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1944 - "Wim, Wigor, and Witality"

Instead of celebrating the beginning of the New Year in the usual fashion, Sister Laurissa took a different way.  After suffering for a long time, she finally had an examination which revealed abdominal tumors.  These were removed the day before New Year’s, so that on the first, Sister was really not feeling very well.  The operation was successful to such an extent that Sister was back in school just one month after the operation.  It was an alarming way to begin the year, but Sister’s splendid come-back gave us much to be grateful for.

On the second of January Mr. Hugh Birmingham called at the Academy to leave a check for one thousand dollars.  He established the Birmingham Trust Fund to be used for the education of deserving pupils.  The fund will be increased and is to be administered by St. Mary’s Corporation.  This fund should be of real benefit to some of the poorer children from this prairie land.

Classes re-opened on January third.  We had thinned out the boarders by sending home three undesirables, but we found four new ones waiting to get in when school opened.  Our classes are crowded and our dining room is crowded, and yet we do not like to refuse children who may never have another chance for religious instruction. 

During January we received the good news that the State would allow full credit for Religion if it were taught full periods as any other subject is taught.  This point was gained chiefly through the work of the Jesuit Fathers at Creighton.  Realizing that the State Department has long been anti-Catholic, we hailed the news with no little joy.

The seventh and eighth grade pupils are so full of “wim, wigor, and witality” that it has to find an outlet.  They had proposed several outlandish ways of entertainment but were finally persuaded to let out their energy on a food sale.  And they really sold food! Much of it they bought for themselves and ate it immediately.  At the end of the recess they had cleared over twenty seven dollars for the missions.

An old building is in constant need of repairs as everyone knows.  This time it was the refectory, the scullery, and the corridor near the chapel that had to be done over.  The walls have been covered with Nu-Wood planking in the shades of tan.  The corridor and the rooms are far warmer, and are quieter since the walls are covered, and the corridor near the refectory looks much larger and wider.  We had to make the best of the affairs in the study room while these repairs were being made, and it was a real joy to move back into what seemed a brand new refectory. 

On January 22 we received word that Mother Erica had an appendectomy.  That was a real shock.  We prayed and offered Masses for her and were all happy to hear of her recovery.


In the Holt County Tournament our basketball team did not do so well.  The boys are still young for a heavy schedule and in the finals they took third place.  No one felt proud of that trophy and the boys got the “cold shoulder” from the whole school.  That action on the part of the school had the desired effect.  The boys worked harder than ever and put forth such a mighty effort that they won the District Tournament with glory.

“Tis an ill wind that blows no good.” On February 9 we had a wind full to the brim with heavy snow and in the midst of the storm came Father Stroh, S. J. on his way home from Omaha. He was driving, and could not venture beyond O’Neill because all the roads were blocked with snow.  That is the reason we were blessed for two days with an extra Mass and even a conference, which is a real treat for us.  The students were all glad to see Father again after the fine Retreat he have last year.

The Sodality conference in Omaha is a great event in the high school life of our students.  This year fifteen Sodalists in care of Sister Teresa and Sister Electa made the trip on the “Galloping Goose” (Northwestern passenger train) to Omaha.  The pupils spent the day at Creighton University except for the time they took out to do some Spring shopping.  On the Monday following the conference our Sodalities had a joint meeting during with the highlights of the conference and of the trip were reviewed for the benefit of the whole school.  One student declared emphatically that the “Galloping Goose” gives each passenger 276 free bounces between here and Omaha, and that a passenger travels almost as far up and down as he does forward in making the trip.

Many of our children have never seen a silent movie.  We have a sixteen millimeter projector, so we rented some old time comedies and gave a show for the children.  The laughing could be heard all over school.  The pictures, that would otherwise have been considered old fashioned and no good, gave the children a real happy surprised.


Monsignor’s birthday has to be celebrated with a treat, rations or not rations.  However he did it, Monsignor did not disappoint the children.  On his birthday he came around with an extraordinary treat this year and enjoyed being “sung at”.  The children enjoyed the treat and the free afternoon.

A music convention was held in St. Louis on March 2 and 3, for the Catholic Music Educators of the United States.  It was a first meeting of this new organization, and its purpose was to arouse anew the interest in CATHOLIC music.  The speakers brought out the fact that in most schools there is a faculty and a music teacher; that the music teacher is often just someone who has at one time or another studied music, and therefore she is given charge not only of the music lessons, but also the school singing, the church singing, frequently the entertainments of the school, in addition to her regular school work!  Much blame for poor church singing was placed on the fact that church singing is not taught well enough in the grade schools.  During the convention some splendid demonstrations were given so that we could actually see how church singing and choral singing can be taught.  In the old basilica of St. John, the pupils of the parish schools sang the Mass acapella.  It was beautiful.  The National Catholic Music Educators’ convention was in session at the same time and in the same building as the National Music Educators’ convention.  The Catholic members had access to all the sessions of the National and this was a great advantage because the National is an old organization and it is financially able to hire the best talent for demonstrations.  Everyone felt that the convention had to been well worthwhile.

For our Red Cross drive we took the idea of repeating some old fashioned movies that the children had liked earlier in the year.  The children were ready to pay the price just to get out of school.  We gathered fifty three dollars for the Red Cross, and had a good time doing it.

Our St. Patrick’s play was given on the afternoon and evening of March 16.  The seventeenth was free and since there was to be a music clinic on Monday, many of the boarders took advantage of the long weekend and spent the four days at home.  The St. Patrick’s play went off well in the hands of the grade school and gave a great deal of pleasure to the children and to their parents.

On Monday, March 20, a music clinic was held in O’Neill.  Our auditorium was crowded from eight o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock at night.  The public school was just as busy and the last band finished about ten o’clock.  We felt that the criticisms were most fair and constructive and the children were encouraged for further effort in preparation for the music contest.

A strange thing happened on Thursday, March 23.  Fr. Brick had been away for a few days and there had been no Mass in our chapel.  When he returned he did not consecrate any hosts and for the first time in many years the Blessed Sacrament was not present in our convent.  It was a strange, strange feeling and our Lord surely received a warm welcome at the consecration of the Mass the next day.  



The Senior class play had to be postponed on account of sickness among the seniors.  By April 3 all were well enough to put on the play and it was given both afternoon and evening.  In spite of sickness the children did well and the play was labeled a success in every way. 

School closed Wednesday of Holy Week at 3:05.  Only three girls remained here for the Easter vacation, and they were old enough to care for themselves. The Sisters were free from surveillance and could devote extra time to prayer and preparation for Easter.

Easter was not a nice spring day this year.  It was rather cold and cloudy all day.  We did not mind because there was Easter sunshine in the house and we were enjoying a very pleasant vacation. 

School re-opened on Easter Tuesday.  We were fearing measles and whooping cough, and worried that cold weather would spoil the Music Contest. The whole week was spent in putting the final touches on the music for the contest.

Friday, April 14, was a cold, rainy day.  The weather certainly did not add to the spirit of the contest.  A few of the pupils could not get here.  We sure did not miss them because we were very crowded all day long, and the last number was not finished at the public school until about 9:30 p.m.  Although we won more Superior ratings than any other school we did not feel satisfied with the results.  The dissatisfaction was general among the schools because the judge seemed to be just a rather pessimistic type.  In his criticisms he made the same suggestion for nearly every contestant, that is, that some other song or chorus be sung than the one chosen. He used such expressions as “hackneyed” over and over, and then suggested a song that was just as hackneyed as the one chosen.  W have heard since that a request was sent to the Board that he not be appointed judge again, probably because he is too “hackneyed.”  Our Band played “On the Trail” which is the theme song of the Phillip Morris radio program.  You have all seen pictures of “Johnny” and you have probably heard him “call for Phillip Morris.”  While our band was playing, Mr. George had Mary Ellen Froelich dressed as “Johnny” and during a certain part of the music she walked across the balcony while being spotted by the spot light and “called for Phillip Morris.”  It was an attractive “stunt” that took well with the audience.

While we were enjoying the music a terrible tragedy was taking place a few miles north of us.  A mother was ironing with a gasoline iron.  You know what happened next.  The house burned to the ground; four of the children burned to death; the mother and two other children were horribly burned and cut in trying to save the four children.  The mother’s sister is a Franciscan nurse in the Mayo clinic.  She came as soon as possible to help care for the family.  The Red Cross helped get clothes and reestablish the home.  Sister Domaris made her headquarters here while the burned ones were in the hospital.  The bones of the four children were put in one coffin and buried in one grave.  It was a terrible accident.

In union with many schools of Nebraska we were called upon to work for the erection of the Children’s Hospital.  Our task was to sell tickets to a movie.  We did not have any trouble since it meant time for our school.

On April 24, Mr. Kettler started work on the entrances.  The old gray sheds had done their duty and needed to be replaced.  The old sheds were torn down and were replaced by new brick entrances which add greatly to the appearance of the front of the building. 

The students of the Norfolk Junior College entertained with a musical program in the public school gym.  Everyone noted the modest, becoming clothes and the pleasing manners of this group of young people.  At the close of the program a sigh of disappointment was heard throughout the audience.  We rejoiced at this because, since the program consisted of classical music only, we felt that the musical training of our children really has cultivated their taste a bit, and the sigh was given because the program was not longer.


Our Lady’s month opened with one of the most beautiful days imagined.  “What is so rare as a day in June” except a perfect day in May!  Everyone who could move a creaking joint moved it and went outside.  Spring time in the Rockies can’t be compared with spring time on the prairies.  The air was like new wine to the veins.

During this month there were unusually heavy rains.  The water came through between the brick of the north wall in the Academy.  We can scarcely dare to complain when we heard how much others had to suffer on account of rain and floods.  The tracks were washed out and for days there no trains.  Mail got here by truck if it came at all.  Bridges were washed away, dams broke, and roads were torn out.  Usually there is a shortage of rain in Nebraska, but this year is exceptional.  For days at a time we did not see the sun and the cold was such that we had to keep fire in the furnace all the time.

In spite of the rain we had the music recitals, the exhibit and all the other things that go with the close of school.  The boys gave a “style” show as a diversion in their program.  It was good.

The exhibit was put up in each class room this year instead of all in one room.  There was fine work.  The children were proud to bring their parents to the class rooms and show off their work.  The special exhibit was put up in the Art room and attracted many visitors.

The May procession was beautiful.  All the high school girls were in formals; the graduates wore their cap and gowns.  Rose Mary Ryan had been chosen May Queen at the Spring Formal dance.  The day of the procession was another of those rare May days.  Our park is a perfect setting for this ceremony.  It is our hope that the picture of this scene will be engraved on the souls of the children and that in future struggles the memory will be a source of strength to them.

The Juniors really out-classed any other group in the way they carried out the Junior-Senior Banquet.  “May blossoms” was the theme.  The gym was actually a bower of May blossoms (paper, of course) and it…..lot of work and planning to decorated that large room so well.  Our dining room is a lovely place for small banquets since it has been remodeled and it was beautiful for this banquet.

Just before the banquet and during the evening rain fell in torrents.  We learned next morning that there was a big flood in Norfolk.  The tracks were washed out and our train and mail service was disrupted for days.  As much as we dislike the Galloping Goose we surely missed it when it stopped running.

On May 14 the children made their First Holy Communion.  Although word had come the previous day, we did not tell Sister Leonita of the serious illness of her father until she was finished with the First Communion class.  She left immediately for Minot and had the consolation of being with her father at his death.

A large number of the Alumnae members wanted a banquet this year in spite of the rationing and travel restrictions.  They appointed May 21 as the day and turned out in a good sized crowd to celebrate.  There were more at Communion and at the hotel for breakfast than usual.  The banquet was a 6:00 in the gym.  Bert Brennan and one soldier were the only boys present.  Bert has since then received his appointment to West Point.  Our Alumnae boys and girls are scattered over the globe, but everywhere not forgotten by the “home-front” on the occasion of the reunion.  Masses are being offered for the living and for the deceased members of the Association. 

The grade school had closing exercises on May 23.  Monsignor always enjoys the program presented by the grade school children and gives them a nice talk.  Class night for the high school graduates was on May 25.  The next morning at 10:00 the Seniors received their diplomas in Church and then went through the “sacred” tradition of pulling the fire gong as many times as there are seniors in the class.  By noon the house was practically empty. 

The vacation schools opened on Monday, May 29.  Sister Fides and Sister Agnesine went to Ewing for two weeks while Sister Jolenta and Sister Leonita took care of St. John’s.  Father Beyersdorfer did an unusual thing this year is closing his school on Corpus Christi, a Thursday, instead of a Sunday.  The Sisters were glad for the extra day so badly needed in preparation for the departure for college.

Our summer students were scattered in six schools early in June.  Sister Teresa went to Loras College, Dubuque; Sister Fides, Sister Laurissa, and Sister Laurita went to Creighton, Omaha; Sister Electa went to Denver University; Sister Xavier and Sister Flores went to Kansas; and Sister Agnesine went to Holy Rosary Mission.  Sister Jolenta and Sister Leonita returned to Davenport, and soon after their departure, Sister Margaret went to Mary crest for final vows.  That left us with nine Sisters at home whose “average” age was about sixty.  We could observe the precept of Thomas a Kempis very well in not associating with young people!

The remodeling of the lower corridor started on May 31.  It was very difficult to get any help and the work dragged on.  Everyone is glad to have the repairs made but the dragging on and the difficulty of getting help is hard.  We did as much of the work as we could ourselves, but even then the work went slowly.


We were shocked to hear of the big invasion of Europe on June 6. Many of our boys must have been there.  We joined with everyone else in offering prayers for a speedy end of the fighting and a lasting peace for the world.

In the meantime much cleaning had been done in the house. This is an immense house to keep in order, but willing hearts and hands made all go well.  A great part of the work was finished before the Sisters left for college.  So of the cleaning had to be postponed until after the repairs were finished.

We had hoped and prayed that the covering for the Sanctuary floor would be put on before the feast of the Sacred Heart.  The floods were so bad and help was so scarce that we almost have up hope.  On the feast of St. Anthony the men came and worked until 10:00 that night and all the next day.  By evening the floor was finished.  It looks beautiful.  Monsignor came over about 8:30 p.m. to see how it looked and he was much pleased.  On the feast of the Sacred Heart we were glad to have Exposition in our lovely sanctuary.

One of our fervent prayers was answered when Bert Brennan received his appointment to West Point.  Bert had been away at preparatory school in Washington all year studying hard to get ready for the final test.  He passed the tests and the physical examinations for both the Navy and the Army.  His heart was set on the Army because so many of his relatives on both sides of the family are West Point men. His Navy appointment came first and as the days slipped by there seemed to be less and less hope for West Point.  Bert waited until almost the last day and then started for Chicago still hoping and praying that the West Point notice would come.  He was in Chicago when at last the message came.  I think there were no happier people in the United States than the Brennans.  They phoned to Bert in Chicago and immediately he changed his course from Washington to New York.  His letters are full of the great joy his having in the realization of his dream.  It took many prayers and many a hard getting up for Mass to win his goal, but he is not sorry now.  If he shows the same determination and prayerful attitude throughout life he should make a good soldier.

Mr. and Mrs. Hargarten, Father Hargarten, Mr. and Mrs. Schneider were welcome visitors to see the Sisters, Sister Agnesine, Sister Ludgardis and Sister Margaret.

Some of our Second and Third year boys went to work on the railroad during vacation.  These boys were at first in Omaha in the stockyard district.  At home these boys cannot even get their own mail and here they were cleaning dirty cattle cares for the railroad!  Of course the idea is to work up strength for football and basketball.  They were soon transferred from that dirty job to another job in Winnebago, Wisconsin.  Here they were with a group f fifty high school boys.  They said they had “swell eats” and slept in converted coaches.  The work was hard but when the boys called on us they were looking fine; they were brown and clean and ready for more work.  We should have a good time this year.


It was a good thing we had not planned any big festivity for the Fourth.  There was rain all day.  Since there was no celebration in town the men worked on the repairs all day.  In the evening we enjoyed a little movie on our silent machine.  The pictures are silent, but we are not. There is a running commentary all during the show.

The whole town was shocked to learn of the death of Peter Duffy.  Pete had seemed such a part of the town that no one could realize he was gone.  His funeral drew friends from as far as Norfolk and Valentine.  He needed no close relatives to care for him.  The whole county turned out to honor a man who had won the respect of all.

God blessed our little garden and gave us a fine crop of beans.  We go fare more than we expected.  And we had very good cucumbers.  There was a battle royal between us and the robins over the lettuce and the robins won out.  We got very little lettuce from our garden.  The grass hoppers were bad for a short time. 

The workmen finally left the house and we got cleaned up at long last.  We should be grateful that we got workers at all, but we are still more grateful that they are gone. The lower corridor and the entrances look lovely.

We wonder if it was cold everywhere as it was here during July.  We needed blankets and would almost have enjoyed steam heat. 

Mother Erica kindly sent us two baskets of lovely cherries, so we had a cherry recreation as well as bean recreations.  Fruit is scarce here and we were most grateful for the cherries.  If we were only near Marycrest!

At the end of July the sisters began arriving back from summer school.  Our Retreat opened August 8 and it wasn’t long after that, immediately after, came the changes. Many of us are reading the Chimes in new homes but they are God’s homes and we are continuing our work for Him.


It was First Friday when the letter with the changes arrived.  Sister Terese was assigned to Holy Rosary Mission, Sister Loretta to St. Francis; Sister Libia to Alliance.

Our Retreat began as scheduled with the addition of a high, hot south wind.  The heat kept pace with the retreat and by the time we got to “hell” we were thoroughly hot.  Sister Claire and Sister Perpetua came from the Alliance Hospital to make the Retreat with us, and Sister Annella came from St. Francis.  Sister Elenius came from Sioux City after her operation and spent a month with us before returning to Holy Rosary Mission. 

The Retreat left all in a spirit of resignation and sacrifice so that when the call came for Mother Virginia to leave St. Mary’s, we were able to say a loving Fiat.  Mother left devoted hearts behind her - those of her Sisters who will always hold her in grateful remembrance; those of the Alumnae and people of O’Neill who appreciate her ability and worth.  The community was motherless only one day when Mother Elma arrived from Alliance to take up where Mother Virginia left off.  Sister Antonella accompanied Mother Elma as is Principal at St. Mary’s.

Getting acquainted was a simple matter because parties seemed the fashion for days on end.  It was canning season, and there were peach parties, pear parties, apple parties, carrot parties, and even a rhubarb party.

School, however, was looming ahead, and there was other getting acquainted to do.  Mr. Andersen, public school Superintendent, made a call.  Mr. George reported for a handshake and instructions.  And then came…


The month opened with separate registration days for two high school divisions, and then for the boarders.  September 5 was official opening date with regular classes.  Hardly had studies been resumed when salesmen made their calls.  Within the first six weeks, orders had been completed for senior and junior class rings, announcements, diplomas, and caps and gowns.

The large boarder enrollment made it imperative to provide a study hall with accommodations for all.  The hall between the assembly and the cloak room was removed, and desks were ordered.  Painters could not be secured until later, but when all was in readiness, and fluorescent lights had been installed, we had an ideal study hall.  Open shelves for reference books will complete the picture.  The day pupil girls will have lockers installed in the short corridor between the senior and sophomore classrooms.

In the last week of September came Father P.E. Schneider, the diocesan superintendent of schools.  He visited all the classes and held a conference with the teachers.  He seemed pleased with the welcome he received and with the work the Sisters are doing.

The evening of that day was made memorable in the history of St. Mary’s because it brought the news of Ann Harty’s fatal injury and death.  No carelessness, no guilt in this automobile accident, just a speedy call to Heaven of an innocent soul, well-loved in school, in her home, in the entire community.  A deep impression was made upon the student body, and Ann’s class, the juniors, look to her now as a model as well as a mediator.

A teen-age canteen project for the entertainment of mixed groups of young people met with the disapproval of Monsignor McNamara.  The St. Mary’s students, who had taken the lead in initiating the project, dropped it at once.  They suffered some taunting from public school students, but they held their ground proudly.  The idea is being realized only slowly now, and may even die but, because of the withdrawal of our students and the financial support of the parents.

The social life of St. Mary’s students is taken care of under our own auspices and supervision.  School socials are held at least once a month except during Advent and Lent.  The boarders frequently attend A-1 movies.  Sodality life has its social aspects.  Music, dramatics, and athletics leave little leisure time for real students.


This month marked the end of the first six weeks period; it brought us glory with a victorious football team; and it saw scholastic achievement.

The first of several large scale paper drives gave the grades an outlet for their patriotic energy.

Sister Marie took “time out” for a major operation at St. Vincent’s in Sioux City.  Her many substitutes were happy to see her back at her work in some three weeks time.

Early in the month there was a local teachers’ institute which the St. Mary’s elementary teachers attended.  The high school teachers went to the Norfolk convention, as in previous years, and the boarders had a four day month end.

A new type of fire extinguisher, as simple to use as a hand grenade, was installed throughout the building. 

Our dear Mother Erica made a stop-over visit on her way to St. Francis Mission.  It was a welcome surprise, and we hope for more like them.

Sister Mildred and Sister Elenius paid us a hurried visit on their way to and from Sioux City.  It is grand to have guests from our other houses.  It makes the prairie seem less expansive and lonely.

The sale of tuberculosis seals brought in about a hundred dollars, half of which remains in the school to be used for health purposes.

Armistice Day came on a Saturday but our weekend population of boarders and day students took part in a parade and program sponsored by O’Neill’s American Legion.  The public school and both bands also participated.

The seventh and eighth grades sponsored a food sale for the Missions and they netted a substantial sum.

The music department put on an operetta entitled “Her Royal Highness, Miss Jones” on November 23.  It was successful in every way.

While other people’s interests were directed first here and then there, the boys concentrated on football.  As a result they enjoyed an undefeated season and won rank in the first ten State teams.  This was the first time that O’Neill enjoyed such and honor, and it was won by Richard Clark, grand nephew of Sister Alma of St. Francis Mission.


School re-opened after a fifth Thursday Thanksgiving, on December 4.  There was just time for a triduum in honor of our Immaculate Mother before the reception of candidates into the Sodality.  Forty-seven new members were received on December 6.

On December 7, a musical group of ten students with Sisters Flores and Agnesine traveled to North Platte to the state music clinic.  They appeared with groups of 400 or more in chorus work, directed by Noble Cain and others equally well known in music circles.  The experience should have its effect in the further musical efforts of the pupils.

Basketball season opened with great promise- three victories including Sacred Heart, Norfolk, and Holy Trinity in Hartington.  But the most important game in the first half of the season, that with St. Joseph, Atkinson, left us trailing with a 23 to 11 score.  The boys accepted this defeat as a challenge and were willing to work harder than ever to attain success.

Several of these same boys were the male stars in the Junior class play given on December 20.  This event was definitely a success.  It was a student project, directed entirely by a class officer, William Froelich.  The play was “An Old Fashioned Mother” and it took well with the public.

With a final week of activities such as a free movie, the coming of Santa Claus, and the classroom parties, school was dismissed for the holidays on December 22.  On that day as well we heard from Mother Alphonse and from Reverend Mother, and all hearts were extra grateful during the blessed Christmas season for God’s fruitful providence in caring for Mother Magdalen’s daughters in the past year.

On December 23, the newly ordained Father Francis Price said his first private Mass in our chapel and gave us the priestly blessing. The first Solemn High Mass was sung in the parish church on December 28.

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