“St. Mary’s spirit will continue for generations to be a vital element in the colorful mix that makes Chicago great,” writes Mary Herlihy, BVM in a 1976 Salt article when the school shut its doors. “It will live on in the families, the classrooms, the offices of the more than 9,000 ‘St. Mary’s girls’ who call her Alma Mater.”
In response to a growing need for Catholic education in Chicago, St. Mary High School was opened by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the first Catholic girl’s high school in the city in 1899. Despite great financial struggles in the congregation at the time, the first class of 72 students filled a rented space on the corner of Cypress and Taylor streets, paving the way for a permanent structure that would educate young girls for more than 70 years.
Though the school closed more than 40 years ago, the spirit of St. Mary and the lessons and experiences gained from BVM teachers lives on through its alumnae association and its many generations of students.
Former teacher Margaret “Peggy” (St. Cabrini) Geraghty, BVM (’68-70) remembers the school as a place that welcomed all, just as Jesus did and “integrated academics with the values of the congregation and the Gospel.”
That acceptance is something Diane (Joanella) O’Donnell, BVM (class of ’56) remembers well when her class planned an event at a local restaurant that included a black student. When told by the business to leave their friend outside, Diane reflects, “We would not accept such racism. Skin color did not make a difference in who you are. We were all equal people trying to live our lives.”
The school was a place that was special to many St. Mary’s girls. During its years of operation, St. Mary educated multiple generations of families. It taught young girls they could do or be anything.
“There’s a great appreciation for what those women brought to our lives and how they helped shape us into the women that we are today,” says BVM Associate Eileen O’Shea (class of ’63). “. . . St. Mary’s alumnae want to support this community of women because of the lives that they lived.”
Every year during its annual celebration, the St. Mary Alumnae Association gives back to the sisters who shaped its members’ lives forever. Over 40 years, that amount has totaled more than $1.4 million to support care for the sisters at Mount Carmel in Dubuque, Iowa.
“We all feel like we can’t do enough for the BVMs because of what they’ve given us,” says Alumnae Association President Linda Parck (class of ’71).
It’s an appreciation that will continue for many years to come.
“The BVMs are the glue that keeps us together,” adds Linda. “It’s the teachings they provided us and the friendships that were made. I think that’s what keeps it all going.”
- To Vietnam with Love: BVM and IHM Sisters Expand Circle of Friends
BVMs Teri Hadro and Kate Hendel visit Nha Trang to join in celebration.
- From the SALT Archives: School’s out but St. Mary’s Lives On
In 1976, Mary Herlihy, BVM traces the history and impact of Chicago’s fist Catholic high school for women.
This story was featured in:
Winter SALT 2019: Into the World with Love
When BVMs Teri Hadro and Kate Hendel visited the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Vietnam, they brought with them 185 years of rich BVM heritage and a message of friendship that echoed the words of BVM Foundress Mary Frances Clarke, “Where one BVM is, all BVMs are.” In this issue, discover ways the BVM Legacy of Love continues to grow throughout the world.
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