They still tell of ghosts at old St. Mary’s School

By Julie Byzewski
From the archive

Hello, boils and ghouls! This Halloween season, I’ve dug deep into our archives to bring you a real-life spooky story from days gone by. Take my hand and come with me as we return to the old St. Mary’s School in 1981, to hear from former caretakers about the strange goings-on that used to take place when the lights were off and the hallways were empty… – KK

In the tranquil, twilight heart of St. Mary’s School, in the shadowy, silent basement that janitors Orielle DeGagne and Jerry Bedard called “headquarters,” that static on their aged radio suddenly sputtered and died.

Jerry shrugged. Earlier, he had walked by the hardware store without remembering to pick up batteries.

“Do you suppose we’ll hear the ghost moaning again?” he quipped.

“It’s odd how spooky a grinding antique vent can be,” laughingly agreed Orielle. (Creak, heave, creak.)

“Someone’s upstairs,” he added.

“If I were a teacher, I’d work at home,” his friend commented. (Creak, heave creak!) “Better go remind him to lock up.”

The arthritic staircase creaked and sighed. Buildings like the bones of people grow brittle with time.

He glanced about the black top floor. Not a sliver of light from any of the classrooms but the door to the nearest one had been flung open.

Muttering about the rule that decreed all portals had to be “shut tight” when school wasn’t in session and the cantankerous nature of ancient doors, Jerry Bedard fastened it.

The next morning the principal demanded an explanation.

“The door to Sister’s room was certainly never locked.”

“Do you suppose our spirit is a moonlighting safecracker?” asked Orielle two days later. (Clink, clink!)

“If he is, he should do something about those chains he’s dragging around,” retorted Jerry.

The ghost of St. Mary’s, who haunted the “night shift” for 16 years until the old school was finally demolished, also played havoc with the imagination of “generations” of pupils.

Teachers delighted in embellishing the tale around the “grave-hearted season of the year.”

One poetic pedagogue, a fan of poet Edgar Allan Poe speculated: “Ghosts traditionally dwell only in places that were once the scene of terrible tragedies which often ended their earthly existence. Since no legend has arisen at St. Mary’s, I think the spectre is simple melancholy; perhaps a young girl who returns to the setting of carefree childhood days.

“Classic gothic novels frequently feature the shades of nuns or monks who met untimely demises drifting about ruined abeys. I think it would be wise not to speak about such possibilities around here. Oh! One more thing,” she concluded. “Bats typically reside with ghosts.”

Later, a “black-winged creature” fluttered by the astounded youngsters in the hall.

“Yeah, we had bats in the belfry,” confirmed Jerry Bedard. “In 1912, when St. Mary’s was erected, the school bell was truly a bell. The belfry was dismantled around 1960, but the bats continued to slip through the rope opening. They held their midnight revels in an empty attic. If I had not known what was actually going on, I would have sworn the ghost of St. Mary’s was throwing a party.”

The bat which amazed the children (among whom a certain future Times reporter was numbered) was beheld as Poe wrote,” nevermore.” Then vampire stories enjoyed a brief popularity.

The Medals

Among the “Belles” of St. Mary’s, the fad of wearing “miraculous medals” as a “shield” against a close encounter of any kind with the ghost persisted for close to a decade.

Two things must be understood at the outset. First, these “miraculous medals” were not the ones sanctioned by the church for legitimate purposes but a motley collection of bracelet “charms” imbued with mystical powers by inventive adolescents.

We filched the name of the real thing because it sounded, well… miraculous. Secondly, only the students of the tall tale-telling teacher practised this dubious art.

The two janitors, now savouring the “very ordinariness” of more modern St. Francis and St. Michael’s, today believe they have found “rational explanations” to the weird sounds of St. Mary’s.

The floor boards, for instance, were dry and could have separated when someone walked across them. Half an hour later, it would be “reasonable” for them to “settle back in the perfect rhythm of footsteps.”

“We alarmed one husky fellow, a spare man helping us out when we needed am extra hand,” recalled Mr. Bedard. “We’d left him along in the basement when the footsteps started their ghostly pace.”

“There’s someone else here,” he excitedly informed the regular staffers on their return that, “Someone’s walking about upstairs!”

“Can’t be,” rejoined the others. “All the doors are locked.”

“I tell you I heard footsteps,” insisted the newcomer. A taut stillness ensued.

“Well,” remarked Jerry at long last, “it happens like that sometimes. It can’t be explained so we don’t pay any attention.” The next time he “filled in,” the veteran janitors reported:

“We still don’t know what, or who, is in the building. But no one’s ever got hurt.”

Noted Mr. DeGagne, “It was deathly silent in that school at night. You couldn’t hear the wind outside so each little noise within reverberated throughout the elderly structure.

“You tried to live with these eerie sounds, convincing yourself everything was logical.

“But they would catch you off guard and your blood chilled instinctively. At those hours, I believed in the ghost of St. Mary’s.”