St. Jerome School 1909 Project: A labor of love

John Carrico has a passion. It is a passion which originated and is sustained through living the heritage of Fancy Farm, Kentucky. You can feel the passion and the enthusiasm he has for his home town and the work being done to renovate the town’s original school, St. Jerome School, which is known as Haeseley Hall. Built in 1909 under the direction of Reverend Charles Haeseley, the St. Jerome school was dedicated to the educational needs of area children.

Front of school

The school was built and funded by Fancy Farm residents and parishioners of St. Jerome Church. The double brick construction of the schoolhouse ensured that it would stand the test of time; and so it has. The brick used in the exterior was formed and fired on site. The two story building housed grades 1-12 until 1948 when a high school was erected for the freshman to senior classes. In 1933, the school became a unique example of church and state cooperation. The school fell under the administration of the Graves County public school system which allowed it to continue as a parochial school. The school district hired the nuns who taught in the school. Students were allowed to attend weekly mass.

The school was administrated by nuns from St. Jerome parish until 1969 when the first lay principal, Jimmy Wiggins, was installed. The school and the building on the surrounding 17 acres are part of a district protected by the National Registry of Historic Places.

“St. Jerome’s Catholic Church was originally developed by pioneer Catholic settlers in 1829. The entire protected area includes seven contributing buildings: St. Jerome’s Catholic Church, constructed in 1892 on the site where the original church was built in 1836; St. Jerome’s Rectory, constructed in 1912; St. Jerome’s School, constructed in 1909; St. Jerome’s High School, constructed in 1948; St. Jerome’s High School cafeteria buildings, constructed simultaneously in 1960; St. Jerome’s High School Ag Shop, dating to 1955, St. Jerome’s Parish Office (formerly the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Convent), constructed in 1964; and St. Jerome’s Cemetery, dating to 1820 and still in use. Nominated under Criterion A for the role it played in local social history and the development of Fancy Farm. Its significance is explored within the context, Catholic Settlement and Social History in Graves County, 1829-1964. The site of the annual Fancy Farm picnic, which dates to 1880 and started as a gathering for parish families. ‘Candidates for county and state offices began to come and speak to the large gathering and make their last ditch stand, the author states. Today the picnic ‘has evolved into one of the most important political gatherings for local and national candidates to attend… ‘ Proceeds are used for the upkeep of buildings, additional picnic improvements, and other parish needs and projects.” (Kentucky Heritage Council)

The protection of the Historic Places designation shields this area from construction projects. The Spanish Gothic design of the church is the centerpiece of this lovely town. In addition to the National Register of Historic Places, the St. Jerome School 1909 was honored by the Kentucky Heritage Council as being historically significant. The Council made its presentation to the St. Jerome School 1909 Renovation Committee at the 2014 Fancy Farm picnic.

One cannot separate the church from others elements of life in Fancy Farm. The church and its parishioners have lived and worked in the area since it was settled. As the school building complex began to come back to the village, it was time to decide what should be done with the original 1909 school house. Many community listening sessions were conducted to determine the fate of what became known as the St. Jerome School 1909 project.

Carrico was involved with other community leaders in determining if the school house should be torn down or re-purposed. He says that originally he was in favor of demolition. “I thought, it’s costing us money. Let’s tear it down” As part of the listening session, the group invited two nuns to facilitate a workshop. Carrico says he had an epiphany during that session, “All of a sudden it hit me. I was like St. Paul falling off his horse. I realized that this is our heritage.

When you come up over that hill into Fancy Farm, this school is one of the first things you see. I couldn’t let that happen. Father David Willett asked me to make sure that they didn’t take the school down. All these buildings were built by residents and our ancestors own money, blood, sweat and tears. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.” After many community discussions and listening sessions, planning and projecting, John and five other people: Andy Elliott, Bill Higdon, Dennis Wilson, Gayla Elliott and former pastor Father David Willet formed a St. Jerome School 1909 Renovation Committee to oversee the renovation of Haeseley Hall.

Carrico says that all the money for the renovation has been raised through private donations. “We have raised almost $300,000 privately, not a penny came from the church. That was one of the selling points, the church will not have to subsidize this. The building will be self-sustaining. We have spent about $220,000 and set aside money for operating costs for future years out. Operating costs are minimal. The generosity of private donors made this renovation possible.” Carrico says that annual fund raisers will continue to generate money for the operation fund. “We want to invoke historical memories here. One room is a reference library. The blackboard is covered with comments from former students who share their memories of the school and teachers. One day we can pull up your ancestry on a computer that we are having installed. A looped audio visual program will commemorate the history of the school. One room is a re-creation of the original schoolroom with a mannequin dressed in period clothing, complete with a rosary donated by a former Fancy Farm resident who is a nun.

There is a social room for wedding/baby showers or small meeting/parties. Part of the wall was left unfinished as an artistic feature so that visitors could see the original brick construction. The former first grade room will be the museum. The upper floors will be finished later and might include artists’ lofts, an entrepreneurial incubator or art gallery. Every part of the building has some historic significance. Looking at the risers on the stair case, one can see a marked indentation where thousands of feet have traveled on the same side of the staircase permanently indenting the wood. Along the main corridor pictures of all the graduating seniors from years past decorate one wall. Pictures of the former nuns who had taught at the school and the priests who had administrated the school adorn the other wall in the corridor.

“We’ve made this a community project and it has brought us together,” says Carrico. “We did what we said we would do.” It is impossible to separate John Carrico’s enthusiasm from the sense of history that is palpable when one walks the halls of his school. The sunlight shimmers over the newly refinished floors. The rooms have been returned to their former size and height. An angel from the old altar in St. Jerome church is lighted from the eastern windows in the resource room. Her restful presence presides over the memories of thousands of children from the town of Fancy Farm and their educational journey. It is truly a community labor of love. In a world of social media and bad news, it’s is comforting to find a place like Fancy Farm and the St. Jerome School 1909 project. It reminds us that heritage can and should be honored for its place in our past and the opportunity to share that heritage with generations to come. Well done.

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