by Moira Cullings
Editor’s note: All class designations refer to the upcoming 2017-18 school year.
LEAVENWORTH — Saying goodbye to your high school can be a bittersweet experience bursting with nostalgia.
Parting ways is even more difficult when your time with that school is cut short.
Immaculata High School students in Leavenworth know that well.
“This school has meant the world to me,” said Zachary Schwinn, a junior in high school.
But Schwinn and his classmates agree they wouldn’t trade the time they spent at Immaculata for anything.
After receiving the recommendation from the board of trustees of the Leavenworth Regional Catholic School System in January, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann announced his decision to close the seventh- through twelfth-grade school.
The unfortunate closure of Immaculata, which took effect June 2, was largely due to its relentless financial struggles and low enrollment.
But generations of students who passed through its doors will carry fond memories of the school they love with them the rest of their lives.
“It’s made me the person who I am today,” said Emma Bollin, a sophomore.
Immaculata offered students a tight-knit Catholic community, which gave their activities, classes and sports a more intimate feel.
“It’s a family where everybody knows everybody,” said junior Dominic Adkins.
“We’re close with everybody here,” he said. “You walk through the hallways and call everybody by name. You can talk to anybody at any time.”
For Abby Kowalewski, a junior, playing IMAC sports sparked friendships that brightened her high school experience.
“It’s so much fun because you get to be involved with other students who are younger than you [and] older than you,” she said.
“It’s more like a family,” she added.
Bollin, also involved in sports as well as student ministry, agreed.
“You get those bonds that you take out into the world after you graduate,” she said.
“It really helped us grow in our faith because we prayed before every game, we prayed after and we always had fun,” she continued.
Immaculata was known not only for its academic excellence but for fueling a passion for the students’ Catholic faith.
“Going here really taught me a lot about how to be proud of my faith and how to go into the world and show people I’m a Catholic,” said Gabbi Taylor, a freshman.
Many IMAC students attended Leavenworth Catholic schools from preschool on, making Immaculata’s closure even more difficult to accept.
“[These are] my friends that I’ve been with my whole life,” said Jared Baker, a freshman.
It’s “the tight family and the small community” that he’ll miss the most.
Even students who joined the Immaculata Raider family later on were taken in as part of the pack.
“The people that have been here since preschool, we’re like siblings,” said Kowalewski.
“The people that came in new, it’s not an awkward bond,” she added. “They come right in and they fit in with us.”
That was the case for junior Evan Collene, who completed his first year at Immaculata in May.
Collene felt at home from the start, thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the students and staff.
“I think it’s cool to see how I’ve been welcomed into this community,” he said. “And I see exactly how everyone could become a community.”
It’s safe to say nothing will replace the bonds these students created at Immaculata.
Cade Clemens, who will start his sophomore year in the fall at Maur Hill-Mount Academy, a Catholic high school in Atchison, will miss his classmates “who are very accepting and caring,” he said.
“[There will be] new challenges going out to another school, but I feel like I’m well-equipped from what I learned here,” he said.
Many of the other students will go on to Lansing High School, Leavenworth High School or St. James Academy in Lenexa this fall.
But they agree they will forever treasure their time at Immaculata with grateful hearts.
“This was a great experience,” said Adkins. “Nothing could beat this.”