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1949 - "Blizzards"

The winter of 1948-49 will ever be memorable for its vast and utter whiteness, for its lonely, frightening hours, for its real suffering, and for the wide extent of the snow peril.  The big blizzard of November 18 had paralyzed traffic for several days on the highways—for weeks in rural areas.   From that date until early February many farmers were snowbound, and SNOWBOUND meant hardship to man and beast before the spell was finally broken.  How the storms grew worse and worse, and how man and machines engaged in a vicious, heartbreaking struggle to loosen the icy grip of Nature, may someday become the Saga of the West.

The snowfall of November 18 was the heaviest in history.  Fortunately the temperature had remained comparatively high and no lives were lost.  Snow fighting equipment was slow getting into operation and there was so little of it.  Barely had communications been revived, when new storms set in.  The boarders had just reached their homes in safety for the Christmas holidays when the roads once more drifted and became impassable.  On December 24, a calm day, the farmers fought desperately to clear the side roads.  They hoped to take their families to Mass on Christmas Day.  Christmas Eve was blustery and the next morning all their work had been undone.  The winds died down, and in late afternoon digging operations were renewed.  Perhaps they could get to Mass the next day, Sunday.  The next day, however, the drifts were higher than ever.  Many gave up then trying to contact others.  They saw the need of concentrating upon the work of getting water and provisions to their stock.  That work became monotonous and wearying.  Day after day, from daylight to dark, it was an unending struggle against wind and snow.  To dig paths, to lead frightened stock to feed stacks, or to try to haul feed over mountains of snow gradually became too much for the most stouthearted.

Through the efforts of Andrew Clark, for Holt County, and others in like peril, the Governor of Nebraska declared an emergency and asked for Federal aid.  General Lewis J. Pick and his Fifth army came with bulldozers, caterpillars and jeeps, to dig out the snow-imprisoned population.  Before army operations could get into full swing, the Red Cross came with planes and supplies.  Distress headquarters were set up in O’Neill.  Sufferers were to leave signal marks in the snow, and planes would alight to the rescue.  The planes arrived on skis with food, medicine, and fuel.  Relatives in O’Neill sent rescue planes out to rural people whose telephones and radios no longer functioned—and who might not know the distress signals.   Stories of dire distress came back.  Families were living in single rooms to conserve fuel; fence posts and furniture were being used as fuel; some were out of food.

Patients were flown in to local hospitals for care; students and teachers came to O’Neill by plane.  Schools had re-opened on January 10, but only the students resident in O’Neill and four boarders presented themselves the first three or four days.  Gradually—by horseback, by old-fashioned sled or by plane, the out-of-town students arrived.  Those from neighboring states arrived earlier than the others because they had resorted to plane rides immediately.  Finally, when Ewing and Chambers students saw no other way out, they used private planes to fly to bus lines or directly to O’Neill.

Examinations were held according to schedule and only about ten out of one hundred and sixty-five students had to take tests later.  Some of these ten arrived only after February first.  The Retreat Master was able to get here by train;  therefore Father Leopold Kitt, OFM, a Golden Jubilarian and a winning missioner, conducted a splendid three days renewal.  It was with difficulty that he managed a way to Alliance, his next stop.  Weather had interfered again; but Father smiled and called it God’s weather.  His bus followed the rotary snow plow to Grand Island.  From there the highways were open.

Basketball games followed schedule rather consistently.  Only occasionally was a game called off on account of bad roads.  County, conference and district tournaments came in their scheduled weeks; although another blizzard called an interval between playoffs and finals in the district meet.

Annually the American Legion sponsors the participation of boys and girls in State government.  In addition to this, Boys’ state and Girls’ State week, Nebraska now features Boys’ County and Girls’ County.  After weeks of study and preparation, after conventions and elections have been held in the schools and ratified, the junior boys and girls who have been elected to County offices spend one full day in these offices.  The County official is present and in charge, but he permits his eight or nine sides, depending on the number of schools participating, to examine his books and records, to help him take care of his day’s business, while he explains the significance of his work.  Holt County Participation Day, set for January 18, was postponed until late April.  Weather again!  The participants enjoyed the graphic, learn-to-do-by-doing Civics lesson.

In February, Sister Laurita got work of her father’s serious illness.  It was impossible to reach him by the ordinary means of transportation, so Sister was obliged to take a plane to Washington State.  Her father appreciated her being with him before and after his serious operation and he survived many weeks.  He died in late June.

Blizzards continued through February and early March, but the high school boys delighted in shoveling walks.  Clearing the paths of hard packed snow and ice required arduous and painstaking efforts.  Sister Ferdinand and her fourth grade boys spend many hours of their free time chopping away this menace. 

The Latin classes, under the direction of Sister Emilia, celebrated Latin week with a series of projects.  There were Latin plays, among them SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, Latin posters, Latin art and architecture, Latin puzzles, and Latin games.  The program stirred up interest and enthusiasm for the study of a difficult subject.

Music Contest came before Easter this year.  Passion Week came to a musical climax in those two days, April 8 and 9.  St. Agnes girls from Alliance made this their contest headquarters again this year.  They came, 35 strong, with Mother Virginia and Sister Constance as chaperones and accompanists.  The piano numbers were excellent and vocal as usual, carried off many laurels, even though the judges seemed to be more demanding than ever before.  St. Mary’s students also rated well, though there were disappointments.  Instrumental won honors, but St. Mary’s band did not participate.  Bad weather had interfered with rehearsals, and this year’s group seems to lack native talent as well.  Mother Erica and Sister Lenore came though O’Neill as they headed toward Denver.  They were glad to give audition to the St. Mary’s and St. Agnes musical numbers the evening before Contest.  This way they could appreciate the tremendous amount of preparation necessary for such an enterprise.

Before the school year was over there was also a recital for all the music pupils not represented in the contest.  The parents came in a capacity crowd and held their heads high because their little one could appear on the stage – perhaps for a piece of music from six to ten measures.

April was coming to a pleasant, spring-like close when a new Mercury Ford appeared on the scene.  Mr. and Mrs. William J. Froelich had purchased and donated this new car to St. Mary’s.  Our intention was, of course, that it should be for the Motherhouse and our benefactors understood that.  Wherefore, on April 30, Mr. Clarence Hicks, chauffeur for the Froelich’s, Sister Bruno, Sister Rosemarie, and Mrs. Hicks started for Denver, via Alliance.  Sister Bruno was to remain at St. Joseeph Hospital, Alliance, for examination and care.  Sister Rosemarie continued on to Marycrest, and then returned home by train and bus. 

On April 30, Mr. Clarence Hicks, chauffeur for the Froehlich’s, Sister Bruno, Sister Rosemarie and Mrs. Hicks started for Denver, via Alliance.  Sister Bruno was to remain at St. Joseph Hospital, Alliance for examination and care.  Sister Rosemarie continued on to Marycrest and then returned home by train and bus.

The Senior play, THE BLACK TERROR, had most of its participants and the director nearly terrorized by its frequent postponements.  First the leading man got tonsillitis; then the leading lady developed strep throat.  It was staged finally on May 2.

First Communion highlighted the May time, coming on May 15.  On that day, 14 boys and 21 girls became, as Monsignor McNamara contends, “adult members of their parish.”

Junior-Senior banquet with its theme, the Forty Niners, gave the decorative and festive touch to the end of the year activities.  May 12 was their big day.  Then things followed each other in quick succession.  May Crowning, more elaborate than ever, was held on My 19.  Victoria Zakrzewski had the privilege of crowning the statue of Our Lady.  May 20 was grade school closing—with an operetta, THE LAND OF DREAMS COME TRUE.   The eighth grade graduates, six boys and fourteen girls, reached the climax of their elementary school days on the evening of May 23, when each one of this talented group had an opportunity to perform in some manner.

May 24 was Class Night for the high school graduates; May 25, forty one seniors, eight boys and thirty three girls received their high school diplomas.  These exercises were held, as traditional, in the parish Church.  Father Conrad Kaup from St. John’s addressed the graduates and Monsignor distributed the honors.

The next day was Ascension Thursday; then came hurried preparations for two vacation schools, Coleridge and Emmet, which opened on Monday, May 30.  Sisters Christiana and Rosalie traveled back and forth each day for two weeks; Sisters Antonella and Emilia spent only one week at Coleridge.  The other schools at St. John’s and Ewing were in session from June 6 to June 19.  Sisters Jolenta and Serafica taught at St. John’s; Sisters Flores, Casilda, and Ferdinand at Ewing. 

The Summer School of Catholic Action beckoned four Sisters to Denver from June 20 to 24.  Sisters Jolenta, Casilda, Emilia, and Antonella were privileged to attend it.  Sister Casilda remained at Loretto Heights for summer college.  Sister Emilia taught high school subjects at Marycrest.  Sister Rosalie and Sister Andrea went to St. Joseph Hospital in Alliance for medical check-ups.  This was about June 17.  Sister Rosalie returned in a week; Sister Andrea has a serious lung condition that needs and extended rest and continued care.

Other summer appointments were: Sister Fides, office work at St. Mary Hosital, Scottsbluff; Sister Christiana, college studies at Loras; Sister Serafica underwent major surgery on July 8 at St. Catherine Hospital in Omaha; Sister Flores, college at Mary, Xavier; Sisters George and Laurita to finish their graduate studies at Creighton; Sister Ferdinand, college at St. Ambrose, Davenport.

The rest of the community enjoyed a strenuous summer of housecleaning, renovating, and re-decorating at home.  The Chapel was painted, the refectory and scullery now have sanded floors and white woodwork and furnishings; floors in the refectory corridor and in the sacristy were sanded, sealed, and waxed.  The corridor in front of the chapel has new linoleum floor covering and the ceiling was painted.  The damaged walls in Sister Fides’ store and in Sister Flores’ music room were re-plastered.  To insure protection to the inside “new look”, all the brick work in the convent wing had to be caulked.  This extensive job, plus the new roofing covering about two thirds of the convent and the whole front wing of the Academy kept two crews of men busy most of the summer.

By August 5, all the summer school students had returned except Sister Flores who went to Marycrest to help solemnize the Reception and Profession ceremonies on August 17.  Jubilee bells rang out at St. Mary’s on August 8 for Sister Rosalie whose twenty-fifth anniversary fell on August 31.  Her father, sister and two nieces from Denver were able to be present to enjoy a lovely, glad, triumphal day with sister.  The Community had grown to help in the celebration.  Mother Agnesine and Sister Bartholomew were staying for the Annual Retreat;  Sister Carmen was enjoying a stop-over, as she also was to remain for retreat.  Sister Anthony, assigned to St. Mary’s for the year, had arrived before retreat too.

The retreat, conducted by Father Paul J. Wagner, Marianist from Dayton, was more than usually conducive to spiritual renewal, growth and encouragement.  Father made every effort to catch and help us grow in the spirit of Mather Magdalen’s Franciscanism.  He succeeded in giving us a new appreciation of our special vocation.

After retreat, we had to see our visitors leave for their new spheres of activity.  Sister Spes, who by her untiring, self-sacrificing work during the summer at altar and organ, as well as around the house, had made herself nearly indispensable, left us August 18 and created a void not easily filled.

The appointments, announced before retreat were for Sister Emilia to go to Marycrest to help the young Sisters in their studies;  and Sister Rosalie to teach little ones at St. Elizabeth in Denver.  Sister Emilia was not replaced.  Sister Helenita came on August 20 to take Sister Rosalie’s place.

Sister Ferdinand’s mother, ailing for some months past, died in July.  Sister had already made her visits home, so she mourned and sympathized with her dear ones from a great distance.

Worthy of record is the fact that Sister George and Sister Laurita received their Master’s degrees at the end of the summer’s work.  St. Mary’s already recognized at the State Department for the high quality of its teachers’ preparation, is able to put another feather in its hat.

To complete the staff ready to begin operations in September, Mrs. Ira George agreed to return as English teacher.  Mrs. Kubitschek was to teach dancing classes and to aid in the music department.  Mrs. Dicknite, from Neligh, came to stay here and to take over Sister Andrea’s work in the laundry.

Though roof repair continued, the community changed from blue to black aprons and opened classes on September 6.  Three days of registration had preceded and the figures indicated a slight decrease in the high school enrollment but a noted increase in the grades. The fifth and sixth grades number 59, and Mrs. James Cronk has offered her services for an hour a day to teach History, spelling, and reading to the sixth grade.  This lift gives Sister Casilda a chance to work extra hard with her fifth grade with is a group with varied abilities.  School was in full swing after the Initiation party held for the freshmen on September 8.

Our Franciscan hearts were gladdened when two capable graduates of 1948 became postulants at Marycrest.  Both Catherine Murphy and Gloria Slaight had been successful rural school teachers the past year.  Mother Boniface accompanied them to Denver and was present at the Entrance ceremony.

Football season looked promising and eager fans planned to see the boys in action against Cathedral in Lincoln.  A bus load of Pep Club members and their chaperones accompanied the boys on September 23 and cheered them on to victory.  The remainder of the football season was spectacular.  The boys met and took all competition and emerged as undefeated champions.  Arlen Miles chosen star back on the mythical All State team.

On September 30, O’Neill celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of its founding.  Schools were closed, the largest parade in O’Neill’s history was staged and the whole day was a festal one.  St. Mary’s float, representing the golden jubilee bells of St. Mar’s being rung by little angels, won a first prize.  The float was constructed and decorated by the Friends of St. Mary’s with aid and ideas from Sister Maxine.  The Anthony Hospital float won honorable mention.

The hospital drive which had undergone concentrated stimulation during the summer, reached its climax on October 3 at a civic banquet.  Tickets sold for five dollars per plate and quite a substantial sum was realized.  After the banquet, the Academy barn and chicken coop were auctioned.  These proceeds, however, were to be given to St. Mary’s.

Father Paul Schneider, superintendent of schools, made his biannual visit ton October 18.  His time was limited and he was unable to get to all the classes.  He met the Sisters, though, and gave suggestions and answered their questions.  On October 21, Mr. Nicholas Behm, father of Sister M. Serafica, died in Minot.

The red letter day of the season was that of the arrival of reverend Mother Ignace and Mother Clarissa.  Because they came at 12:30, the school children were not present to welcome them. The Sisters had the Mothers all to themselves until about 1:30, when the assembled school sang out their greetings from stairways and corridors.  The seven days passed all too quickly, and the wonderful recreations that united us:  East, West, North and South, God’s workers in four continents, became loved memories all too soon.  The grade school children demonstrated their joy in Reverend Mother’s presence by staging a variety program.  Many of their parents were there and Reverend Mother had occasion to address them and to visit with them.  The high school presented Father Francis Gliebe’s MY LADY POVERTY in honor of Reverend Mother.  On October 27, Mr. James Corkle of O’Neill drove to Scottsbluff with our two honored guest and our own Mother Boniface, leaving us with a feeling of loneliness but with sentiments of gratitude that the guidance of Mother Magdalen’s children was in such wise and holy care.

On the day before Reverend Mother was to leave, Mr. Elvin Hall, an expert roofer, lost his footing and fell the thirty eight feet to the concrete walk in front of the high school entrance.  Sisters and children keenly and earnest prayers pleaded for his life.  Mr. Hall was taken to St. Vincent Hospital in Sioux City, where he underwent bone surgery at spaced intervals.  The outcome promises to be compete recovery, and we hope, the Faith.  Mr. Hall is a college graduate and a practical pagan.

Reverend Mother and Mother Clarissa were unable to visit with our Right Reverend Monsignor McNamara because he was quite ill at Sacred Heart Hospital in Lynch.  Just a week after the Mothers left, Monsignor had two successive strokes and died on All Souls’ Day.  His parish was shocked at the announcement of his death because, although aging, Monsignor had given no indication of serious illness.  He had gone to the hospital merely to rest.  On Monday, November 7, Monsignor’s obsequies were held with great ceremony.  The most Reverend Archbishop Gerald T. Bergan officiated at the solemn Requiem, and nearly a hundred priests were present.  Dinner was served in the Academy dining rooms for the priests, the Sisters, and Monsignor’s relatives.  At one o’clock the funeral procession left O’Neill for Wisner where Monsignor’s boy was interred.  The school children preceded the hearse to the center of town and then separated and stood at reverent attention until the procession passed.

On November 8, Mr. Leroy Ortgiesen, state inspector of secondary school, visited our classroom.  He seemed pleased with what he found and later wrote a most appreciative letter.

On November 9, the Juniors staged their class play, SMILING THROUGH.  Mrs. George had directed it, and the play was successful in every way.  The next day, our boys played the last of a series of successful football games and ended the season with a Homecoming celebration.  The York boys, our opposition of the evening, were also invited to the party.  At this event, Helen Ann Lee, president of the Pep Club, was crowned Football Queen..Arlen Miles, high point football player, shared the royal honors.

On November 20, a Sunday afternoon, the Sisters and children enjoyed the movie, COME TO THE STABLE.  It was inspirational as well as entertaining.

St. Mary’s Juniors, along with representatives of the other eight high schools in the County, enjoyed participation in County Government again this year.  Before Thanksgiving, they filed for office and held primary elections.  After the holiday, general elections were held and the fourteen elected officers assumed their duties for a day on November 30.

Basketball season opened inauspiciously on December 2.  The boys lost to Ainsworth.  Their next two games were victories…one over O’Neill.  Their career is not all roses, but they have high hopes for the tournaments.

On December 8, at 7:30 p.m. thirty-six new members were received into the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  A party in the gymnasium followed the beautiful ceremony and another eventful day was jotted down in many memory books.

 On December 12 the talented children of grades and high school, put on a sort of amateur program consisting of the light and the humorous.  It was real home – spun; many parents attended and enjoyed it and it brought in a small nest egg for our jubilee annual.

The beautiful Christmas playlet, MADONNA’s CHOICE, together with special features by the elementary grades, put everyone into the real Christmas spirit.  Representatives of the entire school appeared on the state.  A record crowd attended and this occasion was used to welcome to our school and parish, our new pastor, the Very Revered Timothy O’Sullivan.  The parish planed a formal reception earl in January.

The elementary Sodality organized last year under the title of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, held a reception for twenty-eight new members on December 21.  Father O’Sullivan officiated.

On the evening of that day, three of our students who had been taking a special course of instruction were baptized and received into the Church.  The next morning, these three and another high School student made their First holy Communion.  They were Jean Ann Fahrenholz, her brother Gerald Fahrenholz, Albert Brandl and Patricia Boyle.

After our Christmas tree parties and distribution of gifts, the children left for their homes on December 22.  The proverbial generosity of the O’Neill people evidenced in the coal collection as well as in the many useful gifts of money and food leaves us with a feeling of humble dependence upon God, Who provides so lovingly for His own and a gratitude that grows and grows.  Convent Christmases are real, deep and spiritual.  Convent Christmas in O’Neill had all the reality, depth and spirituality possible.  Sometimes we think more than enough of the trimmings, besides.

With prayerful wishes for a spiritually rich New Year, this history closes.


Mother Boniface  

Sister Jolenta

Sister Serafica       

Sister Edward

Sister Antonella  

Sister Fides 

Sister Helenita

Sister Laurita

Sister Brigid   

Sister Christiana  

Sister Flores          

Sister Ferdinand

Sister Maxine   

Sister Casilda    

Sister George     

Sister Rosemarie

Sister Anthony





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