Wednesday, September 19, 2012

St. Mary's Parish and School



Moving to what was meant to be Grandpa and Grandma Ready’s retirement house in 1943 meant changing schools. Mom and Dad somehow came up with the monthly tuition of three dollars—that would be $39.95 now—for my attendance at St. Mary’s Catholic Grade School in Independence, Missouri. From 1943 to 1954—that is, from second grade through graduation from high school—St. Mary’s Parish and school indelibly influenced my life.

The city of Independence, founded in 1827, sprouted like a mushroom for it was the “jumping-off” point for three trails headed west: the Oregon—which stretched 2,000 miles; the California—also 2,000 miles; and the Santa Fe, which took the early pioneers on a 900-mile trek southwest.


A map of the Oregon trail.

Many of the Independence settlers opened shops to “outfit” the emigrants. For weeks that stretched into as many as three months, they traveled these trails in covered wagons with oxen pulling them across the “sea of grass” beyond the Missouri River.


A covered wagon or prairie schooner.
Saint Mary’s was founded on the western frontier of Missouri in 1823. According to its website, it “has survived uprisings among settlers of different faiths, raids by outlaws, and the Civil War.” For the first few years of its existence, missionary priests came to the parish to celebrate mass with the early settlers. 
Then in 1848, the parish got its first pastor. Reverend Bernard Donnelly “purchased a wagon shop on February 12 for $250. This wagon shop, 24' x 36' made of brick, became the first Catholic Church” in the territory. The cornerstone for the existing church was laid in 1864.                                                                    
In 1853, Father Donnelly converted a one-and-a-half story building standing next to the original wagon-shop church into a school. He did all the teaching the first year. Then a local woman took over and taught without pay. By 1865, the school had two teachers paid by the town of Independence as they instructed both Catholics as well as non-Catholics.   

In 1877, a cyclone destroyed the original school building. The fourth pastor immediately built a new structure “made of brick and 40 'x 60' in size, which included an attic and basement and faced on North Liberty Street. The building was to be used as a combination convent and school for the next 75 years.”                                                                                                                         
In 1883, two Sisters of Mercy nuns came to Independence to teach at Saint Mary’s. They set up a day school and a boarding school—or high school—for young ladies. The founder of the Sisters of Mercy was Catherine McAuley, who was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1778.

Mother Catherine McAuley wearing the “habit” of the Sisters of Mercy.
Forty-nine years later—in 1827—McAuley used her inheritance to establish “the first House of Mercy on Lower Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland, . . . as a place to shelter, feed and educate women and girls.” In 1831, the Dublin bishop asked her to form a new religious congregation: Thus was born the Sisters of Mercy.                                                                                                                                        
In 1843, the Roman Catholic bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, invited the Mercy nuns to the United States where they established hospitals and schools. By 1878, two of them were teaching at Saint Mary’s in Independence, Missouri. Sixty-five years later, when I first began to attend Saint Mary’s Grade School, four nuns taught the eight grades. Several others taught in the adjacent high school.                                                                                                   
When I took the entrance examinations at the College of Mount Saint Scholastica in 1954 and did well, the Benedictines there complimented me on the excellent schooling I’d had at Saint Mary’s. I still remember fondly many of the nuns there. They greatly influenced my life and in postings throughout the next few months, you’ll meet several of them—Sister Corita, Sister Mary McCauley, Sister Edith from Ireland, Sister Rosaria, Sister Bonita, and Sister Aquinas. All of them taught me well.

PS: Next Sunday, on my new blog—my life as a word-crafter—I’ll be posting about the ways in which the study of Latin and diagramming sentences has influenced my writing.

FYI: The information in today’s posting is from the websites for Saint Mary’s Parish; the town of Independence; Saint Mary’s High School, which provides the history of the first convent and grade school on the site; and the Sisters of Mercy.




41 comments:

  1. I enjoyed learning about this history, Dee. No wonder you had such a positive image of nuns as you grew up. Most of us who are not Catholic only know of nuns secondhand, from stories or movies.

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    1. Dear DJan, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I wasn't sure that anyone would really care about St. Mary's and its history, but, of course, it's fascinating to me. At some point, I'm going to continue with the convent postings--the days I was a nun.

      When I started this on-line memoir, I thought I'd be blogging for about a year! But I've discovered so many stories within me that are part of who I am today. I never realized how "storied" I was. Peace.

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  2. Isn't it amazing how much history has influenced everything. ;)

    I can't wait to read about your favorite nuns.

    P.S. I just finished "A Cat's Life: Dulcy's Story" for the second time. I so enjoy that book :)

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    1. Dear Elisa, yes, we are truly "the world we wandered through" as the poet Walt Whitman said. I'm glad you enjoyed your second reading of "A Cat's Life: Dulcy's Story." Thanks for reading it again. Peace.

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  3. I love history, and this was fascinating to me to read and learn. I also truly love reading about dedicated, excellent teachers, which your certainly were. They inspire me! Thank you for researching and sharing~

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    1. Dear Shelly, so glad you found the history fascinating to read. And thank you for the kind words about my teaching. I'm so impressed--and inspired--by yours. The posting you recently did on one of your students and the Holocaust memorial was so poignant. The loneliness of the young boy brought tears to my eyes. Peace.

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  4. I love history and enjoyed reading your post.

    The Sister's of Mercy taught at the high school I attended in White Plains, NY. I remember most of them fondly.

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    1. Dear Arleen, what a small world we live in. Not only the teachers we shared but the fact that one of my first bosses was from White Plains. Peace.

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    2. And, if I am not mistaken, we both have the name O'Mara in our past.

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    3. Dear Arleen, yes, my mom's maiden name was O'Mara. My grandfather, whom I never met, had grown up in Johnston, Pennsylvania. He lived there during the famous 1889 flood. His parents--or perhaps his grandparents (I'm not sure) came over the Pennsylvania from Ireland--County Cork (I think). What about your "O'Mara" background? Do you know more with certain. My mom never talked about the past, and I didn't think to ask and so I know so little. Peace.

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    1. Dear Fishducky, you are ALWAYS so enthusiastic about my stories. You make me feel so good!!!!! Peace.

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  6. I was also greatly influenced by the sisters I had in elementary school. When I was in high school I worked after school and weekend in our local hospital and this same community of sisters again had a lasting influence. A year after graduating from high school I entered their congregation--the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and this year celebrated my golden jubilee with them. How's that for influence!!

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  7. Dear Sister Ann Marie, I'd say that's a lot of influence! Congratulations on celebrating your golden jubilee this year. You must have touched many, many lives for good. I entered the Benedictines--who taught me in college. But I stayed only 8 1/2 years; I left the convent in Atchison, Kansas, on Christmas Eve of 1966. I so admire those who stayed and serve so generously. Peace.

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  8. Was the school near Harry Truman's house? We visited the Truman's home and the museum quite a few years ago. He was the president when you changed schools, correct? And when the Trumans returned to Independence, did you ever see them out and about? Thanks for the information. It's very interesting.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Dear Janie, Saint Mary's was about eight blocks away from President Truman's home. Sometimes, I walked a friend to her house and then caught the bus out to my home in the country. When President Truman was in his home, the Secret Service men would be outside on the sidewalk. Once my friend and I threw a couple of rocks toward one of them to see what he's do. As we tossed them, we quickly hid behind a tree. He whirled and looked around and then grinned at us! Peace.

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  9. This is so interesting and I am looking forward to reading about the teachers that influenced you. And on Sunday about Latin, which I also studied, and diagramming sentences, which I don't know anything about, at least I don't think so.

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    1. Dear Inger, I had some wonderfully gifted teachers in the years I spent in grade and high school and college. When people say that I was a good teacher, I always credit those women from whom I learned how to listen--which is essential to good teaching.

      I'm glad you are going to follow the other blog when you can fit it in. I think I'm going to enjoy writing about writing and editing and publishing. Peace.

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  10. I look forward to meeting these special nuns who were important to you, Dee! And congratulations on the new blog. I'll be sure to visit and follow it!

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    1. Dear Kathy, I know from reading your blog how important nuns were to your education. I remember one nun about whom you wrote an entire posting; she greatly influenced your feelings about yourself. Or that's the way I remember it.

      I look forward to your visit to my new blog. I'm excited about the challenge of writing about writing! Peace.

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  11. Hello Dee, the pioneers of yesteryear were amazingly brave people. How amazing to be able to follow your school so far back. It sounds like you had a wonderful place of learning with lovely nuns. The town of Independence? I think it is spoken about in Laura Ingalls Wilders 'Little House' books.

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    1. Dear Crystal, I was able to go into the history because of the blog sites I found. But one thing that wasn't in them was that the field to the south of the church had been a Civil War battlefield. When work was done there, the builders found cannonballs from the battle.

      Yes, the "Little House" books do make mention of Independence. It remained a "jumping off" point for many decades of the 19th century. Peace.

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  12. Thank you Dee. This post is about a country and a religion both of which are foreign to me, and I am so glad to have the opportunity to broaden my horizons. Thank you. Lots. I am also looking forward to meeting those nuns who were so influential in your life.

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    1. Dear EC, on my new blog--the one on writing--I'll post a story this coming Sunday about one of those nuns and how she taught our class diagramming, which made such a difference for my writing. I was so blessed with good teachers.

      And of course, I so enjoy reading your blog because I learn about a country that I know so little about. Thank you for teaching me with such interesting posts. Peace.

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  13. I have always loved history, so this post was especially interesting for me. What an amazing legacy those nuns left!

    I regret not learning Latin, as I believe it would be helpful in many ways. My daughter learned some basic things in a linguistics class she took. I remember diagramming sentences! We don't do that anymore. Maybe we should!

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    1. Dear Sandi, so good to hear from you and to know from this comment and your recent posting that you are coming up for air after the beginning of a new school year! I sort of think that diagramming would be a good thing to add to the curriculum. It truly has helped me--not just with writing but with thinking. Peace.

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  14. Looking forward to reading about the nuns. Great stories! Have a peaceful weekend.

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    1. Dear Stephanie, those Sister of Mercy and Benedictine nuns truly did influence my life. I'm looking forward to writing more about them. I'm glad you're interested in reading about them. Thank you. And you, too, have a peaceful weekend.

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  15. Ah Dee you truly are a teacher my friend! I enjoyed this history lesson and the thought of you as a little school girl makes me smile!

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    1. Dear Melynda, several psychics have told me that I was born to be a teacher. So thank you for thinking that I truly am. I giggled a lot as a school girl, but was excruciatingly shy. I bet you were the life of the classroom! Peace.

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  16. Most schools here don't have as much history as yours does. I went to boomer schools that popped up in the suburbs of Minneapolis to hold all the children who were popping out--LOL! Sounds like a wonderful school. :)

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    1. Dear Rita, yes a long history and the high school is still there with added buildings. The Sisters of Mercy were excellent teachers and I find myself often thinking of all they taught me. "Boomer" schools is a new term for me. Does that come from the term "baby boomer"? I hope your weekend is filled with some needed rest for you and a cessation of aches and pains. Peace.

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  17. Such an interesting history, Dee, and how the good sisters must have influenced not only your education, but, your life as well. I can only imagine the dedication and how difficult it must have been in the early days of settling Kansas. I can't wait to hear more.

    I hope you are feeling well.

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    1. Dear Penny, the Sister of Mercy nuns who came to St. Mary's were truly dedicated. As were the Benedictine nuns who came down the Mississippi River to Saint Louis and then up to Atchison Kansas to establish the convent named Mount Saint Scholastica. It was there I attended college and entered the convent. The grade and high school I attended in Independence is in Missouri, but the college is in Kansas.
      I'm glad you found the history interesting, Penny.

      And thanks for hoping for my good health. I truly am fine although my brother has a bad cold and is concerned about giving it to all of us! Peace.

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  18. Sounds like a great school, and with such an interesting history! It's reassuring, too, because my girls just started at a Catholic school this year. I hope their experiences will be just as positive as yours were!

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  19. Dear Emily, my experience in Catholic schools was very positive. I hope that will be the same for your two girls. What order of nuns are doing the teaching? Or is the school staffed with what we used to call "lay people." That is, single or married women and men. The teaching orders of nuns lost so many members during the late sixties and early seventies and fewer women are entering, so often the Catholic schools they used to staff have only one or two nuns teaching there. Peace.

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  20. I am looking forward to read more of your formative years in this school. This introduction
    has been very interesting.

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    1. Dear Friko, I'm glad you found this second-grade memory interesting. Next week I hope to share one that a little funny! Peace.

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  21. Dee, I so enjoyed this glimpse into the history of Independence and also your school. Those early pioneers must have such courage and determination, and here I include the priests and nuns who went out from their safe convents to set up churches, schools and hospitals in these newly-settled areas. Truly fascinating.

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    1. Dear Perpetua, like you I think of those early pioneers who traveled west from the Atlantic seaboard and settled in the Mid-West. They were intrepid. I'm glad you found this "fascinating." I was so blessed to have that order of nuns teach me in grade and high school. Peace.

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  22. Wow now you are being so historical. Hvaing been born 10 years later and coming to Toronto when I did put me in a vey different world here. I did attend Catholic Kindergarten in Bremen and once wrote about my brush with fate in a sandbox (Jan.19,2011).

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