By Sister Clare Boehmer, ASC
Last weekend, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ were inducted into the Hall of Fame of St. Pius X High School in Festus Missouri. The school announced the award March 27 at its annual Legacy Gala.
Usually, this honor is reserved for one past faculty member or graduate of the school who has devoted his or her time and talent to the continued advancement of the school. The departure from tradition raises two questions: “Why has a group of people received this honor, and why this particular group of people?” The answers lie in the early years of the school’s 62-year history.
Prior to the beginning of the first school year in 1959-1960, Cardinal Joseph Ritter, then the Archbishop of St. Louis, had sent a request to Sister Mary Catherine Girrens, then Superior of the former Ruma Province of the Adorers of the Most Precious Blood (now called Adorers of the Blood of Christ). Would she be willing to send sisters to staff a new Catholic high school in Festus, Missouri? She readily agreed, and assigned Sisters Etheldreda Heard, Margarita Heisserer, Mary Catherine (Mary Alice) Dunkle, and Anita Babich to the new school. They came to a high school that consisted of only freshmen. The long-range plan was to add a grade each subsequent year until there were students in all four grades.
The next school year, 1960-61, saw the addition of a sophomore class and of three more Adorers: Sisters Bertha (Mary Austin) Fischer, Mary Innocence Heard and Gabrielle Rowe. These pioneers were the second wave of about 30 Adorers of the Blood of Christ, who, along with lay teachers, staffed the school from the first year (1959-1960) until the 26th year of its existence (1985-1986).
Of the 30 Adorers who staffed St. Pius, today five are still living: Sisters Celeste Odorizzi, Gabrielle Rowe, Clare Boehmer, Elaine Freund, and Kate Reid.
Sister Gabrielle remembers that the community of St. Pius for the first half dozen years or so was like a “small family.” She joined the faculty at the beginning of the school’s second year of existence in 1960-1961 and chaired the English department for eight years. In a recent interview, she reflected on her years at “Pi Hi.”
“There was an air of eager expectation as a new class group, new faculty and students all got to know each other in those early years. We were all — administrators, faculty and students – quite aware that in those first years we were creating practices and ‘traditions’ that we hoped would bind St. Pius X graduates together as a family down through many years. I believe that I am the only Adorer or other faculty member from those first four years still alive.”
Sister Kate Reid recalled her time there with fondness and humor. “I was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 125 pounds. The boys called me ‘beanpole,’” she said. “I loved teaching sophomores. I also have happy memories of directing the play, “Twelve Angry Jurors,” and working with the senior yearbook staff. There were some really good kids at Pius.”
The spirit fostered by the Adorers who taught at Pius X High School during the first 26 years of its existence is still alive and thriving, even though Adorers have not taught there for the past 36 years. The school’s vision and mission statement.
reflect the abiding legacy that the Adorers established and nourished the years they ministered in the school.
I believe that those other Adorers who ministered at St. Pius X High School in the formative years of its existence and throughout the school’s first 26 years would agree with Sister Gabrielle’s final comment in her interview: “I am pleased with the way the true Pi Hi family spirit that we strove to develop has continued to this day. May it thrive for many years to come.”