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Gathering of Academy of Notre Dame Alumnae

By Laurie Lindauer, Communications Manager, SSND North American Vocation Team
Academy of Notre Dame Reunion

What began as a simple Mass intention for living and deceased graduates grew into a recent reunion celebration for more than 300 alumnae and former faculty of the Academy of Notre Dame (AND) in Belleville, Illinois. The gathering took place at St. Augustine of Canterbury Catholic Church, Belleville, on Saturday, August 5, 2023, almost 100 years since the school was opened by School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) in 1924. It was closed in 1972 due to mine subsidence.

The intention was also to give thanksgiving for the superior learning opportunities and for the dedication and support of the SSND. Six SSND attended the event.

“Though the physical buildings may no longer stand, the spiritual foundation that was instilled in all our hearts will always remain. The excellent education provided by the School Sisters of Notre Dame has guided us through our Catholic adult lives,” said Rita Schanherr Uhl, Class of 1969, as she made efforts to contact former students and teachers to invite them to attend. “Our beloved high school and the residence of so many School Sisters of Notre Dame lives in our hearts.” Rita first asked those interested in attending to contact her so she could reserve pews in church for the regularly scheduled parish Mass at 4:30 p.m. She thought she might have to reserve only a small section of the church and recruited alumnae to serve as greeters, ushers, lectors, altar servers and extraordinary ministers at Mass. But once the reservations started pouring in, it was clear the main body of church would be filled with alumnae, and plans expanded to include a reception following Mass. The parish hall was reserved and parishioners volunteered to provide refreshments and even a photographer. Alumnae were invited to bring memorabilia to share, and several tables were needed for all the items which included photos, yearbooks, newspapers, diplomas, class rings and even uniforms!

Academy of Notre Dame Reunion

Alumnae representing four decades began arriving an hour before Mass. The voices of hundreds of women visiting with one another filled the church with so much joy, Msgr. William (Bill) McGhee exclaimed, “It feels like Christmas!” A 16-page program included many acknowledgements and historical information about the school. Several alumnae are still in the area and gather in class groups on a regular basis, but it had been many years since an all-school reunion.

Some attendees at the gathering traveled a distance to be there. Sister Jane Marie Hotze arrived from Effingham, Illinois, a two-hour drive from Belleville. She taught Religion, English and Speech at AND from 1957 to 1968.

Sister Carol Marie Wildt taught religion, science (biology and chemistry) and math (algebra and geometry) at AND from 1962 to 1969. She lives and works on the Sancta Maria in Ripa campus in St. Louis and also attended the event. “It was a graced experience to be with so many former AND students and to witness their loyalty and gratitude to SSND for their years at AND,” she remarked.

Sister Marilyn Scheibel, AND Class of 1962, came from St. Louis to connect with her former classmates. Sisters Nancy Flamm and Theresa (Tess) Markus, while not AND alumnae, were present for the occasion. Sister Tess lives and ministers in Belleville and has many connections with AND graduates and their families. Sister Nancy’s aunt, Sister Magdaline, provided community service at AND from 1955-1969.

Academy of Notre Dame Reunion

Sister Lois Martens (Marie Ruth), who lives in Newton, Illinois, and taught religion, English and Latin at AND from 1962 to 1970, was also in attendance and participated in the presentation of the gifts with the other SSND. She presented a basket with the names of more than 500 deceased graduates and 240 deceased sisters who taught at the school between 1924 and 1972. Prayers were offered for all.

The other organizers of the reunion included Diane Drovetta Kreeb ’65, Jackie Lugge Lauf ’71 and Barb Wessel Masters. Barb would have been in the Class of ’74 but was a sophomore when the school closed. Like most of the girls attending AND at the time, she continued her education at Althoff Catholic High School, a coed diocesan school that opened in 1965 just down Main Street from AND.

AND began as the Institute of the Immaculate Conception, a boarding school for girls founded by School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1859. It became a secondary school in 1863. Although a fire ravaged the institute in 1884, taking the lives of four sisters and 22 students, it was rebuilt in the same location in downtown Belleville. In 1924, the school was relocated and renamed the Academy of Notre Dame.

On its opening day, there were 101 students housed in Annunciation Hall, a four-story building. Enrollment quickly increased and Visitation Hall opened in 1938 to accommodate 500 students. LeClerc College for Women offered classes on the same campus from 1939-1949. The option for boarding students ended in 1952. The final addition to the campus, Regina Hall, was a combination gymnasium and cafeteria, and was built in 1964 with the knowledge that the land beneath the campus was subsiding due to mine shafts. Visitation Hall had to be razed, and in 1968, mobile units were brought in to relieve space issues. At this point, the SSND decided to close the Academy of Notre Dame. In December 1971, the almost 500 students at the time were told that AND would close at the end of the school year, ending a 113-year tradition which began with Immaculate Conception.

Academy of Notre Dame Reunion

There was no fee to attend the reunion event, but a collection was taken to offset the cost of food and drinks for such a large crowd. Anything left over was to be given to the sisters. The four organizers visited Ripa a few weeks later to present a significant donation collected from the event attendees. Sister Carol Marie provided the ladies with a tour, in particular the Heritage Room, which houses four wood and glass display cabinets originally in the library at AND. The ladies also attended daily Mass with the sisters and joined them for a lunch of pizza and wings in the dining room.

A reunion celebrating the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Academy is already planned for August 18, 2024, at 3 p.m. Interested attendees can contact Rita Uhl at ritakayuhl@gmail.com for all the details.

The pastor of St. Augustine Church, Msgr. McGhee, offered this special blessing which was printed on the inside back cover of the program:

Dear Lord, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven and Earth and Our Loving Mother, we pray that you would Bless all those who gather for the Mass on August 5th, offered for the Living and Deceased of the Academy of Notre Dame 1924-1972.

May Graces and Blessings come upon all who gather, and Eternal Rest be granted to all the deceased of our school.

May Divine Guidance be granted to those preparing to welcome all in attendance at the Mass and reception. May it be a joyful and Grace-filled time, recounting the many blessings received in the days past and the lives built on the values of Faith instilled in us as students at the Academy of Notre Dame.

We ask this through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother to Christ our Lord. Amen.

View a recording of the Mass.


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320 East Ripa Avenue

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Phone: 314-561-4100



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