End of an Era: Last Dwyer Graduates, Marks 50-Year Family Connection

| January 20, 2011

By Jennika Baines

Next year will bring an end to one family’s connection to a Catholic school that stretches back over 50 years. Since 1956, the Dwyer family has continually had at least one student — and often several — enrolled at Blessed Sacrament school in Syracuse. The last Dwyer will graduate in 2011.

This connection began with Joseph and Mary Ellen Dwyer, who raised their family in the Eastwood neighborhood of Syracuse. Joseph was a union carpenter and Mary Ellen stayed at home with the children. And there were a lot of children: Mary Pat, Anne, Bernadette, Joan, Rosemary, Joseph, Martin, P.J. and Julie. Each of the nine Dwyer children attended Blessed Sacrament.

While differences in age meant that not all siblings were in Blessed Sacrament at the same time, in 1965 there was a Dwyer in 8th, 7th, 6th, 4th and 3rd grades, as well as one in kindergarten. Two babies destined for Blessed Sacrament were still at home and one more was yet to be born.

Mary Pat Salanger was the first Dwyer to make her way through the school doors on James Street. “I came here for Kindergarten in 1956 and went all the way through — the school went to 8th grade at the time,” she said.

Salanger also sent each of her four children to her old school. “I wanted them to have a religious foundation. I wanted them to be able to talk about God in school and build a basic foundation for good morals,” she said.

Salanger said there was even a spell of a few years when her children and her sister were both students at Blessed Sacrament. “My youngest sister was in 7th or 8th grade when my oldest was in 1st grade,” she said.

Joan Buckley, the fourth oldest Dwyer sibling, said she can remember her sister, Mary Pat, and her mother attending P.T.A. meetings together.

Buckley also recalled having to wear her sisters’ hand-me-down uniforms. “I don’t think I ever had a new one until they changed the style,” she said. Until then, she said, it was the solid navy blue jumper with the Blessed Sacrament patch over the heart and a pocket for the matching navy blue beanie to wear during Mass.

Bernadette Timmins, the third oldest of the Dwyer siblings, said her parents were devout Catholics who had benefitted from Catholic schools themselves and wanted to share that with their children. “It was very, very important to them,” she said.

Keeping the family together was also important to Timmins’ mother. “We went over there every Sunday for dinner and sometimes she would have 25 people and sometimes she would have 45. She never knew how many were coming, but she always had enough food,” Timmins said. “At Shotwell Park, the whole neighborhood would be filled with cars and the neighbors would say, ‘Oh, I see the Dwyers are over for dinner.’”

Timmins now teaches at Bishop’s Academy at Holy Family in Syracuse. She said she enjoyed her time at Blessed Sacrament and loves being a part of another Catholic school.

“I love that we can talk about God and what Jesus would do,” she said. This foundation of faith was supported by nearly every aspect of her time at Blessed Sacrament. “You got it all day long. It wasn’t just from your parents. You’d see what the nuns had given up, so they could live for God and devote themselves to God. They wouldn’t have to tell you anything. You could just see it by watching what they would do.”

Julie Brien, the youngest Dwyer sibling, said she liked the idea of her children attending the same school she did. “We went to church there, and I grew up there. We felt it was safe, and it was traditional,” Brien said. “We thought the smaller sizes of the classes would be good for them, and it was good having the Catholic values.”

Brien sent her children to Blessed Sacrament until her family grew too large for their house and needed to move to a bigger home in the suburbs. “It’s kind of sad that we’re finished with the era,” Brien said.

But even though the final Dwyer student, P.J.’s son Riley, graduates this spring, a member of the family will still be coming to the school each day.

Mary Pat, the first Dwyer to attend Blessed Sacrament, is the supervisor at the school’s cafeteria. “Andrea (Polcaro, Blessed Sacrament’s principal) has made it very easy to work here. She’s very understanding if you have kids and you need a little time to do this or that. There are lots of good people, and I really enjoy it,” she said. “We’re all like a family here.”

Jennika Baines is the associate editor for the Catholic Sun.

Category: Catholic Identity

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