With the news still so fresh, so raw, there’s a part of O’Connell, the singer and actress, that doesn’t want to believe her alma mater is closing.
There’s another part of her that wants to fight to keep Holy Angels Academy open to the next generation of girls from the city.
“Great things happen by small groups of people,” O’Connell said.
And besides, she added one more time, “I would never count out an Angel.”
There it is again, and it’s part of a developing theme as alumnae here and across the country organize around the hope that one of North Buffalo’s oldest institutions can be saved,
With the school’s annual gala as a backdrop – the big event was Saturday – work is already under way on a new website, www.savehaa.com.
In addition, a new Facebook page dedicated to preserving the 152-year old school – “Never underestimate a Holy Angels girl” is plastered across the top – claims there’s an ever-growing group of supporters eager to keep it open.
“There’s a groundswell happening,” the page says. “The response is great, but we need more.”
No one knows how real the effort may be or how receptive Holy Angels may be to would-be suitors, but more than a few alums are hopeful.
“I believe in divine providence,” said Sister Denise A. Roche, president of D’Youville College and a 1960 alumnus. “I think everybody would like to try and find out if anything can be done.”
Roche is not part of any organized effort, but she has heard enough from other alumnae to believe that such an effort could come about in the weeks ahead.
On the new website, supporters are weighing in with comments that reflect both sadness and anger over the news.
“Why wasn’t there an appeal?” one alumna asked. “Is it feasible to save the school at this point? What is the dollar amount to keep it open for another year, or is it not even possible?”
Others are stepping forward with suggestions on how to save Holy Angels.
Make it co-ed. Close the Prep school. Convert it to a continuing education center.
“Save Holy Angels!” said one former alumna. “It is the only goal! It is a lofty goal. But Angels never quit. Angels NEVER quit!”
The social media chatter that accompanied the news of Holy Angels’ closing would suggest that interest in keeping the school open is widespread.
But it is realistic?
Roche and O’Connell hope it is, but they also know the school’s board of directors and Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart looked at every possible alternative to closing.
“They’ve invested their entire lives in that school,” Maureen McGuire, a school spokeswoman, said of the Grey Nuns. “It was no one’s first choice. And it was everyone’s last choice.”
There was no single reason for Holy Angels’ demise.
Enrollment at the high school is down from years past, and enrollment at Holy Angels Prep, the new junior high, has failed to meet projections.
Even worse, perhaps, the closing of nearby elementary schools such as St. Rose of Lima and St. Margaret’s eliminated two of Holy Angels’ feeder schools, adding to its not-so-rosy projections for the future.
For Roche and O’Connell, two of the school’s more prominent alumnae, it’s a sad time.
“Disbelief,” said Roche when asked her reaction to the school’s closing. “I thought it would be there forever.”
Even now, decades later, she remembers the life lessons she learned at the school her mother and sister also attended.
“The values and the examples of the sisters and lay teachers were so instrumental in deciding what I wanted to become,” she said.
Going to Holy Angels was a family affair for O’Connell, as well. Her sister and mother went there and her niece, an eighth grader, got a Holy Angels’ sweatshirt for Christmas and was planning to enroll next year.
“I was honestly stunned,” O’Connell said of the news. “I credit my time at Holy Angels with being the woman I am today.”
She thinks the school’s leadership did everything possible to keep the school open and that it’s unlikely Holy Angels can be saved.
Despite all that, she admits it’s tough to handle.
“It’s an institution in the neighborhood,” O’Connell said of the school’s closing. “It’s something that resonates with people who didn’t even go to Holy Angels.”
The school, which went ahead with its annual fundraising gala on Saturday but closed it to reporters and photographers, will hold an informational meeting with parents Monday.
That same day, the school’s alumnae were to gather for a $25-a-head fundraiser at Fat Bob’s Smokehouse with the proceeds going to the Grey Nuns.
The goal is to help the Nuns recoup some of the $1 million they took out of their retirement fund and gave to the school.
For Roche, that’s one more indication that Holy Angels’ legacy will continue long after the school shuts down.
“As long as the alumnae are around, the legacy will continue,” she said. “The legacy doesn’t end with the closing.”