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St. Gertrude School celebrates 75th anniversary

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. ANDREW DEANERY — Ask anyone with ties to St. Gertrude School in Madeira what makes it special and they’re likely to respond with a number of reasons, from the faith-filled presence of the Dominican Sisters and friars who have run the school from the start to the dedicated parents whose involvement reflects their commitment to Catholic education.

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Dominican Sister Mary Sheila Maksim, principal of St. Gertrude School, prays with students during the 75th anniversary Mass. (CT/Tony Tribble)

The entire school community has been commemorating St. Gertrude’s 75th anniversary with a variety of events. The celebration kicked off in August with an anniversary picnic. The weekend prior to the Nov. 16 feast day of the school’s patroness was filled with activities. The school gym was transformed into the setting for a “Black and White Ball,” held on Nov. 14, which offered parents, parishioners, former teachers and alumni an evening of reminiscing and dancing.

The school’s 75th anniversary Mass was held on Nov. 15, with Dominican Father Darren Pierre, pastor, presiding. Dominican Sister Mary Sheila Maksim offered out-of-uniform passes for the next school day to students who attended the Mass in their uniforms. A reception featuring a display of yearbooks and photographs from throughout the school’s history followed the liturgy.

The actual feast of St. Gertrude was set aside as a special day for the students and included an all-school Mass, ice cream sandwiches as a treat and a display of books and history about the saint. Each child also received a coloring book created by Julie Faust, a parent, which tells the story of St. Gertrude and the history of the school.

“I felt it was important for the students to have an understanding of our patron saint and how our school came to be,” explained Faust, who currently has four children enrolled at St. Gertrude.

The school first opened its doors in the fall of 1934, admitting 40 children in grades one through eight. At the time St. Gertrude consisted of three classrooms on the first floor and a convent on second, where three Sisters from the St. Cecilia Congregation of Dominican Sisters resided.

By the end of World War II, enrollment had increased to 117. To meet the needs of the school’s growing student population, the decision was made to convert the basement into additional classroom space. Enrollment continued to rise and, by 1949, more classrooms were needed, as was a school cafeteria and additional living space for the Sisters. Enrollment had climbed to more than 500 students by the late 50s, so a second addition was constructed featuring a connecting basement and four more classrooms.

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St. Gertrude students wait for a piece of cake at the reception following the anniversary Mass. (Courtesy photo)

In 2006 St. Gertrude’s original 72-year school building was torn and a new school opened its doors. The new facility has two classrooms per grade level to accomodate the some 450 students. According to Sister Mary Sheila, the school’s Catholic identity is reflected throughout the building, including in a corridor that begins outside the main office and depicts each mystery of the rosary, with a statue of the Blessed Mother handing a rosary to St. Dominic.

Sister Mary Sheila said St. Gertrude is particularly proud of its Virtues in Practice (VIP) program, which is reflective of the Dominican focus on cultivating the virtues and teaching people of all ages to practice the beatitudes as a means of living in accordance with God’s will. The program is offered to each grade level and operates on a three-year cycle with a year each devoted to faith, hope and charity. A different saint with a particular virtue is featured each month, and student workbooks, along with a parent guide, are available for use at home.

Principal for the past three years, Sister Mary Sheila said what makes St. Gertrude School so special is the “really unique combination of the strong presence of the friars and the Sisters, along with families and teachers who are dedicated to their faith.”

There are currently four Dominican Sisters and 16 friars present at St. Gertrude, she said.

“Our school is special because of the Dominican presence,” said Judy Bayer, who has been the school secretary for 31 years. “That has stayed the same over the years, and their presence and faith are such an example to the students.”

“It’s been wonderful place to work,” she added. “The Sisters have been so wonderful to me and the staff, parents and children have been great.”

For Faust, it’s the family atmosphere of the school and parish that stand out. “Whether you’ve just transferred in or been here your whole life, the presence of family is just incredible,” she said. “The parents are so involved in the school and give so freely of their time. Whether it’s working in the lunchroom or assisting the teachers, there’s just a constant flow of parent volunteers.”

The anniversary celebration is an opportunity to honor the school’s history and the “sacrifices of those who went before us who made St Gertrude what it is today,” Bayer said.

“I think it’s a time to give gratitude to God for how he has blessed the school,” added Sister Mary Sheila. “Our whole history has been one of life and growth.”

The celebration and other special events will continue through 2010 and include an alumni dance, a “St. Gertrude through the Ages” show and 75th anniversary parade through Madeira on July 4.

Eileen Connelly, OSU, can be reached at [email protected].

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