Former students take last walk through Holy Redeemer Catholic School



The entrance to Holy Redeemer Catholic School is shown here. Recently, former students were able to visit the building one last time before it is set to be torn down.

The entrance to Holy Redeemer Catholic School is shown here. Recently, former students were able to visit the building one last time before it is set to be torn down.

BURTON – It’s been 10 years since students attended classes at Holy Redeemer Catholic School, but former students were able walk the old hallways recently before the building is torn down later this summer.

The school, at 3468 Grand Traverse St., will be demolished in August, and tours of the building were given during the Holy Redeemer Festival May 30-June 2.

When the school first opened its doors Sept. 3, 1946, 410 students were enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade. At its height, Holy Redeemer had more than 1,000 K-12 students. In its last year, it had 93 students in K-8, and closed its doors June 5, 2009.

Many of the children who attended Holy Redeemer had parents who were General Motors workers. At the time the school closed, Principal Maureen Carroll said that, over the years, as jobs at General Motors disappeared, so did the students. One GM family whose children attended the school during the 1950s and ‘60s was the Bienlein family – James “Jay,” Fran (Rowland), John and Dorothy (Major). Rowland and Major, both of Burton, toured the school one last time during the festival.

Former students visit the cafeteria of their former high school one last time. Photos provided by Dorothy Major

Former students visit the cafeteria of their former high school one last time. Photos provided by Dorothy Major

“We had four children in the family, and we all went to school there,” Rowland said. “I went there all 12 years and graduated in 1966. My oldest brother graduated in 1964.”

Rowland said their father worked in the office at GM Fisher Body Plant One, the site of the 1936-37 sit-down strike, and her mother was a nurse, eventually becoming director of surgical services. Their father suffered a stroke in 1964, and after he could no longer work, the family received tuition credit for him and other family members helping at bingo nights on Mondays and Thursdays.

During the years Rowland attended, she said there were so many students they outgrew the “big school,” so the “little school” was built behind the main building and housed grades one through eight.

“There were so many, they made classrooms in the cafeteria,” Rowland said. “Soon after that, Powers was built, and all the high school students went there.”

Rowland said her high school years at Holy Redeemer were wonderful. There were several Catholic schools in Flint, and she said there was a lot of competition in football and basketball. The schools also had an all-schools prom for the students.

Rowland, who serves as bulletin editor at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, said she was struck during the tour by how little the building had changed.

“It hadn’t changed very much,” she said. “It’s in the process of being torn down, and you realize what condition it’s in and why they had to get rid of it. I hate to see it go, but I also understand the finances of it. They just can’t afford to hang onto it.”

Major attended the “little school” during second and third grade. By the time, she went to school there in the late 1960s, it only went through eighth grade, with 5-8 in the “big school.”

“I have a lot of history there,” Major said. “I taught catechism and Sunday school there, and my kids went there. When my kids were in school, they had a youth group called The Underground that was housed in the basement of the big school, which was the cafeteria in my day.”

Major said her last year at Holy Redeemer was in 1974 as an eighth-grader.

“I was glad they let us know about the tour,” she said. “I ran into a few people I hadn’t seen in a long time. A lot of it is still the same as when I went to school there. But in other places there was standing water, ceiling tiles missing.”

Over the years, the building continued to be used for catechism and Sunday school classes. The gym was used for basketball and open gym until last summer, according to Major. But the cost of needed repairs and upkeep was too much, and the church decided to tear down the building. Office staff said demolition is expected to take place in August after necessary preparation work, such as asbestos abatement, is completed.