Helbling Family Home & School, Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, Part 3

Mary Theresa (Knipshield) Helbling
Mary Theresa (Knipshield) Helbling

[See previous posts in this series for more information.]

The many Helbling children continued in the school now at Squire Nickel’s Mansion. They had a new teacher- a Mr. Mertz, who was also an interesting character:

“Teacher Mertz was of small stature and in the thirties and is said to have limped. He had crossed the ocean in the company of his sister who died on ship. He kept her jewelry and was fond of displaying it. The report we have of him is not very flattering. He was neglectful of personal appearance, his hair and beard not used to the comb or brush. He was fond of playing cards and drinking beer. Hence he was seldom fit to teach and when he fell asleep during class periods the pupils had a jolly recess. He was no disciplinarian and the pupils soon realized this for on the occasion of an altercation between the teacher and an older pupil, the latter forcefully ejected the teacher from the room. Undoubtedly, Teacher Mertz had been reprimanded for his misconduct but instead of reforming he became defiant and ultimately refused to teach the catechism or to give religious instruction in any form. Indeed, he finally succeeded in wrecking the Lawrenceville Academy for a time, as we learn from the Announcement Book of St. Philomena’s:

“Since the former German Catholic teacher of Lawrenceville intends to start a private school, saying that he leaves the religious instruction and catechism to the priests and parents while he teaches the other branches, we consider it our duty to tell you that we cannot recommend such a school and that Catholic parents of Lawrenceville and of the neighborhood must send their children of school age either to the English school of Father Gibbs or here to Bayardstown until another Catholic school can be provided.”

The Helblings, like their devout neighbors, most probably withdrew their children and enrolled them in the Lawrenceville Catholic School on the spacious second floor of Robinson Hall at 4121 Butler St.  The parish priests kept up their encouragement for a parochial eduction:

“Since the schools in Sligo [an Irish-Catholic area] and Lawrenceville are established again, the respective parents are urged to send their children to these schools, and to contribute to their support. Without a good Catholic school little good may be expected in life either from the children or from the parents.”

 Mr. John Beck was the next teacher for the Helbling children and others at the Lawrenceville school. Sadly, after just a few months teaching, he died from a fall on Feb. 6, 1859. Again, without a teacher, the church Announcement Book appealed to the parishioners:

 “Since the teacher, died last Sunday, we request all the men of Lawrenceville to meet this afternoon at four o’clock in the school. The purpose of this meeting is to take steps to prevent the discontinuing of the school.”

It is believed that some of the local Sisters (nuns) taught standard subjects at the school and prepared the children for their First Communion. The problems, however, continued:

“The St. Augustinus records the testimony of Mr. John Wirth, then one of the oldest members of the parish, that the Know-nothings and other bigots ridiculed the Sisters and spread caricatures representing the Sisters maltreating the children. The Sisters must have discontinued their work at the end of the school term of 1859.”


To be continued…

Notes, Sources, and References:

1) St. Augustine’s Parish History 1863-1938. Personal copy from a cousin, but the entire history may be found online at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~njm1/StAugJub-TC.html. Accessed 1-22-2014. Please see this history for detailed references to specific items in the narrative.

2) Helbling Family Home & School, Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, Part 1:  http://heritageramblings.net/2014/01/24/helbling-famil…e-pennsylvania/

3) Helbling Family Home & School, Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, Part 2: http://heritageramblings.net/2014/03/04/helbling-famil…vania-part-2-2/ 

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