Parish, bishop join St. Mary School in Bloomington celebrating 150 years

Bishop Louis Tylka processes into a full St. Mary Church in Bloomington for a Mass celebrating the 150th anniversary of St. Mary School on Thursday, Nov. 9. (The Catholic Post/Paul Thomas Moore)

By Paul Thomas Moore

BLOOMINGTON — Principal Jamie Hartrich was pleased but not surprised that a church full of St. Mary parishioners helped St. Mary School in Bloomington celebrate its 150th anniversary on Thursday, Nov. 9.

The strong turnout for an 8 a.m. weekday Mass spoke to her of the close relationship between the parish and its school.

Bishop Tylka chats with St. Mary School second-grader Rose Pawley as she waits in line for her special 150th anniversary cookie. (The Catholic Post/Paul Thomas Moore)

“The parish is so giving and so supportive of the school . . . . I could just say, you know, we’re going to be celebrating and please join us — and they will come,” said Hartrich.

That in turn helped to underline the theme of the homily by Bishop Louis Tylka, principal celebrant of the anniversary Mass. Bishop Tylka said he always enjoys opportunities to “come and be with a community, especially on a day like today.” But he emphasized that the celebration was about much more than a physical structure.

He shared that the day of the anniversary celebration, Nov. 9, was the feast of the dedication of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, the home church of the Bishop of Rome — the pope. St. John Lateran will celebrate its 1,700th anniversary in 2024. Yet, as impressive as is its history and architecture, the archbasilica “felt kind of empty” when Bishop Tylka visited it and there was no Mass.

However, a couple of days later he found himself inside the church again when Mass was being celebrated — a special Mass for the sick — and it was as if he was experiencing the church for the first time.

Bishop Tylka beheld an assembly in wheelchairs and cots, and nurses and doctors tending to them.

“In this powerful moment there was just this reality,” he added, “the purpose of a building that’s a church is to bring together the people of God, who are the true temple.”


In the same way, he continued, for St. Mary School or any other Catholic school, “they’re only walls and windows, desks and chalkboards — or these days smart boards.” The building, he said, is “made holy because of what is done within those walls, which is to teach about Jesus Christ . . . to give the experience of encountering the God who loves us, who saves us, who frees us from our sin, who heals our wounds.”

Bishop Tylka stands with Jamie Hartrich at the 150th anniversary celebration of St. Mary School in Bloomington on Nov. 9. (The Catholic Post/Paul Thomas Moore)

Principal Hartrich agreed that St. Mary School is more about “who” than “what.” She and her staff take pride in making the environment comfortable for students, and it feels light and airy. They have removed drop-down ceilings to open natural skylights, and the halls are spotless. Still, she admits the halls and walls “are just brick and mortar,” and says “the kids and the teachers bring the joy. There is pure joy.”

Father Greg Nelson, pastor of St. Mary Parish, and Father Michael Adrie, in residence, concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Tylka. Deacon Jose Montenegro assisted. Music was provided by a choir composed of students from grades six, seven and eight, with a special assist at Communion from a pre-kindergarten contingent of three- and four-year olds. The choir was directed by St. Mary’s “music teacher of all things,” Amy Nussbaum, with piano accompaniment by Chad Clover.

St. Mary School was founded by the German Catholic community of Bloomington in 1873. In 1877, Father W. Schreiber invited the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville, Kentucky, to assist at St. Mary’s. From 1886 until 1979, the Sisters of St. Francis taught at the school. Currently, the school is staffed with lay teachers and administrators.

The present St. Mary School was built in 1955, and a new elementary wing was dedicated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, in 2003.

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