Marquette High School celebrates 150 years of ‘best’ education

Photo Caption: Grace Wenzel, a Marquette junior, reads a petition during the Mass celebrating the school’s 150th anniversary on Oct. 11.

By: By Tom Dermody

OTTAWA — Three members of the Class of 1944 were enjoying a reunion in the library during the 150th anniversary celebration at Marquette High School on Sunday.

“We belong to the old school,” said Martha Mitchell McGinty in a delightful play on words as she laughed with classmates Dorothy Kubis Boisso and Katherine Skill Worsley. Around them, a steady stream of other alumni and friends were viewing memorabilia displays including photo and news clipping scrapbooks, yearbooks, and clothing dating back a century and a half. Soon they would all gather in the Bader Gym for a joyful anniversary Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC.

By “old school,” McGinty meant St. Xavier’s, one of the predecessors to Marquette, which has been the school’s name for the past six decades.

The trio remembered the former school building — “Where the grass is, that’s where the building was,” said Boisso, looking out the library window — and teachers including Sister Martina, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, the community that founded St. Xavier Academy in 1859.

“She was very special,” said Boisso of Sister Martina, an Ottawa native.

“We had the best education,” chimed in McGinty, noting theirs came during the years of World War II.

MANY SPECIAL people and memories of excellent Catholic education in Ottawa were recounted during a weekend of activities at Marquette that opened with a homecoming football win and ended with an anniversary dinner at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Sunday night.

“Our shared hope and prayer is that Catholic education will continue to flourish for future generations as it has through the long and proud history of this school,” said Bishop Jenky in his homily. Concelebrating the Mass were Father Chris Haake, school chaplain, as well as about a dozen Ottawa area priests. Also in attendance was Brother William Dygert, CSC, diocesan superintendent of schools.

In remarks at the close of Mass, Marquette principal Ron Spandet thanked Bishop Jenky and Brother William for their guidance. To a robust round of applause, Spandet also thanked the bishop “for this group of priests you have sent to this area who so fervently and passionately support Catholic education and our school.”

WHILE MARQUETTE’S anniversary year is a time to express gratitude for the sacrifices of the past, it’s also a time to “look ahead and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in everything we say and do,” said Bishop Jenky.

He noted initial steps being taken to merge St. Patrick’s and St. Columba’s grade schools in Ottawa and Marquette into one school on three campuses.

“The planned consolidation of Catholic education in Ottawa proves that this community is facing the future,” said Bishop Jenky. Recalling the changes throughout its history — Marquette was also formerly known as Ottawa Catholic High School and St. Joseph’s School for Boys is another predecessor — the bishop said “to be alive always means change, and a long history means you change a lot.”

But what doesn’t change, said Bishop Jenky, is the school’s focus on Christ in its teaching mission.

“His Gospel is our most important subject,” said the bishop. “His challenge is to make us saints, and that includes the students and teachers, the parents and the priests, the staff and benefectors, and even me, your unworthy servant.”

The Mass featured music by a combined choir of Marquette students and alumni as well as supporting voices from area parishes. Students were altar servers, while faculty members Maureen Wolfe and Heinz Suppan were lectors. An honor guard was supplied by Fourth Degree members of the Knights of Columbus, Starved Rock Council.

Among the intercessions read by students Grace Wenzel and Mason Malpass were prayers for the deceased and current members of the Marquette family and “for the next 150 years of Marquette, that she continue to offer ‘academic excellence in a community of faith.'”

AFTER THE closing hymn, as Bishop Jenky and the concelebrating priests were leaving Bader Gym, the assembly sang the Marquette Loyalty Song.
Generations of loyalty were celebrated last weekend.

“It’s been a family,” said Jo Parrott, a member of the Class of 1959, whose six children also attended Marquette.

Bill Durdan, who graduated in 1956, noted that his class recently gave the school a $50,000 endowment for scholarships. He’s encouraging other classes to follow suit, noting that if every alum pledges $100 a year for five years — as his class did — the numbers add up quickly.

“We’re rural people,” said Durdan, a member of St. Mary of the Fields Church in nearby Grand Ridge as he and his wife, Phyllis, paged through a photo scrapbook of past Marquette fundraising “barn dances.” Often those in outlying rural areas and smaller communities don’t have the opportunity to attend Catholic grade school, but a regional high school like Marquette offers four years of Catholic schooling — of which their children Andy, Billy, and Amy took advantage.

“That’s why it’s so important to us,” said Durdan.

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