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Uptown in the News  

September 3, 2003
Inside Online
Sisters of long ago return to St. Mary of the Lake
By Alexis Maislen

The grammar school class of 1953 from the school of St. Mary of the Lake, 4200 N. Broadway, traveled from as far away as Florida and Ecuador to celebrate the 50th year anniversary of their eighth grade graduation at Sunday Mass, Aug. 31. Joining them were two guests to help conjure up memories, Sister Kathleen McDonough, their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teacher, and Sister Regine Fanning, their junior high school teacher.

"It's delightful to be back," said Sister McDonough. "It brings back a lot of memories." After Mass, a luncheon was held at Biasetti's Restaurant on Irving Park Rd.

The sisters, well into their late seventies and Oak Lawn residents, saw the 36-member graduating class move on to high schools in the area. Both sisters studied and became part of the order at St. Patrick's in Des Plaines. Both enjoyed their time teaching and had genuine respect and love for the children.

When asked if she ever had to use the ruler on anyone, Sister McDonough, petite with curly, short, silver hair and dressed in a navy blue blazer and navy blue skirt with white flowers printed on it, said, "I never had to use the ruler these kids were nice children."

Rosemarie Schneider Thill, a class member, was one of the students to go on to Good Counsel. She pulled her friend Norma Freeman Mueller aside so the pair stood side by side at 4' 11" in and 5' 7" tall and said, "We've been buddies since the second grade. We're Mutt and Jeff. We both attended Mundelein College later and we remain in touch to this day."

Current school principal Christine Boyd took the class on a tour of the school. Currently, 90 percent of the students are from poor backgrounds, although the neighborhood around the school is rapidly gentrifying. The school has students representing 37 countries. Sixty percent of the students are of African origin born outside the United States; 25 percent are of Latino background.

The students focused their attention on their two teachers, who each accomplished many more things after leaving St. Mary of the Lake. At 79, Sister McDonough wakes every day before dawn to drive to Niles West to train for her 10th marathon, before going to work at Misericordia. She ran the Boston marathon once and the Chicago marathon eight times.

McDonough began training for marathons at age 59. She not only runs on the track and uses the elliptical cross-country machines, but she also practices Wet Vest running in the Niles West pool, a method her coach Patrick Savage, track coach at Niles West, swears by. In Wet Vest running, one wears a heavy vest and runs the lanes of a swimming pool. She said, "There's no one else in my age group that can score a total of 15 points. I always come in first in my age group because I am the only one."

She also keeps her shape with her vegetarian diet, although she confessed to eating salmon now and then.

"I came from a farm and I could envision the animals being slaughtered. I love animals. I don't want to eat their meat," she said.

Sister Fanning started at the school in 1943, left for a while and then returned in the mid-sixties to teach junior high English. She stands about 4' 11" and wears small oval framed glasses and a pink flowered dress. She left teaching to become a pastoral associate in parishes, working with priests in sacramental life. After retiring five years ago, she began to write children's books. She authored "Kitty's Tea Party," which is the story of the founder of Sisters of Mercy (her order), Catherine McAuley. She also writes magazine articles for publications such as "My Friend," published by Pauline Press. And, she writes for "SpiritScript," a monthly newsletter for the homebound.

Her main reason to write? "I believe that what I write will have a great effect on people and there is so much junk out there for children I want to provide an alternative."

Walking through the three-floor grammar school, Fanning steps into the faculty lounge. "I remember when we created this space in 1963. Oh, we had a lot of fun in here," she smiled. "We joked over lunches and had faculty parties."

McDonough went back to her old 1st grade classroom and remembered when she had 71 children and only 70 desks.

"Parents would call in asking me why their child didn't have a permanent desk and I'd tell them that no one has one, we all shift around," she said. "Father Dennison, who was retired by then, would stroll around the neighborhood. People would bump into him and ask if their child could come to St. Mary's and he would agree. So the classes filled up fast."

This year also marks the 102nd anniversary of St. Mary of the Lake church, which was commissioned in 1901 by Rt. Rev. John J. Dennison and built by architect Henry J. Schlacks in Roman Basilica style.

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