Thursday, August 21, 2008
St. Mary, CADET, Holy Family celebrate 60th anniversary and seventh school reunion
Holy Family school will host an assembly on Friday, August 29, at 1 p.m., to kick off the school’s 60th anniversary celebration.
Students, teachers, alumni and friends will assemble to hear a PowerPoint presentation on the schools’ history. The St. Mary, CADET, and Holy Family alumni will continue the celebrating at 7 p.m. with a meet-and-greet fish fry at Annie’s Restaurant. Reunion celebration activities will continue over the weekend. The alumni hosts a reunion here every three years. This year marks the seventh reunion.
Catholic education first came to Holly Springs in 1868. That year, the Sisters of Nazareth opened a nursing school and called it Bethlehem Academy. The school was successful until yellow fever struck the town (1878). Father Oberti, six sisters and 33 parishioners died while caring for yellow fever victims. The academy closed and never opened again.
In 1947, Father Gregory Bezz, SCJ, founded the Sacred Heart Mission in Walls. Father Paul Frichtl, SCJ, laid the foundation for St. Mary School (1948). From these initiatives, the Catholics in Holly Springs once again flourished.
In 1948, four School Sisters of St. Francis (SSF) arrived in Holly Springs and started two Walls Mission schools. Respecting Mississippi’s separate but equal laws, the St. Joseph campus was designated the white campus. The west campus called St. Mary — located in a three-story West Street antebellum building — was designated the black campus. The four SSF Sisters who laid the foundation for the St. Mary legacy were Sister Eustella, Sister Calista, Sister Hildegard and Sister Jeronima.
Fred Williams was named St. Mary’s first principal. When Mr. Williams moved on, Sister Eustella was appointed principal (1949) making her the first SSF principal. When the school began operation (1948), eighth grade was the highest grade level offered. Another grade was added each year until all twelve grades were offered.
West St. Antebellum
Early on, the St. Mary initiative was a success. Soon after the school opened, a capital development plan was put into place and construction on the first of three segments of a new facility began. As space became available and enrollment grew, more SSF joined Sister Eustella and the other three pioneers. Sister Anaclete became principal in 1951.
By the mid 1950s, the first segment of the new construction was completed and the teaching staff had grown to include Sister Jose’, Sister Brendan, Sister Marietta, Sister Veronique, and Sister Camille, Sister Gratian, Sister Limana, Sister Marionelle, Sister Myriam Hagemann and more.
The year 1955 was very good for St. Mary. The first senior class graduated. St. Mary became the first Holly Springs black high school to issue a diploma. Three students graduated that year: Claude Vinson, Charlesetta Thurston and Lillian Wilson. Claude enlisted in the United States Air Force. While stationed at Burtonwood, England (1956), he won the highest honor bestowed by a squadron. Charlesetta relocated to Illinois. Lillian, now Dr. Lillian Wilson Stratmon, received a $20,000 scholarship to Alverno College, Wisc. She was the first St. Mary graduate to receive a college degree (1959). That year, Father Gregory, Father Paul, Sister Eustella, Sister Anaclete and the other SSF pioneers harvested the fruit of their first crops of labor.
Two sisters, Jeronimo and Iova, were assigned to teach at the St. Joseph campus. Without them knowing it, St. Mary’s students often called them the Studebaker twins; the two frequently drove the Studebaker back and forth between the two campuses. Though the SSF came to Holly Springs with the noble intentions of teaching and spreading the gospel, they met prejudice for being Catholic and reprimanded for teaching black children. Perhaps their sincerity explains why tuition remained at fifty cents per month for so many years.
Gone from the memory of most alumni is the third floor chapel in the West Street antebellum. Exquisitely decorated with beautiful red carpet, shining gold chandeliers, priests speaking in Latin and the smell of incense overwhelmed some young students. The chapel served as church for black parishioners. When the first segment of the new construction was complete, a new chapel anchored the north end of the building.
The enrollment, the faculty and the curriculum steadily expanded during the 1950s. When funding became available, construction on the second segments of the expanding facility commenced. When the curriculum expanded to include physical education, students walked to Mississippi Industrial College for the class. Home games were played in the M.I. gymnasium.
When completed, the second segment — anchored by a gymnasium, cafeteria and a music room on the west, with supporting high school classrooms connecting the two segments — provided space to round out the high school curriculum.
At this point, John Lean signed on to share his knowledge in English and literature. Sister Donatilla came and shared her knowledge of the sciences, social studies and English. She had survived the torture and suffering of a Chinese concentration camp. Sister Ramona Ann came aboard to teach math and home economics. She is still at Holy Family today: a testimony to her dedication.
St. Mary School CADET, Holy Family School
Developing an appreciation for the arts was an integral part of the St. Mary legacy. Mr. Lean showed care and concern for students’ cultural development through the many field trips he sponsored to off-campus cultural affairs like theater productions, museum exhibits, leadership conferences, and sites of historical interest. Annually at Christmastime, Sister Marianelle and the chorus were invited to a much-anticipated live broadcast from the WDIA radio station in Memphis, Tenn. An important part of the outing was a visit to St. Joseph and St. Jude hospitals to sing Christmas carols to the sick.
Seasonally, the music department under Sister Marianelle’s leadership staged events like choral concerts, recitals, and band concerts. These activities were designed to showcase St. Mary’s students’ diverse talents and to provide the community with cultural experiences.
George and Toni Caldwell, two of Sister Marianelle’s music students, now perform internationally.
Each year, the senior class would put on a stage play. These performances received high reviews from local citizens. Traditionally, senior classes closed out their St. Mary years with a trip to a destination of their choice. One class selected Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, another selected New Orleans. The classes of 1967 choose an itinerary that allowed them the opportunity to tour Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City.
To help keep students focused during the 1960s, when social and political changes bombarded them, St. Mary opened the gymnasium for Saturday afternoon public skating.
For a small fee, participants rented indoor skates and joined in for an evening of wholesome fun. Each year, as skating phased out and basketball phased in, the gym floor was covered with sawdust. Entire elementary classes had fun playing in the sawdust; a smart way of removing scuff-marks from the floors left from skating. Sunday evening socials, highlighted by WDIA and WLOK DJs, made for additional weekend fun. The public schools’ students had difficulties understanding why St. Mary, a Catholic school, had Sunday socials.
The annual fall bazaar was a much-loved and talked about affair. Except for rides, there were almost as many activities and people at the fall bazaar as there were at the Marshall County Fair. Pickup trucks loaded with people hovering under tarpaulins made their way to the bazaar. Many had spent the week before picking cotton to make money to cakewalk strut to Sister Marianelle’s accordion music. Some took chances at Sister Camille’s fishpond. Others took chances at apple dunking. They all had fun fellowshipping, eating hot dogs, drinking soda waters and nosing in each other’s handbag to see who had won what.
When some black parents could not compete for decent jobs with fair pay, many parents had difficulties supporting their families. During the 1960s, Congress funded the Youth Corp Act. The Act allocated funds to create work-study type programs for disadvantaged youths who were enrolled in school. The Sisters developed and supervised an on-campus work-study program and placed students as janitors, cafeteria workers, clerks, library assistants, etc. These jobs were an incentive for students to stay in school and graduate.
The St. Mary’s sports program grew out of competitions between two Boy Scout troops. One troop was Catholic and the other was Protestant. The Catholic’s troop master was Freeman ‘Fish’ Evans, a Catholic student at M.I. College. When Mr. Evans enlisted in the military, Brother Michael — from the Sacred Heart Mission — took his place.
He organized a girls’ team that made a mark on girl’s sports. Two remembered girl players are Holmeszetta Wilson and Doris Faulkner Mallory. As time passed, attempts were made to choose uniforms. They first tried jeans and matching T-shirts. Later, matching short pants and T-shirts —with an Indian logo on the front —was chosen as the official uniform. When discharged from the military, Freeman Evans hired on as physical education instructor and coach.
The athletic teams first called themselves Indians. Later the name changed to the Braves. It was under the name Braves that the school became a major high school sports contender. Coach Freeman ‘Fish’ Evans, a lineman for the Mississippi Industrial College championship football team, was a man of little fear. He was tough. He would make his team run for miles while he rode along beside them in his automobile, eating pork skins and drinking a soft drink. He took a school that barely had enough male students to make up a team and led them to a Northwest Athletic Conference of Mississippi championship (1963).
Starting players that year were Johnny Edgerton, M.C. Stephenson, Levi Smith, L.D. Sims, and Jimmie Edgerton. Jimmie and Levi were named all conference and all tournament stars. Johnny, Jimmie, Levi and L. D. were named to the All Star Conference Team. Coach Evans earned the honor to coach the All Star Conference Team. That year, the Braves won the Mississippi All Catholic Tournament. They ended the year with a 21-0 record.
Percy Caldwell, Billy Robinson, Charles Caldwell, Elbert Wooten and James Stephenson also shared in the ’63 glory and some were back to carry on in ’64.
Other winning teams followed the example set in 1963 and ‘64. Coach James Rayford said the year the Braves played the all- white Bishop Burns Catholic School team (Memphis); the Braves beat them so bad until Sister Brendan asked Coach Evans to have mercy on them.
Championship basketball team (1963-64)
The popularity of basketball did not compromise Braves football, baseball and track. When Father Ortiz took over as athletic director, Coach Evans was free to spend more time with all teams. Perhaps, the most talked about football match was with Lester High School. They were the Memphis champions. One Brave player said the “Lester players looked like giants!” Lester’s star players were Richard Jones and Claude Humphreys: both of whom went on to play professional football. The Memphis champions came to small town Holly Springs to suffer a defeat at the hands of the small, but powerful, St. Mary Braves.
In 1968, Coach Evans passed away leaving a team that was on its way to another championship. Coach Purvis Love, Coach James Rayford, Coach Terry Hood, Coach Wilbert Beard made great contributions to the St. Mary sports legacy and the trophy case attests to that.
From the beginning, the St. Mary legacy has been unfolding. First, there was the West Street antebellum. Then there was the new school built in segments. Sports teams have been called: Indians, Braves, Comets, and Panthers. The school name has been St. Mary, CADET and Holy Family. What has been constant is the determination to provide a quality education.
After a Saturday morning tour of Holy Family School (August 30), alumni will board a bus to Tunica for brunch. The celebration will continue at the Saturday evening banquet at Kirkwood Country Club. Activities conclude Sunday evening with a cook-out, art show, and book signing at the Holly Spring Multi-purpose Center and Spring Hollow Park. Mille Smith is the school principal. Carolyn Jordan Cook is the seventh reunion chairperson.
Compiled by Willie Mallory, class of ’67
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