St. Mary’s Academy classmates tour old school after 50 years

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The tradition of the lantern procession was done every year in May at St. Mary’s Academy in order to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. The young women attending the academy would gather at the steps on the west side of the building (seniors on the steps, underclassmen on the lawn) and then proceed with lanterns down the sidewalk and steps toward the grotto, where Mary was crowned. On Sunday, the class of 1965 re-enacted a lantern procession. (Photo by Correne Martin)

The class of 1965, including graduates from Prairie du Chien High School, Campion Jesuit High School and St. Mary’s Academy gathered for a reunion this past weekend. On Sunday, those women who graduated in ‘65 from St. Mary’s, as well as a few who attended a couple years there, toured the old academy. They included (front row, from left, maiden names only) Teresa Cipra, Sharon Shulka, Patricia Mulry, Catherine Caya, Sheila Traub, Virginia Huser, Carole Peterson, Kathleen Elliott, Linda Reisberg (the only former aspirant to go on to become a sister), Kathleen Kane; (back row) Ann Irlbeck, Margaret Artero, Rebecca O’Rourke, Mary Ellen Weyer, Julie Titlbach, Carol Titlbach, Marilyn Rausch, Kathleen Farrell and Mary Evelyn Mahan.

By Marilyn Garvey

The heat was not coming from the brightly-colored lanterns Sunday afternoon as classmates of St. Mary’s Academy marched with them in procession to the grotto, on the unoccupied grounds of their former school in Prairie du Chien. The heat was coming from the sweltering sun that clearly did not dampen the spirits of the women, who, 50 years ago, passed under a similar arch of lanterns in the lantern procession, a long-standing tradition for St. Mary’s graduates.

Some of these women traveled from great distances around the country and world to, once again, see and reminisce with their classmates from half a century ago. Dr. Margaret Artero came from Kosrae, one of the islands in the Federated States of Micronesia; Dr. Barbara Weber from Arlington, Va.; Patty Mulry from Venice, Fla.; and Mary Evelyn Mahan Schubert from Perris, Calif.

In all, 31 graduates and former St. Mary’s students, including five one-time aspirants (of which one actually became a nun), enjoyed a day filled with memories, hugs, cherished songs and a few tears.

The day of remembrance started with Mass at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church where Father Fagan blessed the St. Mary’s Class of 1965 in both English and Swahili. (Father Fagan is a visiting missionary priest serving in Tanzania. His mother graduated from St. Mary’s in 1920.) With compassionate humor for the upward climb, Father Fagan asked the celebrating alumnae to remain steadfast and courageous in their Christian journey.

After Mass, graduates enjoyed a brunch buffet at Huckleberry’s Restaurant with a welcome from Marilyn Rausch Garvey, 1965 senior class secretary-treasurer, and acknowledgements to Carole Peterson Sayer and Barbara Weber, senior class president and vice president, respectively. Marilyn passed along the regrets of Sister Lucille Winnicke (Mary Linus), former principal of St. Mary’s, and Sister Betty Shakal, former biology and chemistry teacher, stating both had planned to attend, but were experiencing health-related challenges. Marilyn encouraged classmates to visit former teachers such as Sister Lorraine Forster (Incarnata) in Las Vegas in the future.

Following brunch, Prairie du Chien historian Mary Antoine gave a presentation on the history of St. Mary’s and Virginia “Ginger” Huser Arms led the classmates on a tour of the old St. Mary’s Academy, most recently owned by Clinicare Corp., of West Allis, as Wyalusing Academy. The facility and 17-acre grounds were donated in July to River to Town Initiatives, of Prairie du Chien, a non-profit organization hoping to find an appropriate developer. Built in 1872 and later expanded in 1902, it is located on the grounds of the old Fort Crawford.

During the tour of the former St. Mary’s Academy grounds, several classmates helped prepare the grotto for the tradition of the lantern procession: Sheila Traub Linder, Teresa Cipra Tichenor, Sharon Shulka Quamme, Carol Titlbach Toberman, Ginger Huser Arms and Julie Titlbach Breckler. Becky O’Rourke Wilson supplied canes for the lanterns. A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was placed in the grotto and a vase full of flowers was presented to her by the class’ Miss St. Mary’s (Titlbach Toberman).

The women did not need a dress rehearsal as they swiftly and easily joined the ranks to sing and march down the long sidewalk and steps to the grotto. Once at the grotto, the group paused in prayer remembering the five classmates who are deceased: Joellyn Lindner Cipra, Suzanne Walz Taylor, Mary Catherine Heil Nervegna, Janet Montag Brum and Karen Wolford Althof.

Following the procession, the group moved next door to the Fort Crawford Museum and enjoyed viewing the artifacts and information on St. Mary’s Academy that are housed there. Antoine shared that more murals from the academy need to be restored, but funds are needed to complete the restorations.

All in all, it was a special day of fun and memories with promises of “we’ll meet again, my friends.”

Marilyn Rausch Garvey is a 1965 graduate of St. Mary’s, who volunteered to write this article for the Courier Press.

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