For the few of us who went off the beaten path for middle school and called 185 E Illinois Road “home” during junior high, 2017 marks a century of the School of St. Mary. What began in 1917 as a small parochial school now has had thousands of students pass through its doors. But, aside from the small percentage of us that attended the school, most don’t know much about St. Mary’s other than the distinctive uniform plaid skirts and the church next door. For an institution that’s been a part of this town and has served this community for the better part of the last century, it just didn’t seem right that it wasn’t more well-known. And, being a graduate of SOSM myself, I felt it was due time I gave credit where credit was due and paid homage to the school that laid the foundation for the person I am today. So I found a few SOSM alums around the halls of LFHS, and asked them, in their eyes, what their take on the School of St. Mary is.
For Lexy Bianchini, SOSM class of 2012 and LFHS class of 2016, her St. Mary’s experience could be summed up as values, community, and perseverance. The latter makes sense, as not only was the virtue instilled in every student, but also carried over into high school, particularly during freshman year. Every former SOSM student I talked to remarked on the somewhat awkward transition from an 8th grade class of 60 kids to a high school grade involving 400 more. Even still, Lexy was able to see the value in the transitional experience: “I didn’t know as many people when I went to high school, so that was a little bit intimidating,” she admitted, “but I think that was also a great thing. I think it was great because I had the opportunity to find my own path and create my own new friendships.”
The lessons St. Mary’s imparted throughout middle school didn’t disappear after freshman year, however. Christian Braun, SOSM class of 2013 and current senior here at LFHS, commented on the skills he left middle school with that set him up for success in high school. “In addition to curriculum, my teachers also guided my fellow students and me to stay organized.” As any frantic, overbooked high school student can attest, the value of good organizational skills can’t be underestimated. He continued by saying, “As I encountered new and more challenging subjects at LFHS, having this organized mindset about schoolwork really helped me to succeed.” Every former student was quick to mention that their SOSM education resulted in more than just academic achievements. The philosophy on life and the virtues it imparted are as important–if not more so–than the classes that they took. It’s no surprise that many credited this aspect of St. Mary’s to the Catholic foundation of the school. While to students who didn’t attend St. Mary’s, the thought of weekly mass or religion classes might seem unnecessary or impractical, it was a quintessential part of the SOSM experience. On this subject, Christian added, “The largest differentiating factor for St. Mary’s is the faith experience all of the students gain while studying there. Like I said above, the religious influences at this school helped me to form my own conscience, guiding my interactions with others throughout my daily life.”
When asked how they would sum up their St. Mary’s experience, every alum emphasized the community of the school, and it’s not hard to see why. When you go K-8 more or less with the same group of 60 kids, you get pretty close to one another. As Mia Johnson–SOSM class of 2014 and current junior at LFHS–put it, “Once you’re a Crusader, you’re always a Crusader.” But I think to them (and to me), the word “community” has a twofold significance in this context; not only in the physical meaning of the group of people they went to school with, but also in the sense of community that the school encourages, the drive to give back to the society they live in and serve those around them. As Christian put it, since his days at SOSM he has felt compelled to put others above himself, and to work towards the betterment of everyone as a whole. “St. Mary’s has also taught me to act humbly in my daily life,” he continued, “and to do the most I can to help those around me to succeed in their own lives.” Above all, if there’s one thing that St. Mary’s students leave 8th grade with, it’s a firm understanding of the Golden Rule, something that is manifested in everything from the trademark politeness of SOSM alums to the dedication to service that is carried on throughout high school and beyond. “I think that from a combination of life experiences and from SMS, I really learned about–and I know it sounds cheesy–the importance of treating others the way you would want to be treated,” Lexy explained. “Now I’m not a perfect person, and I have not always followed this lesson, but I have become more aware of it. I try to live everyday by this lesson ,and it is rooted in my St Mary’s experience.”