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May 28, 2017

Alumni weekend celebrates Sacred Heart School’s 125 years

Sister Suzanne Clark, OSF, a former Sacred Heart School principal, and parishioner Pam Windler visit during a pancake breakfast. (Photo by Caroline B. Mooney)

Sister Suzanne Clark, OSF, a former Sacred Heart School principal, and parishioner Pam Windler visit during a pancake breakfast. (Photo by Caroline B. Mooney)

By Caroline B. Mooney

FOWLER — “As we celebrate the 125th anniversary of Sacred Heart School, I think of the dedication and sacrifice over the years by teachers, religious, priests and parents who see the value of Catholic education,” said Father Peter Vanderkolk.

Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, he spoke at a Mass on May 21 that was part of an alumni weekend of celebrations. The Mass honored high school graduates of 2017 and students participated through serving, reading and singing in the choir.

In Catholic schools, religion is just part of the regular day, Father Vanderkolk said.

“We are preparing the children for not only Christian life now, but preparing them for eternity in heaven,” he said. “What we do here is different. If it wasn’t, there would be no point in having a school. When I think of Catholic schools, our own Sacred Heart, I think of so many who have sacrificed here and elsewhere so we can offer a Catholic education.”

The weekend began with a cookout and bingo on May 19. May 20 featured a 5K walk and run, a family carnival, cookout and alumni social. Festivities culminated with the Mass and a pancake and sausage breakfast on May 21.

Sacred Heart School opened its doors in 1891 with 65 enrolled students. Founding principal was Sister M. Ignatia, OSF, and the founding pastor was Father Anthony Henneberger. It was staffed by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration.

When a new church was built in 1896, the old church was used as a two-room school. A new one-story frame school building was built in 1904.

A new Sacred Heart School was dedicated by Bishop John J. Carberry on Aug. 24, 1958. When the new school opened in September 1958, it had its first lay teachers.

Today the school has 91 students from pre-Kindergarten through sixth grade.

Sister Elaine Brothers, O.S.F., served as principal and taught from 1977 to 1980.

“I enjoyed the homey feeling here; it was just a great atmosphere,” she said. “It feels like one big family, but was a new experience for me at the time. It was my first experience living in the country. After school, our students went home to help with chores on family farms. We could watch cows in the field across the street from school.”

She admired a tree that her students planted on Arbor Day 1978.

“It was just a stick– the kids didn’t even realize there was anything in the bucket,” Sister Elaine said. Now the tree, with a trunk more than twice her size, towers over the school.

Third grader Kiyanna Schwartz said she likes Sacred Heart “because I get to learn about the Catholic faith and about God and how he died on the cross for our sins. And we get to have hot lunches, carnivals, field days and buddy activities. I love the teachers —- they are really nice.”

Leon Cyr, a 1950 graduate, attended grades one through eight. His father was also a graduate.

“I was here before the current school was built and we didn’t have a gym. We still had a basketball tournament every year, playing on sloped, uneven ground,” he said.

“All of my eight children went here. The quality and spiritualty fit into our lifestyle,” Cyr said. “It’s been a great association over the years.”

His wife, Eunice Cyr, said she knew their children were getting their faith strengthened at the school and received a good education.

“Our kids played lots of sports here,” she said. “There were a lot of good sisters and we loved to entertain them.”

One nun visited the Cyr farm when all the children were picking rocks out of the fields. She helped pick up rocks and also drove the tractor.

Maria Budreau is a rising senior at Purdue who attended Sacred Heart, where her mother was a preschool teacher.

“I remember coming in early with her and staying late,” she said. “All the teachers were really great and cared about you. It was a real family atmosphere where you knew everyone in school and everyone knew you.

“My class had 15 students, so it was like graduating with a big family,” Budreau said. “Our teachers did a good job of preparing us.”

Jim Hardebeck and Tom Deno graduated from 8th grade in 1952. Lifelong friends, they had fun recalling good times at recess and lots of games with their close-knit class.

Sister Suzanne Clark, O.S.F., served as principal from 1983 to 1994, and also taught music.

“Our pastor then, the late Father (Donald) Vernon was a fantastic support and friend,” she said. “I have a lot of happy memories of good supportive teachers, staff, and parents.  Students were very down-to-earth. I grew up on a farm in Wolcott so I felt like I could relate well to parents here and students.”

Duane Datzman graduated from sixth grade at Sacred Heart in 1967. His grandfather attended the school in 1918, and his father and wife, Kim, were also graduates.

“I always felt the kids here got a better education than in the public schools,” he said. “It was just a good school to go to. I always liked the science fair, and the cake walks were always fun when you were little. I never won a cake walk until yesterday – it took me 61 years to win one.”

Kim Datzman recalled winning first place in the science fair while in fourth grade.

“My project was, “What is Friction?” and we had to show what we were doing to nuns from outside of the school,” she said. “It was written up in our local newspaper.”

“I grew up across the street from school and my siblings and I used to come play on the playground,” Datzman said. “At night the sisters from the convent would come out and play with us.”

The Datzmans’ three children attended Sacred Heart, and a grandson is now in kindergarten.

“There is a sense of family and commitment here,” she said. “I think it helped all our kids as they went on to high school. School here was tough. I remember thinking seventh grade (in public school) was a piece of cake after Sacred Heart.”

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