Serving for 75 years
Before the founding of St. Mary High School the Catholic youth of this area studied at the historic college of St. Vincent for boys and the Loretto Academy for girls. The Vincentian Fathers staffed St. Vincent’s College, and the Sisters of Loretto staffed the Loretto Academy.
The building, which housed St. Mary High School, has a unique history of its own. The original property (118’ x 180’) at Sprigg and William Streets on which St. Mary High School stood was owned by Robert Wilson and was purchased by the Sisters of St. Francis for $350. A contract was drawn up March 18, 1878 to erect the first, small permanent St. Francis Hospital building on this land. It served as their hospital until 1914, when that institution moved to a location on Good Hope Street. After their departure, it was used for a time as a hotel, but for the most part remained vacant.
In the spring of 1925, Very Reverend Eberhardt Pruente, V.F. purchased this building at Sprigg and William Streets for $21,000 and renovated it for use as St. Mary High School. On September 1, 1925, the school opened enrolling 7th, 8th and 9th grades. Sister Mary Francis was the first teacher. This building served as St. Mary High School for twenty-nine years before its capacity could not accommodate the enlarging student body.
On August 12, 1926, the School Sisters of Notre Dame moved into the renovated north wing of the building. In the summer of 1927, the third story was remodeled and the basement cemented.
The first classes were very small but they did present a Christmas pageant on December 28, 1927, entitled “There Was No Room in the Inn”. In 1928, after minor changes in the library, the school was accredited by the State of Missouri. On June 3, the music students gave a recital; this marked the beginning of an early and sustained interest in music at St. Mary High. The class of 1929 gave the first class play presented at St. Mary High; it was entitled “Claudia”. The first class graduated June 9, 1929 with eight students.
The Alumni Association was organized January 27, 1930, with eighty-six members attending the meeting.
The school held its first track meet in 1931 between Perryville, Ste. Genevieve and St. Mary at Perryville. Believe it or not, St. Mary won. Uniforms were worn for a time during this period.
Fr. Pruente died on September 25, 1932. Because of the depression and the lack of funding, it was suggested that the school be discontinued. Mother Jolendis gave permission December 1931 for the Sisters to teach in the school “gratis”. This saved the school during that difficult time span.
The seniors of 1931 chose the N.D. crest as the insignia for their class rings. It was decided that this insignia would be a permanent part of all future rings.
Advancement was slow but we did grow in numbers nonetheless. In 1934, the first class trip was taken. Students went to St. Louis, accompanied by Sister Gonzaga and Father Schwitalla. Also in 1934, the first softball league was organized.
The first copy of the school Hi-Lites was printed in 1935. The editor-in-chief was Ellis Wulfers who later became the first priest ordained from St. Mary. A yearbook was issued in May bearing the same name as the paper, the Hi-Lites. Toward the end of 1938, the school Hi-Lites was put in mimeograph form. The yearbook sold for $.25 a copy.
A School Boy Patrol was formed in 1935. Basketball became the major sport. Coach Elmer Niemann selected the squad in 1935, which had very humble beginnings. Lay teachers became a regular part of the faculty at this time. The Student Council was originally organized in 1935.
“The Eyes of Love” introduced dramatics in 1936 and the Glee Club was organized to help round out musical interests. The same year saw Coach William Milfert’s basketball team with three wins and five defeats.
In the 1940’s the war left its mark. War stamps, bonds, and flag raising, were some of the patriotic endeavors of St. Mary’s High. For the first time cheering and pep squads were introduced, as was a baseball team. In 1940, Coach Carl Meyer produced five wins and nine losses. The next basketball team had one win and fourteen losses under Coach J.O. Sides. The war intervened and interest in athletics waned. In 1947, Coach Williard Fox began to increase interest in sports and, in the following years under coaches Ed Woods, Ralph, and Corse, the teams gained in strength and spirit.
Also the 1940’s brought about many new policies for the school. One of the great religious significance was the Living Rosary, which became the most beautiful annual religious event initiated. The school bought their first Bell and Howell projector and introduced speech and journalism classes. In 1949, the first electric typewriter was purchased and shorthand classes were taught for the first time.
In 1950, the first Varsity Dance was held. The use of alphabetic letter grades on student report cards was inaugurated. Hi-Lites was now a member of the Catholic School Press Association.
Coach Anthony Rubic came to St Mary and basketball history was made. St. Mary’s won its first of many trophies. Under Coach Rubic, sports became an integral part of the school.
As enrollment increased over the years and with the gradual deterioration of the building increasing, the structure on Sprigg Street no longer provided adequate facilities. In 1948, Rev. Theon Schoen, then pastor of St. Mary, began plans for a new and larger high school at a new location. Then Fr. Joseph Keusenkothen at Kelso, Fr. Joseph Dyra, C.M. at old St. Vincent’s and Msgr. Marion Forst at St. Mary’s Cathedral continued these plans and land was purchased from the Wulfers family for the new Catholic High School. The new high school would be located on a 15 acre plot of ground lying between Caruthers and Clark Avenue, south of and adjacent to Fairmont Cemetery and would accommodate 350 to 400 students. February 23, 1953, a fund drive to finance the construction of the school began. On June 21, 1953, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the Cape Girardeau Catholic High School. Rev. John B. Cody, auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis, officiated. On November 1, 1953, Bishop Charles Helmsing blessed the cornerstone of the new school and the building began. The building cost approximately $750,000.00. Later, Archbishop Joseph Ritter gave an outright grant of $250,000 to the school to help reduce the debt.
Despite the incomplete state of the building, classes began in the new Cape Girardeau Catholic High School on September 13, 1954, with an enrollment that numbered 211. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter dedicated the new Catholic high school on October 31, 1954. The first commencement exercise for Cape Catholic High School was held in St. Mary Church on May 29, 1955. Twenty-nine seniors received diplomas.
Cape Catholic sported its first male cheerleaders, five in number, during the 1956-1957, basketball season.
Cape Catholic cinched third place in the state basketball playoffs in the spring of 1960. The Bulldogs defeated Redemptorist High of Kansas City in a thrilling overtime victory, 76-71.
In August of 1956, the Southern Missouri portions of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Kansas City were joined to form the new Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. Cape Catholic High School became one of three Catholic High Schools in the Diocese. Highlighting the school year, 1960-1961, was changing the name of the school from Cape Catholic High School to Notre Dame High School. An academic landmark for Notre Dame High School was its acceptance as a member of the North Central Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges in 1961. In the fall of 1962 Notre Dame High School received accreditation from the association.
An interesting change concerning the faculty occurred during the fall of 1962. The nuns appeared in their modern habits. In 1965, the first full-scale yearbook, the Silhouette, was published, under the direction of Sister Josephine and Miss Oneyear. The Student Council, as it is today, was initiated, with Mr. Tony Rubich and Sister Marie Elaine serving as sponsors. The first all-school musical, “The Sound of Music”, was produced in the spring of 1966, under the direction of Sister Rose Michelle and Sister Norbertine. The tradition of an all school musical continues to this day under the direction of Ms. Cynthia King.
The 1968-1969 school year brought about some sweeping innovations in curriculum. Modular scheduling, team teaching, and counseling services were offered to the students. During the year, the marching band replaced the red and gray uniforms with bright blue blazers and white skirts and pants. A banner bearing the school crest added a touch of finesse to the group.
It was not until 1972, eighteen years after the opening of the new school, that the name Notre Dame High School was added to the face of the building. At this time students began attending Cape Central Technical Vocational School on a shared time basis. It was also during this school year that the faculty-student forum was formed and the first topic of discussion being dress code changes. The following school year, 1973-74, students were allowed to wear jeans to school.
In the spring of 1974, members of the track team shattered a number of school records and represented Notre Dame at the state meet. A publication class was formed prior to the opening of the school year 1975-76. Notre Dame began participating in Southeast Missouri State University’s Shared Time Program, one in which seniors can attend college classes while finishing high school.
With the increase in enrollment and need for greater gymnasium facilities and technology capacity the building was no longer serving the needs of the school community and in 1995 a capital campaign began to build a larger facility. The new school, through donations from the community, was built on Notre Dame Drive off Route K on a 47.92-acre tract of ground, donated by the James and Wanda Drury Family Trust. Bishop John J. Leibrecht dedicated the new school in August 1998. Again the name was changed to Notre Dame Regional High School in conjunction with the school’s broad enrollment.
Today Notre Dame Regional High School stands as the largest private high school located between Memphis and St. Louis and serves students from Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Gordonville, Scott City, Kelso, New Hamburg, Benton, Chaffee, Oran, Charleston, Sikeston, Dexter, Millersville and Dutchtown in Missouri and Cairo, Mounds, Mound City, McClure, Anna, Jonesboro, Villa Ridge and Wolf Lake in Illinois. Also attending have been foreign students from Japan, China, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Switzerland and Germany and Thailand.
Notre Dame Regional High School wouldn’t be where it is today without the dedicated School Sisters of Notre Dame and the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn.
Since 1998, many changes have taken place at Notre Dame with Brother David Anthony Migliorino, OSF. There is a quote on the wall next to the offices, which really says it all, “Give us your child, and we shall return you an Apostle”. If this weren’t true, our students would not have collected over 700 coats and blankets for Brother Ken Lund’s Hispanic ministry. Our Christmas food drive, also destined for the Kennett area, turned into an Epiphany food drive after inclement weather cancelled three days of classes just before the semester break. When classes resumed, so did the food collection. Twelve boxes of nonperishable food and household supplies were delivered to needy families in January 2001. Foreign language students and their teachers wished others “Feliz Navidad” and “Joyeux Noel” through their stuff-a-stocking effort. Students’ contributions to the local Jaycees’ Toy Box produced everything from Barbie dolls and bears to basketballs and board games. There are numerous changes every year. Seniors’ annual pledge walk put into practice the lessons learned in their Theology classes. Students earmarked $2,500 to help Free the Children build a school in South America. Their donation of $1,000 benefited the Crisis Nursery in St. Louis.
The year 2000-2001 saw new beginnings. Boys and girls swimming were added, as well as, a dance class and a Business Law classes to the curriculum. Students will be able to take up to 39 college credits with Saint Louis University, as well as, Southeast Missouri State University.
Our academics are growing stronger each year with our school’s band and choir receiving superior ratings and math and science doing extremely well in competitions. Out of our 2001 seniors, 51% of the class received academic scholarships in excess of $1.5 million, including 15% who earned Missouri Bright Flight Scholarships.
Catholic education at the secondary level has made great strides during the past seventy-five years. The first enrollment at Saint Mary’s High School numbered 28 in 1926 with a staff of three teachers. Enrollment at Notre Dame High School for 1977 numbered 385, with a staff of 24 teachers. Enrollment this year at the new Notre Dame Regional High School is 444 students with 35 faculty members.
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