's is about people pulling together and getting it done - the families of the two former schools and others from their other sending parishes, Our Lady of Lourdes in Glassboro, Our Lady Queen of Peace in Pitman, and Nativity in Franklinville.
"It's been a Herculean effort to say the least," said Dave Burnett, whose two children went to St. Catherine and now attend St. Michael.
Jennifer Stachiotti was one of those saddened when she heard her parish school, St. Bridget's, would close, but after accepting the news, she threw herself into making the new school the best possible one for her son.
As head of the facilities committee, the hair salon owner came to know a dedicated cadre of parents who donated their talents, their time and their sweat to doing whatever was needed to be done to get the school ready in just a little over two months' time. That included totally renovating the former St. Catherine's building and creating a new modular wing.
But it wasn't just about the building.
Bruni said they worked hard to come up with a good curriculum that includes the basics and lots of neat electives. To help build a community, the two schools held dances and socials during last school year so the students could get to meet and become friends.
"My daughter had St. Bridget's friends over all summer," said Steve Kozachyn, a 1978 St. Catherine's graduate who has sent four of his children there and volunteered to help create the new school.
And to increase the sense of ownership, the children voted on the name.
"St. Michael, the guardian angel, seemed so appropriate," Bruni said. "We had to transcend the evil out there to get to this."
Yes, a Mass was held in the school's new gym.
After it, the Rev. Jaromir Michalak of St. Catherine of Siena Church said to the children:
"Boys and girls, are you happy?"
A murmur of "yes."
"Oh, come on, give me a break," said Michalak. "Are you happy?"
"Yes!" they shouted back.
So was Morgan Cosgrove.
"Now I'm meeting new people," she said, surrounded by new and old friends. "It's fun."