St. Mary’s in Canton Circle of Friends Spans 70 Years


Time flies when you have lunch.

In 1950, the eighth grade class at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Canton numbered 69 students. Through marriage and motherhood, social changes and aging, a contingent of classmates have maintained close friendships.

They are lively and funny, proud of their Catholic faith and their ability to maintain bonds that began when Pius XII was Pope and Harry Truman was President.

“We just enjoy each other’s company; I look forward to it,” said Mary Lou Dyer.

For almost 50 years, and almost every month, the group has gathered for brunch at Gregory’s Family Restaurant. The reunions began after their 25th class anniversary in 1975.

They court in their own dining room, accustomed to smiling waitresses who are young enough to be their granddaughters.

“I love to hear the stories,” one said.

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Where it all started

The story begins at St. Mary’s School at 1602 Market Avenue S. Most of the students were children of working-class families living in the southeast and southwest of Canton.

“We used to walk to school,” recalls Shirley Truax. “It just became a band.”

The Immaculate Heart of St. Mary’s Church and its school were founded in 1899. The school for grades 1-8 opened with 200 students. It closed in 1982. The church is still open as part of a shared parish. A charter school occupies the school building.

“It was nice to be able to walk to school,” said Janet Ross.

There were no uniforms.

“There were 60 children in a room with one teacher,” said Joann Labriola.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph were in charge of instruction until 1944. They were replaced by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Third Order of Saint Francis.

Virginia Mikstay has vivid memories of a disciplinarian.

“She hit me on the back once while I was standing at the board because I didn’t know how to do a problem,” she said.

There were also favorites.

Ann Cugini remembers “Sister Eileen”, who had a beautiful singing voice.

“They were all nice,” she said.

Then there was “Sister Monica”, who tragically passed away at a young age.

“They cooked us hot meals for 25 cents,” said smiling Carmella Jeffries, who grew up to be a teacher and retired in 1990 after 40 years.

But Mikstay remembered a nun who threw chalkboard erasers at the boys.

“She was tall, like one of those German Fräulein in the movies,” she said.

Ross agrees.

“She looked like a wrestler,” she laughed.

Traditional times

It was a time when most mothers stayed at home. While some girls have followed suit, a few have not.

Mikstay was the private secretary to Reverend Dave Lombardi, pastor of the Trinity Gospel Temple for 49 years. She became an Evangelical Christian in 1968, explaining, “I was not happy in the Catholic Church, especially when they told me how many children I was to have.”

“I went to college for two years,” Joyce Schott said. “I wanted to be a librarian, but I got married instead in 1957.”

Ross said she worked in the private Timken family office for 15 years, and Labriola managed St. Joseph’s Credit Union for 15 years.

At school, Mass was a daily requirement, as was Sunday family attendance, without a doubt.

A group of women, including Mary Lou Dyer, have maintained ties since graduating from the old St. Mary's School in 1950. They meet monthly at Gregory's Family Restaurant in Canton.  They are featured here on September 20.

When asked if they could remember the priest who served St. Mary’s when they were there, the classmates looked at each other and laughed.

“He was very strict,” Labriola said of Reverend Thomas R. Heimann, who had been at the parish since its founding in 1900.

“They must relax the restriction and let the priests marry”

Everyone agrees that Dyer is the funniest member of the group. Dyer recalled that the priest who celebrated her wedding was reluctant because her husband was not a Catholic.

“He is still not a Catholic,” she said. “He’s a golfer.”

Some women shared their thoughts on changes the church should consider to attract and retain parishioners.

“I really think they need to relax the restriction and let the priests get married,” Ross said. “I also think that nuns are quite capable of being priests.”

“Put women in there,” Dyer said. “They will do it.”

The values ​​of the Catholic school

Former classmates said they enjoyed their time at St. Mary’s School so much that they sent their own children to Catholic school.

“My six children graduated from Catholic school,” Labriola said.

Schott recalled that primary education was free for parish families.

“They sold bricks for $ 5,” she said.

Catholic high schools had tuition fees.

“It was $ 90 a year to go to Central Catholic,” she said.

Shirley Truax, left, and Ann Cugini share fond memories of St. Mary's School in Canton.  They are part of a circle of classmates who have kept in touch by meeting once a month for almost 50 years.

Members of the group said they believe in the value of Catholic education.

“I liked it all the time,” Dyer said. “I’m Catholic and I’ve stayed Catholic. I’m proud to be Catholic – and Italian. I have two granddaughters who go to St. Peter’s. They love it. My brother Joe is 88 and he said ‘he had learned manners and how to behave because of St. Mary’s. “

Labriola agrees.

“There is more discipline in Catholic schools,” she said.

A laughing Labriola added that she sometimes had to clean the school steps with a brush as a punishment.

“That’s part of the reason we keep coming together,” Ross said of the stories.

She was the only one of the group to have married a “boy from St. Mary”.

“I got yelled at because I was always late and lived closest to the school,” Truax said with a laugh.

The circle has lost members, some to death; some have moved.

“One of the first people, Beverly Fraley, moved to North Carolina and she used to drive in every month to have lunch with us,” Ross said.

But despite their decreasing number, it is still a strictly female club.

“Someone once suggested that I invite my husband over. He hasn’t been to St. Mary’s. I don’t want him here,” Dyer said, eliciting laughter.

Contact Charita at 330-580-8313 or

On Twitter: @cgoshayREP

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