A groundbreaking ceremony for St. Mary’s Catholic School was held on May 17, 1955. The school was a longtime dream of Father Henry Cahill who served as pastor of St. Mary’s Church for 38 years. Father Cahill was instrumental in creating a vision for the school and for leading fundraising efforts. The construction of the school was very much a parish project with countless hours put in by volunteers and a dedicated building committee who shared the dream of Father Cahill. An oil painting of Father Cahill still hangs in the corridor of St. Mary’s School today.
St. Mary’s School opened its doors for the first time in September 1956. 140 students were enrolled in grades 1-6. St. Mary’s School was staffed by the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of Rochester, Minnesota. In the fall of 1957, St. Mary’s added 7th grade and enrollment grew to 160 students. 8th grade was added in 1962. St. Mary’s discontinued the 7th and 8th grade classes after the graduation of the class of 1971. A kindergarten program began in the fall of 1976 with an enrollment of 22 students.
St. Mary’s formed its first school board in the summer of 1969. Dick Maertens served as president with Lois Schotzko as the secretary-treasurer. Other board members included Eugene Buyck, John Kosse, Maurice VanDeWiele, Sister Alice, and Father Eichinger.
At the end of the 1981-1982 school year, the Sisters of St. Francis left St. Mary’s School after 26 years of service. The School Sisters of Notre Dame came to the school in the fall of 1982. Numerous teachers and staff members followed, each leaving his or her mark on the school community.
A preschool program was started at St. Mary’s in the fall of 2012. Mrs. Kathy Vondracek, principal at the time, worked diligently to create this early-learning program. Preschool classes have continued to grow each year since program implementation.
Currently, St. Mary’s School is staffed by the following individuals:
Mrs. Lisa Dieter, Principal
Mrs. Mackenzie Lau, Preschool
Mrs. Kathy VanMoer, Preschool Assistant
Mrs. Breann Nilius, Kindergarten
Mrs. Amanda Petersen, Grades 1/2
Ms. Joni Klimek, Grades 3/4
Mrs. Jolene Labat, Grades 5/6
Mrs. Chris Schons, Secretary
Mr. Tim Amick, Custodian/Groundskeeper
Mrs. Gwen Johnson, Hot Lunch
Mrs. Katie Lanoue, Volunteer Librarian
St. Mary’s School has created many traditions that continue to be carried out today. Here is a peek at the history of a few of those traditions:
May Crowning: The tradition of giving special honor to Mary has been observed since the beginning of St. Mary’s School. Students carry flowers and place them in vases while singing hymns to the Blessed Mother. A specially chosen student crowns the statue of Mary which was donated by Don and Mary VandePutte in memory of their daughter, Diane.
Christmas Program: A celebration of the birth of Jesus is shared each December at St. Mary’s School. Some Christmas programs have been simple and others quite elaborate. One memorable 2 hour program was led by Sister Samuela and it ran for consecutive evening performances. All costumes were made by mothers of SMS students. The Christmas program is now held on a Sunday afternoon during the first 2 weeks of December.
Basketball Program: Basketball has been offered as an extra-curricular activity at SMS since 1957. Sister Killene was the first coach of the team known as the Quints. The team name was changed to the Franciscans in 1958, and Cliff Long became the coach. Other team names were the Cagers and the Echoes which remains the name today. An annual invitational tournament has been held at SMS in February. Cheerleaders were also active in their support of the basketball team over the years. The season concludes with the tradition of a banquet honoring all those involved.
School Picnic: An end of the year picnic has been enjoyed by all students and families of SMS since its opening year. The picnic was first held at the city’s Central Park with each individual bringing a sack lunch. Later the tradition of a picnic on school grounds was started and continues today with the food being prepared by the Education Committee.
Catholic Schools Week: SMS has celebrated Catholic Schools Week each winter since 1957. The first Book Fair was held in February 1957, and this event continues to thrill our students today.