St. Joseph's Academy has many traditions that are important to our community and deeply rooted in our history. The spirit of these traditions dates back to that of those young pioneer sisters who were inspired by faith and a desire to serve where needed. In fact, the school’s tradition of “serving the Dear Neighbor without distinction” is one of its oldest. For decades it has been most dramatically witnessed in such programs as Mission Week and Senior Projects, but being of service has been part of the Academy’s core identity in every era in ways large and small. In this tradition, as in so many others, students and staff are joined in their efforts by parents and by alumnae, who treasure their own experience of Academy traditions.
Special events are also a rich part of school tradition. Class Day enjoyed a history of almost 100 years before being transformed into Baccalaureate Mass. Many school dances date to the Fontbonne years, including Winter and Prom, with the Father-Daughter Banquet, in a league of its own, dating to the 1940s. The distribution of a school ring can be traced to the 1920s, with the actual ceremony as we know it today evolving over the course of many decades. Graduation has been held in the outdoor theater since the school’s first year at Frontenac.
Other long-standing traditions give way with the times, such as May Crowning, which was celebrated on all three campuses from at least the 1890s to the 1960s, and the Horse Show, which enjoyed a nearly fifty year run. Still other traditions are tied to a particular grade. For decades freshmen have worn a special hat during orientation week, beginning with the beanie, and seniors have been granted special privileges. The Academy also began a winning tradition in athletics when it captured its first State Championship in 1975.
Traditions are the ties that bind today’s school community to those who came before – sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, alumnae. Today's students, faculty, administration, parents, alumnae, and alumnae parents are guardians of St. Joe’s traditions, protecting a rich heritage, even as we add new chapters to the SJA saga.
The annual Mission Week is a cherished tradition at St. Joe. Our school motto, "Not I, But We," becomes a lived reality as the entire school community joins forces in raising awareness of our missions at home and abroad. Mission Week enables us to fulfill one of the goals of our school philosophy – to extend our awareness of community to our brothers and sisters in the larger Christian communities.
Mission Week, or at least what eventually evolved into the Week, one of the Academy’s favorite and most enduring traditions, began in the first decade at Frontenac. School mission efforts were turned specifically toward supporting the missions of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, both financially and spiritually. The forerunner of today’s Mission Week is Japan Day or Hearts for Japan, sponsored by the Catholic Student Mission Crusade (CSMC) beginning in 1958 to benefit the new CSJ school in Tsu, Japan – a day of “a movie, games, and goodies,” according to the March issue of The Sajoac. Each homeroom created its own project, and during the course of the day, students traveled from one room to another, spending their money for the benefit of the missions.
By 1960, added to the day of homeroom-based projects was a class rep for each grade, from whom an Empress of Japan was selected and crowned at the end of the day. $2,039 was raised this year with the CSMC still the principal sponsor of events. By 1962, the day was called Mission Day and the CSMC replaced by the Mission Club. This year, monies raised went to the three new missions that the sisters were opening in Peru.
At some point in the sixties, the event moved from January to November, and in 1963, for the first time, a Penny Queen was crowned. Homerooms organized everything from ice cream to beauty parlors, where a student could get her hair cut and colored, for a price. Activities expanded the next year to include a showing of Tammy Tell Me True in the gym, raffles, a faculty-student basketball game, and box lunches for sale. The evening Carnival was added in 1966, climaxing with the crowning of the Penny Queen, the elected representative of the class who had raised the most money per capita.
In 1967, the Day became a Week, with kickoff on Thursday morning that usually included a sister who was or had been a missionary as the featured speaker. Students sold baked goods and homemade crafts throughout the school, among other means of raising money. The following Thursday, Mission Day, by the early 1970s, began with an all-school liturgy, followed by a faculty-student basketball or volleyball game and the Faculty Show, a kind of variety show that has grown exponentially over the years and today includes a mix of musical, comic, dance, and mixed media numbers, playing to an enthusiastic audience.
During the afternoon, students and faculty set up carnival booths in the gym, for which they’d been collecting prizes for weeks, as well as cooked and prepped for the spaghetti dinner hosted by the senior class in the cafeteria. Whole families and Sisters of St. Joseph from throughout the community enjoyed dinner, then moved on to the gym, packed elbow to elbow, to shop at the sisters’ craft booth or junior class Christmas booth, play games of skill, march to the cake walk music, or, in later years, sing karaoke. The climax of the week was the announcement of the Penny Queen to a screaming crowd, the excitement building up to the moment, and while the seniors won most years and expected to, every so often, another class upset the pattern. Friday was a much-deserved free day.
Mission Night never raised a lot of money, but it was not intended to. It was about community building, with parents, grandparents, young children, faculty spouses and children coming together to join in the wonderful spirit and fun. While all Penny Queen-generated monies went to support the CSJ missions in Peru, and in the twenty-first century the sisters’ mission in Uganda, as well, Mission Night carnival and dinner monies, several thousand, were reserved for home missions, requests for aid from local groups or sometimes graduates engaged in service work.
Over the years, class projects and activities became more elaborate and organized with themed house parties, skating and bowling events, even a Walk in Des Peres Park. Individuals, in addition to selling baked goods and small crafts, knitted scarves and hats and made jewelry. From one year to the next, the creativity was remarkable; the generosity, inspiring and heartwarming. Beginning in the 1980s, Mission Week clothing became a favorite purchase and a keepsake from one year to the next.
"When you work for the (dear) neighbor, do it with a very unselfish love which expects no reward for its services, and aim at nothing other than helping him or her and being at the same time pleasing to God."
Maxim 35, Sisters of St. Joseph
In 2003, efforts were made to bring more activities back to campus, all-school garage sale, middle school mixer, dodge ball tournament, movie and pizza night, and a Music for the Missions talent show, featuring performers from all classes being among the highlights. Service Sunday began with mass on campus, followed by students working for service “dollars,” which were calculated into their class totals. The week’s competitive activities kicked off on Monday and ran through Thursday with Mission Day moving to Friday. After a couple of years of diminished involvement and attendance at the Mission Carnival, it was discontinued in 2009, the Week now ending with the announcement of Penny Queen following the Faculty Show finale.
The spirit of Mission Week is alive and well, and the Academy remains one of the largest single contributors to the CSJ missions annually as it has been for these many years. In a 1997 interview in the school paper, Sr. Linda Straub, former Academy faculty member and current member of the province leadership team, says, “St. Joseph’s Academy has always been one of the largest donors for the missions in Peru. I believe many blessings have come to St. Joe because of its generous support. It comes back” (December 1997 Voice). From 1960-2017, the school had contributed more than $1.45 million to the CSJ missions.
Mission Week 2021
Mission Week 2021 was a success. The entire SJA community came together to support CSJ missions in Peru and local charities. Highlights from the exciting week included:
- Mission Week Kick-Off
- School Trivia
- Clothing Sales
- Class Lunches
- “Music for the Missions” benefit concert
- Raffle baskets
- An all-school Mass
- Faculty Show
- Crowning of the 2021 Penny Queen
Thank you to everyone who supported SJA this year! Mission Week is one of the most treasured traditions at the Academy and fully exemplifies the school motto, “Not I, But We."
Alleluia! This is the day the Lord has made!
For many students, Ring Day is the highlight of their time at St. Joseph's Academy. The entire school community shares in the joyful celebration of this momentous occasion, what juniors think of as their official inauguration into the legion of Academy graduates who have gone before them and a precursor to senior year and their status as leaders of the school.
The tradition of the distributing of a school ring dates at least to the fall of 1924, first mentioned in that year’s yearbook, yet until the late 1960s, it was the seniors who received the ring. The treasured ceremony that occurs today evolved over decades, each era contributing a piece to the tradition. The current ring of gold with green glass etched with the school seal was adopted in 1965.
Months of preparation go into planning the day. For mother and daughter it is time to share in the excitement of selecting for that special day a dress for the ceremony and an evening dress for the dance. For the class, as a whole, it means weeks of work by committees dedicated to preparing the liturgy, as well as the program and banners for the Mass and ceremony. Juniors who are members of the school chorus are also featured singers and make special preparations for this role.
A day or two before the BIG day, each junior receives the special gift of a handmade ring box from a sophomore.
The day begins with an all-school Mass in the gym with readings and banners relating to a chosen theme. In the ceremony following Mass, each junior is called individually to come forward to receive her ring from the school president, a symbol of the love and loyalty the students and the school share for each other.
Following the ceremony, juniors and their parents enjoy a reception given by the Freshman Class. At this time, it is tradition that family, friends, classmates, and faculty take turns turning students’ rings once each toward the pinkie as the individual student keeps count. The goal -- their graduation year!
While the rest of the school heads to class, juniors get the afternoon off, often enjoying lunch with family members before preparing to return to school that evening for a semi-formal dance, a gift of the Senior Class.
As with any long-running tradition, layers are added over time that enhance its richness. For several years, a few juniors each year receive the ring their mother, grandmother, or aunt wore when she attended the Academy. When this is the case, mention is made of it as the student receives her ring. A new layer added in 2015 was that of reaching out to grads through social media, inviting them to participate in Wear Your St. Joe Ring Day by taking a photo of themselves wearing with their ring and posting it on the school Facebook page.
Like other Academy traditions, Ring Day is a community event that creates treasured memories for years to come.
The Official St. Joseph's Academy Class Ring by Jostens
Have you lost or misplaced your SJA Class Ring? If so, contact Jostens to order a new ring:
101 Clarkson Executive Park
Ellisville, MO 63011
Inquiries regarding pricing should be directed to the local Jostens office.
Junior Ring 2022
In early April, the St. Joseph’s Academy community celebrated #SJARingDay. This day is one of the most cherished traditions at the Academy and a milestone for the Class of 2023. Ring Day included a beautiful liturgy and a celebratory ceremony. Alumnae from all around the world wear their rings in solidarity with the junior class and to celebrate the Class of 2023’s official inauguration into the legion of graduates who have gone before them. Be sure to check out our school Facebook, Alumnae Association Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for pictures of the day.
Salute, St. Joseph's Academy
From Earth to sky, let our song resound
In praise of St. Joseph's Academy.
Where our hopes are nurtured,
and dreams come true
And friendships are fostered in loyalty.
The mem'ries of the hours we've shared
We'll always cherish with fidelity.
The carefree hours and youth's bright laugh
Salute! St. Joseph's Academy.
With sturdy hearts we hold aloft
the colors we'll always defend
So raise the banner of GREEN and WHITE
and let our voices blend.
Salute! St. Joseph's Academy!
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.