August 28, 2015
Bells were ringing at St. Joseph’s Academy today for the first time since the early 1960s. The occasion? St. Joe turns 175 this year, making it one of the oldest schools in the St. Louis area. The Aug. 28 festivities are part of the annual community-building Academy Day that ends orientation week, but this year it also served to kick-off a yearlong celebration.
St. Joseph’s Academy, located at 2307 S. Lindbergh Blvd. since 1955, is a Catholic all-girls secondary school founded and still sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. One of the sisters, Carol Gerondale, had the honor of acting bell ringer. She has served for 30 years at the Academy, as a Theology Instructor and is currently Admissions Director, “What an honor it is to be part of this special anniversary celebration, it is a great tribute to our past, and our future is strong. Our students are the core of our mission, they are our future.”
Following the bell-ringing, the school community of more than 600 students, faculty, and staff moved to the back campus, where they will formed a life-size SJA, documented from above by drone videography.
“St. Joseph’s Academy has established a legacy that continues today of excellence, serving the dear neighbor, and educating the whole person. To reach 175 years is a great milestone, not simply to still be in existence, but to be thriving after all these years,” said Sr. Barbara Moore, a member of the Executive Committee of the school’s Board of Directors.
The Academy was founded in 1840. Four years earlier, six young sisters had made an arduous journey from Lyons, France, to the small village of Carondelet, south of St. Louis, to answer an appeal from Bishop Joseph Rosati for teachers, especially to minister to children who lost their hearing to illnesses such as diphtheria and measles. The order opened a convent school, then St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf, before establishing the Academy, all at 6400 Minnesota Avenue, property that is still owned by the order and home to its motherhouse.
Initially, a modest log cabin served as both school and residence for the sisters and some students. When the Academy opened, the sisters continued to accept boarders, and by the Civil War, drew students from 13 states, including many in the South. In 1841, a three-story brick building was constructed through generous donations from such St. Louis founding families as the Mullanphys. It still stands today, the only one of the original seven brick structures to survive a series of fires in the mid-1800s.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Minnesota property could no longer accommodate the motherhouse as well as schools. Additionally, the congregation had plans to found a women’s college, and so in 1908 purchased 16.5 acres in Clayton, land that had been part of the grounds of the World’s Fair. In 1925, St. Joe, with more than 100 students, and a two-year-old Fontbonne College made the move to Wydown and Big Bend Boulevards. Both schools grew at the new location, so much so that 21 years later (1946), the order purchased 37 acres in a then quasi-rural Frontenac to be the future home of the Academy.
Since moving to Lindbergh, St. Joe has continued to grow. Twice, in 1985 and 2004, it added to the original structure, enhancing what was a modern, state-of-the-art complex when it was built to accommodate increased enrollment and expanded curricular and co-curricular programming. In 1993, St. Joe was named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education, and in 2005, by Sports Illustrated magazine as having the Best High School Athletic Program in the State of Missouri.
Over the years, many graduates have returned to work at their alma mater. That includes Principal Jen Feise Sudekum ’93, who taught in the fine arts department for many years before joining the administration. “As a graduate of the Academy, I am proud of this moment in our history as we carry on the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet educating in faith, knowledge, and respect for self and others. It is here as a student that I deepened my prayer life, received an excellent academic foundation, and participated in the much loved traditions of the school that still exist today,” said Sudekum.
In honor of the 175th anniversary, the Academy is telling its full story for the first time in a book - St. Joseph’s Academy: 175 Years of Tradition, Excellence and Faith - penned by another graduate and longtime member of the school’s English faculty, Jeanne Wilson ’75. The 200-plus page coffee table style book of text and some 600 images not only traces the school’s rich history, but also puts it in the context of the history of St. Louis and of the country.
The book will debut as part of Angel Fest on October 17 with a signing and presentation by the author. Other events include something for everyone, from a kid zone to live music, a preview of the fall musical, The Sound of Music, to crafting and a photo booth for teens. Later in the day, Reunion Weekend will bring together and honor classes ending in “0” and “5”, beginning with the Class of 1955, the last to graduate from the Fontbonne campus.
The celebration continues with the February 27 annual auction “An Evening with the Angels” and its special theme of 175th Anniversary Gala. On April 23, the Alumnae Mass and Brunch, with a theme of St. Joe Salutes, will honor outstanding alumnae for their service and dedication to St. Joe. Other events are still in the planning stages, including an alumnae bus trip in the spring that will include a tour of each of the three campuses.
St. Joseph’s Academy is a college preparatory school in Frontenac, Missouri sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet with student enrollment of 520 and 80 faculty and staff. Founded in 1840, the mission of the Academy is to provide quality Catholic education for young women in an environment that challenges them to grow in faith, knowledge, and respect for self and others. Our community expects these young women to make a profound impact in the world. St. Joseph’s Academy is committed to developing young women to be “Values-Driven Leaders” and upholds the school’s motto, “Not I, But We.”