The Early Parish Years
St. Mary's of Bellevue's roots go back to the very beginnings of Nebraska's history in the United States.
St. Mary's Parish and School are part of Bellevue, Nebraska, a community rich in history and close ties to the Catholic faith. The early community of Bellevue, founded in 1823, was a drawing place for many of the important people, many of whom were Catholic, in Nebraska's history, including Logan Fontenelle, Peter Sarpy, and Father De Smet, the Jesuit missionary from St. Louis. One of the stained glass windows in the St. Mary's Church depicts Father De Smet.
Archbishop Jeremiah Hartz established St. Mary's Parish, then called St. Mark's, in 1921. The parish stretched from the Platte River to Child's Crossing, the Missouri River to 36th Street. The early pastors of the Church included Fr. Mark Ballou, Fr. Nicholas Zabalza, and Fr. Francis Werthman. The congregation met at the Service Club at Ft. Crook.
In 1927, the parish was placed in the care of the Columban Fathers. The mission-style church building now known as St. Mark's Hall was built in 1933 and dedicated at Midnight Mass on Christmas of 1933.
The School is Built and Grows
Once the need for a school was identified, it wasn't long before it was built. Once it was built, it continued growing.
By 1945, the influx of young Catholic families meant a great increase of the number of school age children in the community. The parish community and the pastor, Fr. Robert Garvey, began planning the first parochial school in Bellevue.
A School Fund Drive was started in 1946 and each parish family was asked to contribute to the fund. Leo Daly, architect for St. Mary's Church, was approached to design a school consisting of four classrooms, one of which was to be used as a chapel, a gymnasium/auditorium, a kitchen, and a convent; complete with living quarters for four sisters.
Costs for the project soared to a post-war high of $75,000, but with a $40,000 loan secured, ground for St. Mary's School was broken on September 14, 1947.
The lot the school was built on was an entire square block. George Rushart donated the land for the school.
Actual construction began in early 1948. (A mistake in the Title of Deeds Office created a need to obtain a waiver of building restrictions from fifty homeowners in the nearby Rushart Addition. Even though most of the homeowners were not members of the parish, they willingly signed the waiver and construction began in earnest.)
Various groups in the parish, including the Men's Club and the St. Mary's Altar Society worked to raise additional funds for the new school. One of the activities they set up was the Annual Lawn Social and Chicken Dinner, held for many years on the feast of the Assumption.
With the funding and building of the new school underway, Fr. Garvey visited the Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters in Louisville, Kentucky, to arrange for a faculty for the school. The Reverend Mother agreed to send three Dominican Sisters - Sr. Rosalia, Sr. Irmina, and Sr. Joan Miriam. The sisters arrived in mid-August to prepare for the 96 students who had enrolled in the new school. The dedication took place August 29, 1948.
By 1954, the enrollment of St. Mary's School had increased and the parish planned a four-classroom addition, known as the Marian Addition.
The original church built in the 1920's was quickly becoming too small for a growing parish and by 1956, the cornerstone for the new St. Mary's Church was laid. The first Mass was offered in the new church on Palm Sunday, 1957. The shrine ""Our Lady of the Runways"" was donated by the Gerard Ianacone family and erected by the Kouba family in 1954.
The faculty of the school grew and in 1956, an addition was made to the convent to accommodate the increased number of Dominican sisters.
By 1959, Sr. Mary Cecile was principal and there were 450 students as well as 12 teachers, including eight (8) Dominican sisters. The pastor, Fr. Robert Garvey and his assistant Fr. Anthony Milone, taught religion to the students in grades 1 through 8. The 12 classrooms were spread around, with four classrooms in the original school building, four in the Marian Addition, one in the convent, two in St. Mark's Hall, and one in the church basement.
A new rectory for the priests was begun in September 1958, and completed by March 1959. In the summer of 1959, a large community room was added to the convent.
The parish and school grew rapidly and by 1960, there were 514 students enrolled. The student/teacher ratio was about 43 students to every teacher. With the increasing enrollment, new rooms had to be added. In 1962, the Pope John XXIII Addition, consisting of five new classrooms, the principal's office, library, teacher's lounge, and two storage facilities, was completed. This additional space allowed room for up to 750 students.
The 1960's and 1970's saw rapid changes in pastors and principals, along with the development of new programs for St. Mary's School.
St. Mary's Bellevue School continues to build on its accomplishments.
Mrs. Papa-Lewis purchased the first computer for St. Mary's in 1981, a TRS 80 from Radio Shack and coordinated the first school band program, yearbook and Chapter I Resource programs and the school achieved State Accreditation. Mr. Severson established the Extended Day Care program, signed St. Mary's up in the Baker's Supermarket Adopt-a-School program, added a pre-school program, and improved the technology with the purchase of several Apple IIe computers and printers.
During Sr. Dorothy Rolf's principalship from 1989 - 1996, St. Mary's introduced foreign language into the curriculum, and added a school counselor to the staff. An Apple IIe lab was established and later upgraded to a lab containing IBM compatible computers.
By 1991, the enrollment in the school was 294 students and an increase in Religious Education students necessitated the renovation of the old convent to house eight new classrooms and a teacher's lounge. The Extended Day program was also housed in the renovated area known as the Dominican Center, named in honor of the Dominican Sisters of Kentucky who had lived there.
Under the direction of Sr. Dorothy Rolf, in March 1993, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the addition of a multi-purpose room/gymnasium named the Robert A. Garvey Addition. This addition included the multi-purpose room/gymnasium, kitchen facilities, and restrooms on the lower level with storage and boiler rooms on the upper level. The old gymnasium was renovated to create a new library and computer lab. The old kitchen area became the teacher's media room.
In 1996, under Sr. Regina Wagner's direction, Art was added to the curriculum on a formal basis and two rooms in the Dominican Center were remodeled to provide space for the Art Room and the Religious Ed Media Center. By the Fall of 1998, a storage room on the lower level by the 7th Grade room was converted into a science lab and the computer lab was upgraded with 25 new 486 computers that provided Internet access. Computers with Internet access were also placed in the classrooms.
At the end of 1998, there were 249 students enrolled in St. Mary's School. There were 12 homerooms and special classes including library, music, Spanish, computer, physical education, art and resource. The curriculum and programs offered at St. Mary's School reach the spiritual, educational, and physical needs of the children of St. Mary's Parish and of the community.
The 21st Century
The beginning of the 21st century brought changes to St. Mary’s. Spirituality is still the foundation of St. Mary’s School. Each school year begins with a dedication ceremony to Mary. The faculty wrote a Marian prayer that the students recite daily. Weekly Masses, weekly Lenten/Advent prayer services, and praying the Rosary in October are important parts of our spirituality, as are the Living Stations of the Cross performed by sixth graders during Holy Week.
Academic changes have occurred as well. Implementation of diocesan standards and assessments, new textbooks, reference materials and Smart boards have provided stimulus to our strong academic achievement. Competitions such as Wits Clash, Spelling Bees, Chess Club Competitions, Battle of the Books, Geography Bees and the Nebraska History State Competition continue to broaden the experiences of our students. We are proud to say that from 2006-2009, St. Mary’s students were in the top 100 Geography Bee students in the state, with 2 placing fourth and twelfth. In the 2009 Wits Clash competition held at Gross Catholic High School, students placed first and third. In 2010 a St. Mary’s team took third place in a group performance during the Nebraska State History Competition. In 2011 two of our students placed in the top four at the Metro Catholic Schools Spelling Bee. Yearly events also include winning and placing in the Catholic Daughters Poetry/Essay/Art competition, the Duchesne Academy Art Festival, entries to the Sarpy County Fair, and Omaha’s Summer Arts Festival.
St. Mary’s strives to add opportunities for its students. Beginning in 2008, St. Mary’s opened its doors and hearts to Korean students through the Korean American Foreign Exchange Student Program. Sixth, seventh and eighth graders explore a variety of electives which change yearly. Popular among the students are the art, drama, science, speech, technology, yearbook and STEM electives. Field trips to the Henry Doorly Zoo, Holland Center for Performing Arts, the City of Lincoln, rides on a Fremont train, and even a ride on a dirt road to a farm where students see up close and personal bison, cows, horses, chickens and bugs -- all add to the life experiences of our students.
The school reaches out to community and global charities through a wide variety of activities and fundraisers such as the Nebraska Humane Society, Pennies for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society, Ronald McDonald House, Bellevue Food Pantry, the Linus Project, National Levi/Cancer Day, Gifts for Troops, and the annual Advent Angel trees and Rice Bowls. Each November the students and staff honor our local veterans by participating in the annual Bellevue Veterans Parade and in our own veteran’s assembly. We especially honor our WWII veterans, who share their experiences of courage and sacrifice. Priests who are veterans were honored in 2009 during the “Year of the Priest,” while Korean Veterans were honored in 2010 during the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.
Physical school improvements have included new carpet, new trophy cases, portable air conditioning units, and a remodeled art room. The Dominican Center patio and teacher’s lounge were refurbished and various contests have given us the chance to replace our lunch tables, bleachers, gym floor and to add Smart boards to the computer and science labs.
St. Mary’s most recent growth has been the Advanced Education certification, which began in 2009. Under the direction of the principal, Mrs. Cheryl Castle, teachers and staff are creating a stronger Christ centered atmosphere and improving our well established programs so all are ready for the 21st century.
St. Mary’s has seen 60+ years of change and success since the Dominican Sisters first came from Kentucky to teach in the fall of 1948. St. Mary’s has been blessed many times through the years due in large part to the support of parishioners and alumni alike. The students and staff were especially honored when Sr. Joan Miriam, one of the original three nuns, visited our school for both the 50th and 60th anniversaries. One of the highlights of the 60th anniversary (March 2009) was the dedication of the chapel area of the original building in honor of the Dominican Sisters. Though the habits of the nuns no longer flow through the halls of St. Mary’s School their dedication, faith and love of children flows in the hearts and minds of those who today teach the minds and hearts of our future.
Number of Graduates Each Year
|Class sizes over the years
|Sr. Rosalia, O.P.||1948 - 1954|
|Sr. Annunciata, O.P.||1954 - 1957|
|Sr. Mary Cecile, O.P.||1957 - 1964|
|Sr. Caroline, O.P.||1964 - 1968|
|Sr. Miriam Patricia, O.P.||1968 - 1971|
|Joe Batorski (dec 2009)||1971 - 1976|
|Ray Farber||1976 - 1977|
|Craig Estee||1977 - 1978|
|Jerry Ryan||1978 - 1980|
|Rosemary Papa-Lewis||1980 - 1984|
|Roger Severson||1984 - 1988|
|Jerry Jensen||1988 - 1989|
|Sr. Dorothy Rolf, N.D.||1989 - 1996|
|Sr. Regina Wagner, B.V.M.||1996 - 2001|
|Jean Seibel||2001- 2005|
|William Huben||2005 - 2009|
|Cheryl Castle||2009 - 2015|
|Dr.Trish Wallinger||2015 - Present|
|O.P.||Dominican Sisters of Divine Providence/Sisters of St. Dominic|
|N.D.||Sisters of Notre Dame|
|B.V.M.||Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary|
Priests who Served at St. Mary's Parish
|Fr. Mark L. Ballou||1921 -1922|
|Fr. Nicholas Zabalza||1922 - 1924|
|Fr. Francis Werthman||1924 - 1927|
|Fr. Edward McCarthy, SSC||1927 - 1933|
|Fr. Richard Ahern, SSC||1933 - 1942|
|Fr. Ernest Graham||1942 - 1945|
|Fr. Robert Garvey||1945 - 1969|
|Anthony Milone||1958 - 1963|
|Thomas Adams||1963 - 1966|
|John Krejc||1966 - 1968|
|Fr. William Martin||1969 - 1978|
|Harold Brahm, S.J.||1971 - 1976|
|Paul Begley||1974 - 1978|
|Fr. Ralph Lammers||1978 - 1987|
|Fr. Richard Swolek||1978 - 1987|
|Fr. Blaise Cupich||1987 - 1989|
|Deacon Paul Zaccone||1987 - ?|
|Jerry Connealy||1987 - 1990|
|Fr. Thomas Ward||1989 - 1998|
|Dan Keller||1990 - 1991|
|Jerry Connealy||1992 - 1993|
|Steve Boes||1992 - 1994|
|Dan Wittrock||1994 - 1997|
|Fr. Frank Lordeman||1998 - 2004|
|Mike Keating||1997 - 2001|
|Tim Podraza||2000 - 2004|
|Dan Andrews||2004 - 2005|
|Fr. Dennis Hanneman||2004 - present|
|Mark Bridgman||2005 - 2014|
Sisters who Served at St. Mary's School
Sister Rosalia, O.P.
Sister M Annuciata, O.P.
Sister Mary Cecile, O.P
Sister M. Monica, O.P.
Sister David Marie, O.P.
Sister Joan Miriam, O.P.
Sister M. Agnella, O.P.
Sister M. Irmina, O.P.
Sister M. Thomasella, O.P.
Sister Joan Michael, O.P.
Sister M. Otho, O.P.
Sister M. Athanasia, O.P.
Sister M. Adelaide, O.P.
Sister M. Robertina, O.P
Sister James Ann, O.P.
Sister M. Gertrude, O.P.
Sister M. Casimir, O.P.
Sister Francis Dominic, O.P.
Sister Marian Joseph, O.P
Sister Mary Bede, O.P.
Sister Regina Marie, O.P.
Sister Claire Marie, O.P.
Sister Rose Anthony, O.P.