GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It was a bittersweet graduation ceremony at St. John Catholic Elementary for students, teachers and alumni. The Catholic Diocese of Biloxi decided to close the downtown Gulfport school, which had been educating children for more than a century. On the last day of school Friday, saying goodbye wasn't easy.
Candy Hurst knew retiring after 33 years at St. John Elementary meant packing up her classroom one final time. However, she never dreamed all the other teachers would also be packing up for good. She said the school's closure is painful for her entire family.
"We've had, in our immediate family, 184 years of St. John School and a Catholic education," said Terry Hurst, Candy's husband. "I started school here 53 years ago and my youngest granddaughter is in Candy's class this year, so we've had a lot. Today is almost like a death in the family."
Candy Hurst said, "It's been my life. A major part of my life. My home away from home."
Proud parents gathered at a reception after watching their preschoolers and kindergartners graduate. The little ones are now St. John's last graduation class.
Chris Broom's son, Cameron, was one of the graduates. "It was a happy moment, but it was somber with the school closing."
"It was bittersweet," said Principal Cindy Hahn. "I mean, we're excited about the children that shared their lives with us here at St. John. And we're very sad that we're losing our families and they're moving on, but things happen and demographics change things. The economy and whatever."
Hahn said, "We're all sad that we're not going to be a big family anymore, but we'll always have St. John's in our hearts."
Teachers, staff and alumni say they're proud of have been part of the St. John legacy and they'll never forget their beloved school.
"We have served 110 years in the city of Gulfport," Hahn said, "A hundred and ten years of happy children. We love their families and we appreciate the fact that they shared them with us for 180 day for a 110 years. "
Terry Hurst said, "It's really the end of Catholic education in the center of Gulfport. It's just a sad day."
The principal of St. John Elementary said most of the teachers and staff have already found other jobs.