MOUNT CLEMENS — The Mountaineers are back home.

It’s been a few years since the kids of St. Mary Catholic School in Mount Clemens had been able to play basketball on their own floor.

That changed last Friday when a spanking new gym welcomed an overflow crowd of nearly 400 parents and parishioners to witness the seventh and eighth grade boys and girls teams win a pair of thrilling come-from-behind games against Rochester Hills Holy Family.

“It’s a dream come true, playing on our own turf,” said Principal Maureen Miscavish, who couldn’t keep from smiling enough.

The euphoria carried over to the next day when the seven teams St. Mary sponsors in the CYO – two 5-6 boys, two 5-6 girls, two 7-8 boys and one 7-8 girls – resumed their schedule, playing game after game, from early morning to early evening.

It hardly mattered that only three of the teams were winners. Nothing would take the shine off this special moment in the parish’s history.

There was no one more excited about the day than Fr. Michael Cooney, pastor for 29 years of the school’s home parish, St. Peter. He high-fived almost every kid he passed making his way into the gym, looking forward to tossing the ceremonial jump ball for the games.

A formal blessing of the gym will be held in February.

An overflow crowd watches the first game in Mount Clemens St. Mary’s new gym.

Nearly six years ago, the parish purchased the vacant Alexander Macomb Learning Center from the Mt. Clemens Public School system. “We bought it for $600,000. It was a bargain,” Fr. Cooney said. After a great deal of exterior and interior restoration, the doors opened to a new St. Mary School in the fall of 2013.

Today’s enrollment of a little over 400 students consists of about 50 in pre-school through kindergarten and some 350 students in grades 1-8.

“We needed a gym,” said Fr. Cooney, a facility that can also be used for school and parish events. With the input and approval of parishioners, a three-pronged $4 million campaign was launched to underwrite expanding the parking lot for the church, building a Marian grotto on the site of the old school building that had been demolished in April 2017, and the gym.

“I didn’t borrow a dime,” Fr. Cooney said. “It’s debt free.”

Miscavish, who was an assistant principal for three years and has been principal for the last seven, said that donations came from former students and parishioners “from around the world. Many came with notes, telling how much the church and school meant to them.”

The parish rolls number 4,800 families. “We have a great mixture of ages,” Fr. Cooney said, “a lot of young families because of the school. Some families go back four, five, six generations.

“And you know what? We have 65 different ministries with a thousand persons by name who make a year’s commitment to serve.”

St. Peter Church was built in 1843. St. Mary School was built on property adjoining the church in 1870. Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe agreed to staff the school with the stipulation that the school be named after the Blessed Mother. An agreement was met and the nuns traveled by canoe from Monroe up to Mt. Clemens.

In 1911, ground was broken for a high school.

Tragedy struck on Sept. 11, 1957, when a flaming church steeple fell onto the school and almost completely destroyed the entire third floor. At the smell of smoke, the high school students gathered the younger children and led them to safety.

Fortunately, the first and second floors of the school were saved. A new St. Peter Church building was reconstructed, dedicated and reopened in December of 1960. The high school was closed in 1970.

For 175 years, the church, and for 148 years, the school – both located in downtown Mount Clemens – remain a viable presence in the community.