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Essex Catholic High School

By Danny Buckley

 

       Thought I’d share a little of my memories about Essex Catholic High School, which graduated its last class on May 30, 2003 (more on that later).  I’m really referring to the school located at 300 Broadway from 1957 through 1979.  It later moved up Park Avenue to East Orange.

        I grew up 3 short blocks from the block where Essex Catholic stood for the first half of its existence (Broadway to the east, 2nd Ave –N, Summer Ave –W and Van Wagenen (where Jule now lives) to the South.  The school and it’s adjacent property shared the block with Summer Avenue School and another building that I don’t remember everything about but seemed to have something to do with animals.  I’d say the high school property was about 2/3 of the block.  The great thing about living so close was that, unlike those who can share information about their 4 years as an Essex Eagle, I have several more years of memories.  In grade school, I attended St. Michael’s School and had to walk past Essex on my 10-block walk to school.  Since there was an elementary school on the same block, there were crossing guards at some of the intersections, but the one at the corner of Second Ave. and Summer Ave. was memorable – she was a rather small woman but mean as all h***.  Scared us all, public and parochial school students alike.  There was a great little luncheonette across the street called Jack’s Corner, with soda fountain, comic books and pinball machines.  The field team walked a block down Wakeman Ave to Nursery Street to an empty lot behind the homes and businesses on Broadway to practice.  And there was the Second Avenue hill leading up to the Forest Hill section of Newark.

        About the school building itself- first the exterior.  With columns, wide stairway entrances on both Broadway and Second Avenue, 6 stories with high windows and a large wall that surrounded the building on over 50% of the property, it was an intimidating looking building.  Black wrought iron fencing surrounded the rest of the school property, which included parking areas for staff & team buses as well as a track and intramural fields.  There was a little area between the wall and the building itself (maybe about 10 feet across) that neighborhood kids would play in when school was not in session.  An Old Newark friend reminded me about ‘walking the wall’.  Not that it was a real narrow wall, like a balance beam, but it did take some balance. 

        The interior of the building was something that I wish my own kids could have seen.  Inside was a chapel that was almost the size of my parish church, a theater that seated over 1,000 and a ballroom on the 3rd floor that made all of the local bands want to play there for the benefits of the acoustics the 33 foot high ceiling offered.  Also, there was a set of 6 elevators but only 1 for use by students and only if you had a medical pass for usage.  Of course there was always the ‘pool on the roof’, which was a practical joke played on gullible freshmen.

        Perhaps the most memorable part of the school to me was the gymnasium.   Beginning in 4th grade, I played basketball in that gym regularly.  St. Michael’s grammar school had a great basketball program run by Father Conheeney and included 3 age groups (biddy, JV and varsity).  As a 6th grader, I made the varsity and when one of our top players got sick, I was actually made a starter in the Annual Christmas tournament that Essex Catholic hosted.  It was perhaps the highlight of my short basketball career (I ran track in high school) as I scored 17 points while wearing a shiny pair of purple socks I got for Christmas.  A few other times I tried wearing those socks to recapture the magic of that game, but it wasn’t the socks, just a magical game.

        I also attended Essex Catholic, graduating in 1975.  My 3 oldest brothers went to Barringer HS, but my brother Marty (’73), Joey (’77), Vinnie (’82), Brian (’84) and Andy (’86) all graduated Essex Catholic.  Some of my favorite teachers were Brother Conway (my track coach), Brother Germain, Mr. Sasso and Mr. D’Allesandro.  There were some others that did not teach me but were memorable nonetheless.  Among them – Brother Hanley (the count), Brother Cornell (the dean), Brother Walsh (Frere Walsh), Mr. O’Leary (track coach), Fr. Paprocki (chaplain), Brother Johnson (LBJ), Ms. Wormann, Mr. Murray (Mr. NJ history) & Mr. Hoey (was his wife really an exotic dancer?).

        About Essex Catholic closing – between my freshman and sophomore years, St. Benedict’s HS closed down (don’t believe me – look it up!).  A few years later, it reopened, much stronger and better organized that it had been.  It still thrives.  Although the circumstances differ in that ECHS is an Archdiocese of Newark run school, why not hold out hope for the future of a new Essex Catholic.  A great first step would be to reacquire the old building at 300 Broadway.  I’m sure people today would pay the going rate to send their kids to learn at such an historic location.


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