The Adorers of the Blood of Christ who taught at St. Pius X High School in Festus have a new reason to look back on their years there — as the latest members of the hall of fame of the archdiocesan high school.
Sister Gabrielle Rowe came with two other Adorers to St. Pius X High School the second year, in the fall of 1960, following the footsteps of three sisters who arrived for the inaugural school year with only a freshmen class.
Sister Gabrielle, now 90, taught English and speech for eight years and was chair of the English department at St. Pius. “It was really exciting for the students, when the sophomores could feel like seniors,” she said. “We were always doing new things, evaluating. And the students were very much involved in that because we were creating something together.”
Her favorite thing to do in class was reading part of a book aloud each day. It may sound like child’s play, but it had a profound impact on the students’ desire to read. “They would sit, enthralled,” Sister Gabrielle recalled. “They soaked it up.”
She’d get them interested in a story, then stop, and the students would urge her to continue. Sometimes she’d give them a writing assignment to create the beginning of the next chapter. “They already had the characters and the situation,” she explained. “It worked very well. They had a head start.”
She also taught students how to do research papers — a skill they could carry on the rest of their lives.
Sister Gabrielle didn’t want to leave St. Pius but desired to work on a doctorate degree. When she returned to the area, she went to St. Pius’ alumni gatherings for each of the years she taught. “They were 50 years old, and they were remembering” the stories, she said, adding that she always hoped that her former students would read aloud to their children to spark their imaginations.
St. Pius also had excellent lay teachers, and the staff and teachers picked up on the Adorers’ charism of service. “It worked,” Sister Gabrielle said of the school’s success.
The mix of students from several grade schools wasn’t a problem, as they came together as a family, she said.
Sister Gabrielle reminisced about the fun the Adorers had at the school pep rallies and big sports wins. “Being with the youngsters was always fun,” she said. “We accepted them as they were, and they accepted us.”
After she received a doctorate degree, she taught at McKendree university in Lebanon, Illinois, went to Rome to serve in the Adorers’ governance, taught at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville, Illinois, and then did pastoral care at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Belleville. “Teaching very much has pastoral care in it,” Sister Gabrielle said. “You are caring for students. It’s not like it’s a different career. It’s just a different way of focusing your ministry.”
Setting the tone
Sister Marie Clare Boehmer taught English at St. Pius from 1963-69. A lot of new activities were happening. “We had a feeling of family, not just with the students but with the community and parents. It was a good teaching atmosphere to go into,” she said.
Sister Marie Clare recently researched to write an article for the Adorers’ blog on the hall of fame induction, and she’s impressed with how the school is thriving today. She’s pleased with the honor, noting that the first two groups of sisters to teach at St. Pius were an exceptional group, pioneers who persevered through the still-continuing construction going on at the school and convent.
The school had good administrators and a good faith life. “The kids wanted to make the school good, and they did,” she reported.
Sister Kate Reid recalled her time there with fondness and humor. “I was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 125 pounds. The boys called me ‘beanpole,’” she said. “I loved teaching sophomores. I also have happy memories of directing the play, “Twelve Angry Jurors,” and working with the senior yearbook staff. There were some really good kids at Pius.”
Harry Cheatham, class of 1964 and president of the alumni association, said that while the sisters were individuals, they all had strong faith and a devotion the school and the students, committed to doing the best they could to help. The students respected them for their wisdom and experience, though later realizing they weren’t all that much older than themselves.
The education was advanced, with students such as himself finding college a bit less strenuous, Cheatham said. “They were very energetic and were committed to excellence,” he said.
>> Helping a new school thrive
The Adorers of the Blood of Christ, U.S. Region, were inducted into the St. Pius X High School Hall of Fame on March 27.
Prior to the first school year in 1959-1960, Cardinal Joseph Ritter, then the Archbishop of St. Louis, asked Sister Mary Catherine Girrens, then superior of the former Ruma Province of the Adorers, if she could send sisters to staff a new Catholic high school in Festus. She agreed, and assigned four to the new school that consisted then only of freshmen.
The next school year, 1960-61, as a sophomore class was added, she sent three more Adorers. Thirty Adorers staffed the school from the first year (1959-1960) until the 26th year of its existence (1985-1986). Today five are still living: Sisters Celeste Odorizzi, Gabrielle Rowe, Clare Boehmer, Elaine Freund and Kate Reid.
Historically, Catholic elementary schools in Jefferson County had been staffed by Sisters of the Ursuline Order, known for providing teachers for Catholic schools. As St. Pius X opened, the Ursuline order didn’t have enough teachers to add to the high school.
The first sisters who moved into the convent built adjacent to the new high school were Sister Etheldrida Heard, Sister Margarita Heisserer and Sister Mary Allice Dunkel. Additional sisters who would serve as faculty members leading up to the first graduating class at St. Pius in 1963 were: Sister Mary Innocence Heard, Sister Mary Austin Fischer, Sister Gabrielle Rowe, Sister Mary Pius Simpson, Sister Assumpta Demick, and Sister Jovita Grosco.
The Adorers of the Blood of Christ also served at Good Shepherd School in Hillsboro and Our Lady School in Festus.
Today, St. Pius carries on the charism of the Adorers through its mission statement: St. Pius X High School is a Catholic community dedicated to the education of the whole person, in an environment where extraordinary care and concern for the individual is ordinary. The school has an enrollment of 278. The class of 2021 has a grade point average of 3.58 and an average ACT score of 23.3, with the top fourth of the class averaging 29.9.