Let the School Bell Ring!
The first diocesan school organized outside of Detroit was the school affiliated with the newly dedicated Church of St. Mary. It was begun January 15, 1846 with a small group of Sisters under the guidance of Fr. Louis Gillet, the pastor. The Sisters would soon be known as Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM). The nuns taught their young female charges within their own house until the following year when a two-story wooden frame school was built. The old church bell of St. Antoine found a new home atop this building and remains in the IHM Museum today.
The end of the first school year was August 2, when the "distribution of premiums by the Bishop" took place. The young boy pupils met in a brick building opposite St. Mary Church, and were instructed by a Mr. Thomas Digue. The schools remained under the guidance of the Redemptorist Fathers, until their departure from Monroe in 1855. The Redemptorists had helped maintain the schools by their mission work. That and the Sisters' dowries had been used for improvements. Tuition was minimal and was the only steady source of income. Records indicate few boarders and about two hundred day students, although probably not at one time.
Several parishioners had complained that the Sisters were a financial burden and the Sisters wrote back from Pennsylvania that the attitude was different there. No salaries were paid to the Sisters for many years, and the parish, unlike those outside Monroe, did not have the added expense of housing and utilities.
In 1857, there were two free schools for boys, one English-speaking, one French, both associated with St. Mary's Church. St. Michael's German parish also had a school with catechism. Fr. Edward Joos became Pastor of St. Mary's, filling the vacancy left by Fr. Van Gennip, which meant assuming authority over the parish, the school, and the Sisters.
St. Mary's Boys School, taught now by the Sisters, was held in the basement of the Church in September 1873, and soon after the girls were moved to similar classrooms from their day enrollment at the Academy. This move was the actual beginning of the St. Mary Parish School of today.
It is interesting to note that when St. John's parish was formed in 1874, the cost of erecting the church prohibited Fr. Camillus Maes from also building a school. The children of St. John's and St. Mary's were taught in the same classrooms; each pastor assumed one half of the expenses of maintenance and of the teachers' salaries until 1901.
As early as 1885, three parishes in Monroe, including St. Mary's, united to finance a central Catholic high school, under the sponsorship of Fr. Francis De Broux. Bishop Borgess laid these plans aside in favor of his idea to sponsor a seminary. This was St. Francis Seminary, opened in September 1886 with 35 students. Unfortunately it closed in June 1889.
The building then became an orphanage - St. Francis Male Orphan Asylum - until 1908 when the institution was moved to Detroit. There was another orphanage in Monroe, run by the Sisters in 1860 in a part of their convent, called St. Mary's Home, known later as St. Joseph's Cottage for female orphans. This institution was in the frame structure West of the convent. Later this building was donated to St. Mary's to be used as the first school building. It was moved to the Northwest corner of the Church. Enrollment in the St. Mary Parish School continued to gain as reported in a school report from 1896 which states there were 2 teachers, 52 boys, and 50 girls attending. Fr. Soffers remained as Pastor until his death in 1899.
Reverend Joseph Joos became Pastor in November 1899. This man was also devoted to education, his labors resulting in a four room brick school building which was built in June 1910 and was named the Sacred Heart Institute. In the 1910 report, Joos states that there are 4 teachers, 100 boys, 100 girls in the new school which had cost $11,586.65 (teachers were paid $450 a year). Sister Mary Roch was principal.
Father Joos died in 1913, with father Downey assuming duties until relieved by the new Pastor, Father Henry DeGryse. Another teacher was added to the staff, and enrollment increased again to 150 boys, 175 girls. Sister Francis Regis Reilly was principal until 1922, followed by Sister Marianna Markey (1922-1935). From 1923 to 1935 the Sacred Heart Institute was used as a facility for practice teaching for the novice teachers from St. Mary Normal College. In 1935 the practice teaching was shifted to St. Mary Academy.
Meanwhile in April of 1921 Fr. DeGryse was given permission by Bishop Michael J. Gallagher to build an addition to the Institute for $12,000; $3,500 came in June from an Owen Conlan at 5% interest, and in October $6,000 (at 5 % interest) was received from St. Mary College and Academy. In 1925 Father DeGryse purchased lots for a janitor's house.
At the end of Sr. Marianna's tenure in 1935 there were about 400 students with eight religious teachers. Sr. Marie Winifred Kerwin became Principal and served until 1945. Fr. DeGryse continued to champion education and catechism, and at his Golden Jubilee in 1938 gave his school children each a metallic rosary as a remembrance. After his death in 1942, Fr. Edmund Perrin was named administrator and pastor of St. Mary's. In the school there were still 8 teachers among 393 students. 71 children received their First Communion, 128 children and 15 adults were confirmed in June, and 57 pagan babies were ransomed in the Holy Childhood Society. The following year there were 407 children at the school, with 59 in Grade 3. Highlights of the year included the blessing of a new flag, the organization of three boys choirs in grades 4 through 8. $13,000 was turned in for war stamps and bonds!
In the year 1945-46, Sr. Marie Winifred became English Supervisor for her Community and Sr. Sophia Fox replaced her as principal. Eight teachers remained, and better bus service enabled the children living in rural areas to now attend St. Mary's. The Holy Name and The Children of Mary Societies were re-established. Altar acolytes served not only at St. Mary's Masses but also at the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Academy and at the IHM Motherhouse Chapel. In the Holy Childhood, pagan babies were again ransomed; the Pail of Pennies campaign yielded money for the poor and homeless of the war-ravaged Europe, and parishioners supported the Red Cross efforts, March of Dimes, and sale of Holy Childhood seals. One hundred forty five were confirmed by Bishop Wocznicki in June, and former St. Mary School pupil Emil Dussia was proudly ordained into the holy priesthood.
For the year 1946-47, 436 students were enrolled; Sister Marie Sara Scanlan was Principal. Societies at work were listed as Children of Mary, Junior Holy Name Society, Knights of the Altar, and the Apostleship of Prayer, all extinct groups today. Sister remained until 1954. During the 1953-54 school year, St. Mary's hired its first lay teacher (also first in any parochial school in Monroe). Miss Margaret Harrington taught 7th grade. Fr. Perrin was ill at this time and Fr. John Hardy came from Wyandotte to assist him for the summer. Fr. Perrin died in February 1954, his many efforts to make the school successful very much appreciated by many.
Cardinal Mooney appointed Fr. Francis Paquette as new Pastor in March of 1954, Fr. Paqtiette had been at St. Charles, Newport, and was assisted by Fr. Hardy. In September he laid the cornerstone for the 4 classroom brick addition to the school, including a kitchen, lavatories and boiler room. In February 1958 Gratton Construction Co. of Monroe built the gymnasium and activities building costing about $96,816. In 1954-55 there were two lay teachers and 8 Sisters in the school, Sister Deodata Girardot served as Principal from 1954 -1961.
In May of 1955 parishioner Charles Verhoeven's 8-room residence at 117 Borgess, was purchased for a new convent to house the St. Mary School Sisters. An addition costing $5,000 provided a chapel, kitchen, office space, and other improvements. Another $ 10,000 was invested for remodeling and furnishings.
In the school in the fall of 1955, uniforms were voted on by parents (191 voting, 164 yes, 27 no), and adopted for the first time for the girl students. In 1961 double grade classrooms were used in the lower grades, and Sister Cassian Schloff took over at St. Mary's School until 1968, when Sister Angelique Rose became Principal. After her brief tenure, Sister Margaret Cutcher, who came from St. Charles, Newport, took over as Principal in the fall of 1969, with Sister Angelique as Coordinator.
With Sister Margaret's arrival St. Mary's moved into a new era of educational expansion. This year was the first year that the school had more lay teachers than religious teachers; also a new agreement that had been finalized in 1968 was put into motion. This involved "shared time" between the parochial schools of Monroe and the public schools. Public school buses took 7th and 8th Grade parochial students to Hollywood (7th) and Cantrick (8th). Classes there included math, science, physical education, music, home economics, and shop. After lunch, the students were bussed back to St. Mary's for religion, social studies, and English classes. The program was very beneficial to the students who enjoyed both sides of the educational coin, the parochial and the public. The program only lasted two years and with governmental intervention concerning tax breaks among other reasons, this program had to be dropped.
In the fall of 1970 another first began for the students at St. Mary's. Elective courses, offered by various people on Fridays, were given to the 7th and 8th graders. This program would prove to be popular and a successful way to learn. The initial electives included journalism, math, weightlifting, drama, girls cooking, art and typing. Over the years, some other electives taught were: ceramics, crocheting, knitting, educational games, floral arranging, sewing, public speaking, Spanish, French, photography, social awareness, crafts, candy molding, mime, drawing, calligraphy, and a travelogue. For the younger grades there have also been programs added such as band (music), art classes, participation in science fairs, school newspapers. For the 1986-87 year, a school yearbook was published for the first time.
Regrettably, 1987 was the final year for Sister Margaret Cutcher as Principal of St. Mary's. She has labored long and hard to put St. Mary's students as forerunners throughout the county in educational excellence, not just in academics, which are so important, but also in meeting other goals in personality, morality, Christianity and sportsmanship. Our first lay principal Ms. Mary Anne Lapinsky took charge in September 1987.
'The present school buildings are in good repair, with their interiors and classrooms altered and reorganized as necessary. The old playground area between St. Mary's and Monroe Catholic Central was blacktopped for parking, and an enclosed brick breezeway added to connect the two school buildings. A kindergarten class of morning and afternoon students was started in 1982, with enrollment averaging 31 pupils.
We, the parishioners of St. Mary's, owe a debt of gratitude to all the fine religious and lay teachers who dedicated themselves to the Christian upbringing of our children. We also thank all the people in any way connected with the successful operation of our fine school.