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Hundreds attend centennial celebration at St. Mary School

DeKALB – As a student at St. Mary School in DeKalb, Bob Faivre and his fellow students used to wander through the tunnels under the school.

That is, until the students got caught and were forced by their nun teachers to write 1,500 word essays explaining their behavior.

Bob, a 1968 St. Mary graduate, told this story to his grandaughter, Ansley Faivre, 7, for the first time Sunday as they walked through the former St. Mary School at the corner of Fourth Street and Fisk Avenue.

Memories of forming friendships, lasting educational lessons and getting into trouble filled the former St. Mary School on Sunday as around 400 people attended the school’s centennial celebration and the kickoff to Catholic Schools Week.

“It’s fun to be in such a building that resonates with so many people,” Centennial Committee Chair Alicia Schatteman said.

The school opened in 1913 with 90 students in first through sixth grade. The first graduating class in 1914 had 12 students. The school later expanded and included kindergarten through eighth grade. The original school was used until 1996 when St. Mary bought the former Notre Dame School on Gurler Road.

All parents and alumni were invited to attend the celebration Sunday. They also were asked to record a video message containing some of their memories. A videographer sponsored by the local chapter of Catholic Daughters of the Americas was on site to record the memories, which will be compiled into one video and debut at the annual Lancer Legacy Ball in April.

Harold Russie carried with him a bag of memorabilia from his time at St. Mary, including a toy graduation cap with class of 1958 printed across it. Russie, who serves as the organist for St. Mary Church, recalled rehearsals for the spring piano recitals decades ago.

“Sister would always be so nervous for each of us as we went out to practice,” Russie said.

Several students reconnected with Joan Hoffman, who taught first grade at the school from 1963 to 1991. Hoffman nearly felt overwhelmed by the amount of memories that came rushing back as she walked through the former classrooms, including the one she used to call her own.

“I think there was great potential in the children,” Hoffman said. “Hopefully I was able to get the very best out of them that I could.”

Her first class contained 47 students and desks were bolted to the floor, a far cry from the classrooms of today, she said.

Aside from the oral history of the school, an array of artifacts were on display. The basement of the school contained tables covered in school memorabilia. Lisa Holiday and Dave Steimel, who were in first grade at St. Mary in 1972, laughed as they found their class picture.

They didn’t quite see the resemblance between themselves and the black and white images captures in the 70’s, but when it came to the school, they felt as if it had been frozen in time.

“This place is a time capsule,” Steimel said. “It hasn’t changed a bit.”

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