Friday, November 7, 2008

A Proud Tradition

Notre Dame Academy was first opened on 5th Street, Covington, in 1876 as a grade school. The Sisters of Notre Dame had arrived from Coesfeld, Germany, shortly before this opening, making the academy one of the first efforts of the Sisters here in the United States. In the fall of 1906, the Sisters began the high school program that grew so quickly that by1937 the grade school program had to be discontinued.

The first 40 years of the high school’s existence were very literally graced with the leadership of Sr. Mary Agnetis Schmitz, S.N.D.. Sister saw the enrollment increase over those years as she watched the facility on 5th Street age and become less and less adequate. In the mid 1950s the Sisters began seriously planning for a new facility. Sister Mary Agnetis, now past her leadership years, but still very active in the school, began looking around for potential donors. This search led her to Conrad Hilton, the hotel magnate. Sister’s first letter to Mr. Hilton impressed his secretary so much with its charm and sincerity that she passed it on to him, and thus began a wonderful correspondence of 17 years. Not only that, which is little known, but Mr. Hilton contributed $500,000 to the building campaign, one third of the campaign goal, and helped to acquire additional contributions. All of these contributions allowed the Sisters to build a new facility on Hilton Drive in 1963.

Interestingly, the letters that passed between Sr. Mary Agnetis and Conrad Hilton forged a sort of partnership with Conrad supplying funds and business advice, and Sister offering interest in and promises of prayer for his business ventures. Revealed in the letters is a surprising candor on the part of both writers, along with a sense of genuine concern and congeniality. The partnership established between Sr. Mary Agnetis and Conrad Hilton was not extinguished with the deaths of these two titans. Mr. Hilton’s grandson Steven M. Hilton was responsible for an additional contribution from the Hilton Foundation when Notre Dame expanded the science labs and media center, added classrooms, and constructed a new gym in 1996.

Why all the money, all the effort on the part of so many people, starting unflinchingly with Sr. Mary Agnetis, over all these years? What would she respond if asked that question today? We think we know: Notre Dame Academy is here to help young women to be all that God made them to be, women of faith who have a clear understanding of themselves and their world, possessing leadership qualities that will enable them to bring that faith into their everyday lives, women who will make a difference in this needy world long into the future. That’s our goal, too, for Notre Dame Academy.

Friday, October 24, 2008

International Guests

Sunday Mass, October 19th, at St. Joseph Heights is over, and we Sisters from Notre Dame Academy hurry home. Last minute preparations are in order before we greet our guests, all S.N.D.s, but from around the world. These Sisters are members of General Conference of the Sisters of Notre Dame meeting in Toledo, Ohio, for a month of preparations for provincial and general chapters that will take place in the next two years. Their weekend visit to our Covington province includes a visit to N.D.A. for a little reception, and the Sisters here are eager to see them. Several Sisters at the academy have been to Rome, our generalate, as well as to some of the other provincialates across the world—S.N.D.s are in 18 countries—and know the representatives who are part of the General Conference. We entertain the Sisters on the fourth floor, the convent area, and then proceed to the Media Center for an audio-visual presentation of our school and mission. Time to leave takes our guests back to the foyer where Sr. Elaine Marie gives each a memento of N.D.A. Covington. There is, by the way, at least one Notre Dame Academy in each of our 14 provinces. It is so delightful and inspiring to make this kind of connection with our Sisters, and to know that we S.N.D.s are, across the world, educating young men and women to make a difference.

P.S. The Sisters are from the U. S. (four provinces), Brazil (two), Germany, Holland, Italy, India (two), Indonesia, South Korea, and New Guinea, 28 in all including three translators. The Sister in the photo with our Sr. M. Paul Ann is Sr. M. Sujeeta, our Superior General from India.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sister Mary Virginia Ann Cleves, S.N.D.

As you have probably read, Sister Mary Virginia Ann Cleves, fifth principal of NDA died on the day she wanted to die, Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. This was very significant for her since her brother and nephew are both Franciscans, and her sister, also a Sister of Notre Dame, is Sister M. Jeanne Francis. Sister's wake and Mass of Resurrection were at St. Joseph Heights on Tuesday, Oct. 7, and burial in the convent cemetary the following morning. Since Sister was so strongly associated with Notre Dame Academy, the administration here wished to honor her as well as call attention of the students to her significance for the school. Students were, therefore, asked to act as honor guard at Sister's wake, Mass, and burial. The response was generous and impressive. Students stood on either side of the casket during visitation and the wake, led the procession into chapel for the Mass of Resurrection, and lined the way to the cemetery for Sister's burial. This latter was done in the light rain of Wednesday morning, but the girls stood poised and respectful.
Did all these girls know Sister M. Virginia Ann? Perhaps a few did. Sister tutored well into the 2007-2008 school year until her health no longer permitted the exertion. She could be seen sitting in the foyer waiting for girls who needed help in math. But Sister's involvement with students of NDA goes back to 1961 when she began teaching in the Math and Science Departments. In 1971 Sister became principal and served in that capacity until 1986. After four years at Bishop Brossart High, she returned to NDA and again taught math, assisted/mentored teachers, and worked in the Alumnae Office until health problems forced her to cut back to just tutoring. A display honoring Sister M. Virginia Ann is currently in the school foyer, and includes, among other things, a list of things accomplished under her leadership as principal. It is hoped that this will give the students a better understanding of what Sister meant to NDA, and a model for a life of service that we wish all our students to emulate. We know that Sister is among our company of intercessors before the Lord whom she served so well.