BIRD ISLAND — It may have been summer vacation, but the grounds and hallways of St. Mary’s Catholic School on Bird Island were bustling over the weekend, as students, staff and members from the community came together to celebrate the school’s 125th anniversary.
“This weekend is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to all of you and the community,” St. Mary’s manager Tracy Bertrand Sigurdson said Saturday. “It’s for you, it’s because of you. Thank you for believing in us, thank you for letting us do what we do.”
The fun weekend, which ran alongside the city’s annual Island Days festivities, included the Bird Island Bullfrogs baseball game on Friday night and a wide variety of activities at the school and fairgrounds on Saturday. – including school tours, bouncy castles, food trucks and a Strange Daze concert at the Renville County Fairgrounds. The celebration ended with a celebratory mass at the church and pancakes after Sunday.
“It’s so kind of you to be with us today as we celebrate this wonderful history of Catholic education in the heart of Bird Island, Minnesota,” Father Joseph Steinbeisser said Saturday.
Throughout the day on Saturday, current and former students, families and staff of St. Mary’s School toured the school building, remembering their own time within the walls of the institution which opened in 1897.
“It’s absolutely wonderful,” Class of 1949 member Donna Bernhagen Rime said as she looked at old-school memorabilia in the gymnasium, a place she remembers well from her own school days. . “We had a lot of fun. We used to dance on stage every day.”
Class of 1945 member Edna Athmann Rudeen also has fond memories of her days at St. Mary’s. She said it was very important for her to be at school on Saturday because so many of her classmates died. She doesn’t want those beautiful days at St. Mary’s to be lost or completely forgotten.
“I think it’s the best school I can imagine going to,” Rudeen said.
Donna Ernest Adams, another Class of 1949 alumnus, was thrilled to be back at St. Mary’s, both to see the school and catch up with old friends and share those memories of the school day.
“It’s just wonderful to be back here, to see him one more time,” Adams said.
It was this opportunity for the graduates to come together and reminisce about what Bertrand Sigurdson was looking forward to. To help with this, school staff worked hard to collect as many old photos, trophies, yearbooks and newspaper clippings as they could find.
“We hope that when you visit the school and see the different things and enjoy the camaraderie today, you will reflect and your heart will be full of happiness, just like mine,” said Bertrand Sigurdson.
St. Mary’s Catholic School was founded in 1897, when the Sisters of St. Joseph came to Bird Island to run the brand new school, which was to be part of St. Mary’s Church. St. Mary’s offered K-12 education until 1972, when the last class of seniors graduated. Since 1973, the school has provided education from kindergarten to grade 8. Each year, a graduation ceremony is held for eighth graders.
According to anecdotes from Father George Schmidt, the smallest class of high school graduates was that of 1919, when there were only two. The highest number of graduating seniors was 36 in 1949, 1968, and 1969.
Other highlights of the school’s history shared by Schmidt include the 1922 champion women’s basketball team and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s visit to the school as a thank you to McKaia Ryberg in 2012.
St. Mary’s has lived in four different buildings during its 125 years of operation.
In 1897, she held her first classes in the parish house, while the new school building, opened in 1898, was under construction. The school soon outgrew this first building and a larger school would follow in 1913. A small piece of the 1913 school still exists, as the statue, cornerstone and pillars of the school are now part of the digital sign of the school at the front of the building. .
The current school, located right next to the church, was built in 1915 and was originally St. Mary’s Secondary School.
Over the past few years, maintenance projects have been carried out to keep the 107-year-old building in good condition. There are new floors on the main floor and the original hardwood floors on the second floor have been refinished. The roof was replaced in 2018, and upcoming projects include re-cladding the exterior in brick, new windows and an improved playground. And, of course, technology has continued to evolve, with smartboards replacing chalkboards and students now with tablets instead of paper and pencils.
“We are so, so lucky to have people who believe in us the way they do. I am blown away by how amazing people are to us. Your hearts are huge,” said Bertrand Sigurdson.
Without the Bird Island community and church members, the school would never have existed or existed for so long and so successfully, said Bertrand Sigurdson.
“It all started because you or your family members were here, or your parents were here, or your grandparents were here. You made it happen,” Bertrand Sigurdson said. “The next 125 years the sky is the limit and who knows what it will bring.”