Sacred Heart School History
(Taken from the Centennial History of Sacred Heart 1991)
It seems providential that in 1891, the Judge Elmer Dundee residence in Falls City
was purchased for the Sisters of Precious Blood of O’Fallon, Missouri. Judge Dundee
was the first federal judge in the Nebraska district and was the presiding judge in
the famous Standing Bear trial that held that an Indian was a person within the meaning
of Federal constitution. Thus Sacred Heart School had its start in the two story
residence of the famous judge. Judge Dundee could be credited for many developments
in Falls City and was a powerful political figure of his time. He came to the county
in 1857 and was elected to the territorial legislature. He served until 1867 when
Nebraska became a state. In 1869 he was appointed United States district judge. He
had married in 1861 and had built a lovely two story brick Italianate structure, a
rather common architecture for turn of the century houses. The judge moved to Omaha
in 1884. He held a district judge office until death in 1896.
The Catholics of Falls City had talked about a place for a Catholic school in
the late 1880’s. According to the diocesan records, they purchased the Dundee
property in 1891. It was a ten acre tract of land located 14 blocks from the
parish church, St. Frances Xavier at 12th and Harlan St. The cost was $6,000,
half of which was raised at time and the other half was a troublesome mortgage
Father Denis Fitzgerald was pastor at the time. He was appointed on July 15, 1891.
It was he who persuaded the Sisters of the Precious Blood from O’Fallon, Missouri
to come and start an academy and boarding school in the old Dundee home. The school
opened with an enrollment of 67 students, about one third who were non-Catholic.
The parishioners were plagued by a drought and depression. They could not make the
payments left on the mortgage and the sisters were expected to take over the property
for a private school and pay the entire cost of $6,000. In addition, they would have
to pay for renovating the building to meet requirements of an approved educational
institution. The sisters tried to do these things, but many of their most supportive
families left because of the drought. In a letter to the Sacred Heart School, Sister
Adele Maurer, a native of the St. Francis Xavier parish wrote the following account
from her memory and the annals of Precious Blood Sister: “In 1891 at the request of
the Rt. Rev. Bishop Bonacum of Lincoln, Nebraska, the mission at Falls City was
accepted by our community. The Catholic Parish with the aid of some of the Protestant
families had purchased the property of the U.S. Judge Dundee for the Parish School and
Academy. There remained, however, a debt of $3,000.00 which Judge Dundee demanded, but
which the Parish was unable to remit at the time. It was suggested that our community
having to build a new addition to our ST. Elizabeth Academy in St. Louis at the time
could not afford to do so. In order to avoid any embarrassment to the good people and
allow the Catholics of Falls City free reign, Mother Armella, upon the advice of the
Rev. Monsignor Hy Muihlsiepen of St. Louis (Spiritual Director of our Community)
withdrew our Sisters in 1894.” Sister Adele was the former Lydia Mauer, a sister of
Mrs. L.P. Wirth, a prominent banker’s wife. She left Falls City as a postulant with
Precious Blood Sisters in 1894 and became Sister Adele in 1897.
The following roster of early Precious Blood nuns who served the Academy were listed
by Sister Adele: Sister M. Constantia High School, Sister M. Fortunata Music Teacher,
Sister M. Regina 5th - 8th grades, Sister M. Ida 1st - 4th grades, Sister M. Irene
Cook and Sister M. Pia Helpers, and Sister Ramunda Drawing. Father James Conley
became pastor in January 1893. After a meeting with the 51 remaining families, who
were convinced they were not financially able to continue supporting the Catholic
school, the sisters resigned their positions and closed the school in June 1894.
In a column about the opening of the public schools, the following was written in
the Sept. 7, 1894, Falls City Journal. “The total enrollment was 388 Tuesday or 58
more than the first day last year. This is partly accounted for by the fact that
those who were attending the convent last year are now attending the public schools
on account of the non-running of the convent.” Bishop Bonacum was still intent of
keeping the school in Falls City. He appointed Father Henry Bex pastor on Sept. 1,
1894 and he became responsible for the thorny issue. The people would only consent
to have a school on condition that a religious order assumes full liability for it.
Father Bex reopened the school on Sept. 1, 1895, when six Ursulines from York, NE
arrived. Rather than pay the Ursulines a salary, the way the Precious Blood Sisters
had been paid, the school was organized on a tuition plan and the Sisters were
financially responsible. The original Ursuline community in the United States was
at Peoria, Illinois. The nuns establishing their convent there, dated from the German
Kulturkampf in the 1870’s, when Bismarck restricted the Catholic Church of Peoria and
arrived there as school sisters in 1878. Sister Bernadette Reifert, OSU, to whom many
of the students of the 1920’s and 30’s owe their love of history and literature,
writes in her master’s thesis entitled ‘The History of Catholicism in Richardson
County’: “Through the zeal for the mission work of their foundress Mother Clara
Cornely, they opened in 1887, their first Nebraska mission in Crete. To concentrate
forces in Nebraska, they purchased the present property in York and established
themselves in June, 1890.” It was from their Motherhouse at York that they came to
During Father Henry Bex’s administration of sixteen years, he gave top priority to
Catholic education. The Ursulines’ opened the school with 30 pupils. The economy of
the area had improved. The drought was broken. So the parishioners assisted by other
citizens of the area, paid off the remaining $3,300 debt and deeded the property to
the Ursulines. There was a stipulation that the northwest corner--- a portion 150
x 350 feet--- was to be reserved for a future church and rectory.
In the March, 1963 Special Jubilee Edition of Spotlight Mother M. Anastasia, O.S.U.,
one of the first six Ursulines nuns who served Sacred Heart wrote of her memories of
those early days: “Since there is no access to any records, you will kindly pardon
this octogenarian for being inaccurate in one or other of the dates. As near as I
can remember, the Ursulines opened Sacred Heart Academy in the fall of 1896 while
Father Bex was pastor of St. Francis Church. The parish had acquired the Dundee
residence on a ten-acre plot of ground on 1810 Fulton Street and now deeded it to
the Ursulines with the stipulation that a sufficient portion of the ten acres be
reserved for the parish to build the future Sacred Heart Church and rectory. Father
Bex walked the fourteen blocks from the St. Francis Church each Sunday morning to
have Mass. While the new church was in the process of being built, Father Bex was
transferred to a smaller parish where the work was lighter. Father J.J. Hoffman
was appointed his successor.”
As the twentieth century dawned, Falls City was only forty-three years old and
Sacred Heart was a mere nine years old. The opening of the decade promised to be
one of excitement and growth for both. In 1900, the school was still known as St.
Francis Xavier School, because the parish was under the patronage of St. Xavier.
Often it was referred to as the “Convent School”. During the early 1900’s, it was
renamed Sacred Heart Academy-the Academy signifying that it was a boarding school.
Enrollment had been steadily increasing. By 1900, it was necessary to add a third
story to the convent building. The flat topped roof of the old mansion that had
been the scene of ballroom dancing according to the late Edwin Towle. In a
conversation with Richard Hall,’38, the late Mr. Towle reminisced of the days when
his mother and father dressed in their Sunday best and went to the Dundee’s parties,
where they danced on the roof.
The third floor addition was completed and ready for occupancy, when the classes
resumed in September 1900. According to the late Frances Buthman Buchholz, who
attended the Academy in the early 1900’s, the first floor was the classrooms, the
second floor, the dormitory and the third floor was the nun’s home. Because of
transportation difficulties during this time, there were many boarders, both boys
and girls. Some stayed the entire school year except for the holidays and others
stayed during the week and returned to their home on weekends.
The variety of subjects offered and the excellence of the Ursuline’s instruction
brought more pupils, making it necessary to once again expand. A three story, frame
building which a two-column portico to the south was erected just east of the convent.
It provided additional classrooms and dormitories. The interior was finished in hard
pine and it was steam heated. The building was in continuous use for over fifty years
and was blessed by Bishop Thomas A. Bonacum in April 1903. At the end of 1903 the first
senior class graduated from high school. They were: Ailene Gillespie, Lillian Moran
and Bertha Zimber.
Keeping pace with the local educational systems, Falls City opened the present public
library in 1902 with one thousand volumes. Over the years, this library has been a
source of research and reading pleasure for all of the city’s pupils. A booklet called
Manual of Reference, St. Francis Church issued to the parish by Father Bex in 1903 has
this to say about regulations of the Ursuline Convent: “The school year commences the
first Monday in September. It will be the aim of the teachers to give the pupils under
their supervision and care, a solid and thorough education based upon moral and religious
principles. “Religious instructions are given every day from 4 to 5 to all Catholic
pupils, to which non-Catholic children are only admitted at the special request of their
parents. “The course of studies embraces all branches taught in public high schools, and
also common needle work. German is free of charge to all pupils. Particular attention is
given to young ladies preparing themselves for teaching. “The Business course comprises
practical Bookkeeping, Business, Correspondence, Shorthand, Typewriting, Music (vocal and
instrumental) fine arts and all kinds of needle work are successfully taught. Tuition for
common branches is $1.00. Tuition for Correspondence a month is $2.00. Shorthand (Pittman’s
System) per month is $5.00. Typewriting (Remington) per month is $3.00. Music, per term of
24 lessons is $10.00. Two lessons a week with practice, per month is $4.00. Painting artificial
flowers, fruit, etc. per term is $6.00. Artificial needle work, per term is $3.00. Board, per
session is $45.00. Washing per session is $5.00. Entrance Fee is $5.00. Girls and boys aged
five years and upwards are taken care of at $11.00 per month.”
Then requirements for attending from the same booklet: “Each boarder must be furnished with
two everyday dresses, three changes of underwear, three pairs of shoes, a furnished dressing
case and work box. “There is no special uniform prescribed but white dresses, skirts and aprons
are only allowed when given in charge of an outside laundry. “In summer white waists are
permitted on Sundays. During school hours black aprons are preferred, but while arranging
their bed and dining rooms, or at play, the boarders wear work aprons and over sleeves. Every
Saturday they mend their clothes under the direction of a Sister. “Boys may board at the Convent
until the age of 12. They are strictly separated from the girls and under the surveillance of
a Sister. “All mail is subject to the inspection of the Superioress. The boarders may receive
visits from their parents once a month, and only under their guidance are allowed to go to town.
“It is desirable, however, that parents should not request the frequent visits of the pupil to
home as it greatly interferes with their studies and the order of the house. Pupils may enter
the school at any time. “Day boarders may take their meals at the Convent for $3.50 per month.”
The courses of studies include German as an extra language. Some of the older Sisters were
probably well qualified to teach German, having fled Germany and most of the younger nuns
were of Germany heritage. One of the older Sisters, who had taught at Sacred Heart, wrote
from York, NE that life was sometimes a little dangerous in Falls City. Their walks between
the Convent and the Church to attend Mass were either without sidewalks or the sidewalks
were made of wood. Often there were missing boards. Also, dogs along the way, not used to
the Sisters’ religious habits, ran along beside the nuns, keeping up a chorus of howling and
barking. Mother Anastasia Kleiss, O.S.U. (quoted previously) was a monumental figure in the
early history of the school. She had joined the Ursulines at 14 and was one of the first groups
that had come from York to Falls City. She served until the Ursulines departure. Much of this
time she was Mother Superior, but just when she was appointed cannot be found. She was a very
short lady, but her authority was in her voice even when she reprimanded her six-foot students.
She taught Glee Club and gave many private voice lessons as well as private instruction in what
at that time was called “elocution.” Her brown eyes twinkled a lot and she managed a good
rapport with the adolescents she taught.
The first graduate of the new decade was Frances Kelly in 1904. She became a highly respected
teacher and taught many years in the Falls City public schools. In 1905 there were two graduates:
Bertha Deschner and Lucy Sheehan. Rose Knobbe graduated in 1906. The graduating classes in these
years were quite small. Many adolescents never entered high school or even finished grade school,
but were married young or went to work at 14 to support themselves. Boys often quit school at 12,
to help their fathers, who were farmers, to do the fieldwork. The first male graduate from Sacred
Heart and the only graduate in 1915 was William Murphy, who became a priest of the Lincoln Diocese
and became a Monsignor later in his life.
Overseeing the school after his appointment as pastor in 1910 was Father John Hoffman. His influence
on the school and its students can’t be measured. Father Hoffman was born in Luxembourg on Oct. 3,
1871. He attended the elementary schools there, his secondary schooling was in Belgium and after his
family moved to Germany, he spent one year at the University of Treves. He came to America in 1889,
spent a your becoming fluent in the English language and then entered the seminary at St. John’s
University in Collegeville, Minn. where he was ordained in 1895. He began his priestly role as a
pastor to Rulo, NE. where he spent five years. He was then moved to be pastor at Bellwood, NE. After
a decade of service there he came to Falls City where he served for the next quarter of a century.
Maurvaleen Davis Heller, ’37, remembers him: “I can still smell Father Hoffman’s cigars. We could
always tell when he was around checking on the students in the classrooms, the smell of that cigar
preceded him. How good they smelled. He loved golf and played pinochle for blood - Most of all he
was our friend.” During Father Hoffman’s tenure, D.H. Weber, Richardson County Superintendent of
Schools, wrote that in 1917 all county schools are on their way to progress and prosperity.
In 1917, Sacred Heart had eight teachers and an enrollment of about 150. It was one of three
Richardson County schools to secure accreditation for Normal School training work. Bishop
Charles O’Reilly in consultation with the superiors of the Ursuline order separated the Falls
City Ursulines from the York group on Oct. 8, 1919. It was incorporated as the Ursuline convent
of Divine Providence on March 2, 1920. The convent and school then served as a Motherhouse,
novitiate, boarding school, elementary and secondary school. In order to help supply food for
this large group, the sisters in addition to teaching and caring for the children, worked in
the garden, canned the produce, cared for fruit trees and milked the cows. The sisters who
directed the school programs and participated in all this work in the early years were: Rosa,
Celestine, Bridget, Paula, Helen, Ignatius, Anastasia and Elizabeth.
In 1922, the enrollment climbed to 234 pupils. This necessitated the construction of an annex
of the south side of the wooden school. The open two story portico was closed and the extra
space converted to classrooms. A built-on entry way replaced to portico as an entrance. Still
under the influence of Father Hoffman’s guidance, the first floor of the Sister’s home was
enlarged and the interior of the house was remodeled to make room for the increased numbers
of Ursulines in 1924. The convent kitchen was redone and enlarged the same year. There were
eight nuns that entered the novitiate in the Falls City Motherhouse. They were: Sister Dolores,
Murphy, Sr. Angela Zauner, Sister Teresa Kreifels, Sister Frances Mlinor, Sister Margaret Mare
Zauner, Sister Catherine Goolsby, Sister Blaise Kennedy and Sister Mary Anne Frederick. During
a time when many teachers taught with only six weeks of teacher training after high school, the
Ursulines made tremendous effort to fully educate their nuns.
They attended Junior College either in Springfield, Illinois or York, Nebraska. Then they
finished their Bachelor degrees at Creighton University. Sister Mary Ann Frederick, OSU,
’26 one of the Ursuline novices remembers that probably three of the older nuns had Master’s
degrees and the others were working on advanced degrees. This meant that many of their summers
they went by train to Omaha to attend Creighton’s summer school. James Mooney of Rulo built a
beautiful addition to the school grounds, when he erected a grotto replica of Our Lady of
Lourdes with Bernadette kneeling at her feet. A stream of water flowed out of the rock. This
was in memory of his nephew John Ebert Mooney, son of J.W. Mooney. The dedication took place
in Sept. 1923. This was the sight of the school’s May crowning for many years when the weather
was favorable. The memory of all the students of that era is etched with the picture of the
crowd of pupils, faculty, parents and friends gathered and singing, “O, Mary, we crown thee”.
The first priest and male graduate William Murphy from the school (mentioned earlier as a
1915 graduate) was ordained, May 24, 1924 at Falls City by the Rt. Rev. Francis J.L. Beckman,
then Bishop of the Lincoln diocese. Father Murphy celebrated his first solemn Mass on June 1st
and assumed the duties of assistant priest of St. Peter and Paul’s parish. Father Murphy laid
the corner stone on Nov. 3, 1924 of a very important building in the Sacred Heart complex. A
“gymtorium”, combination gym and auditorium was completed in 1925 at the cost of $35,000. Miss
Catherine Tiehen, who proved to be Sacred Heart’s best friend and most prolific contributor,
gave funds for the erection of the structure. The parish financed the completion of the interior.
The new structure was dedicated by Father Hoffman to the memory of Mr. And Mrs. Herman Tiehen,
parents of Miss Catherine and Agnes Tiehen, the donors. Agnes was the handicapped sister whom
Catherine cared for in their home. (Catherine and Agnes’ life is in more detail in the memorial
In a 1988 issue of the Spotlight, NiNi Hall Frederick ’45 wrote the following memories of the
Tiehen Gym’s activities during the late 20s and 30s: “…Back in the early thirties she (the gym)
was not the grand old dame but the new kid on the block. “We had classrooms, sports and gymnastics,
also bazaars, boxing and bingo. “The classrooms were in the upper rooms where you now have locker
and weight rooms. Kindergarten, first, second and third grades were taught. The rooms had large
windows that opened over the gym floor where the good Ursuline sisters were allowed to watch the
basketball games. And what games they were. The Little Ten and later the Big Eight county teams
gave us some real spirited games. It seemed as if the walls would burst as the crowds would pack
the bleachers, the stage and every available space to cheer for their teams. No fancy scoreboard
for us, the score was kept on a small blackboard on the wall at the north end. “Tiehen was a fully
equipped gym, with mats, rings, trapeze, a balance beam and pommel horse. Gym classes with Dollie
Hahn were not called a fancy name like aerobics but just plain and simple gymnastics. “Something
else went on that you probably don’t have now, boxing. It was definitely a man’s sport, but once
in a while we kids would sneak in just to watch. The gym was not what were used to in the daytime,
but a smoke filled caldron with men cheering on their favorite boxer. The Golden Glove events were
being held with many of the contenders going on to National Fame. “Dinners and bazaars were some
of the many fund raising activities; we did have bingo in those days also. Who can forget the huge
square apparatus in the center of the floor piled high with hams, sacks of sugar and flour and many
other prizes if you got a bingo? And the many familiar faces that worked it week after week, Jack
Murray, Paul Murphy, Jess Hall, Dan and Charles Chaney, Joe Morgan, Merv Meyers, John Wiezorek, Pat
and Cecil McMahon and many more. The women were always in the kitchen cooking up a fabulous meal.
“As I look back now, I realize that all of this was the life blood of our parish.” The first class
to hold graduation exercises in the new gym was the class of 1925. Among its members was Martin
Werner, who was the second priest graduate.
Father Werner was ordained for the Great Falls diocese, after his parents had moved to that area
of Montana. He has spent well over fifty years serving various Montana communities. During the
Korean conflict he served as an army chaplain. The tuition system that had been in place since
the Ursulines had taken over the direction of the school, presented problems for the sisters,
pupils and parents. Bishop Kucera directed that the status of the school should be changed from
private to parochial. This new arrangement became effective in 1931. This provided salaries for
the nuns and free tuition for all the children of the parish. The students from the surrounding
parishes were assessed a monthly fee according to whether they were day students or boarding
students. The Ursulines then referred to the high school as Sacred Heart Academy. The principals
who served the Academy were: Sister Bernadette ‘32-36; Sister Miriam ‘36-38; Sister Bernadette
/38-40 and Sister Berchmans ‘40-41. The “Annals of Usuline Nuns in Falls City” say that Sacred
Heart High School was a member of the Richardson County Little Ten Association in April, 1933.
This county wide organization promoted scholastic, athletic, speech and musical contests among
their members. Sacred Heart students entered all of the competitions whole-heartedly. Mother
Bernadette is a well-remembered teacher by any student who was fortunate enough to be enrolled
in her classes. She had the ability to walk into the room and command the attention of the students
immediately. Father Rawley Myers, ’42, writes about her, “. . . it was Sister Bernadette, who
opened my eyes to the splendor of the faith. She did this by introducing our class to her friends,
the great Catholic writers of this century, mostly British, mostly converts. “We had, as many
remember, not a beautiful school building, but it was beautiful inside with the love and concern
the Sisters had for each one of us. The library was small, but it had great books. “When I finished
grade school at Sacred Heart I was pretty restless in regard to religion. We had studied the
catechism for many years, and I was weary of questions and answers. I wanted something more. “I
was delighted to go to high school that fall. I knew it would be a new experience, but I was not
quite prepared for Sister Bernadette. The year our class were freshmen she returned to teach in
Falls City after having spent a number of years as an instructor in a junior college in Illinois.
Our class soon said she still thought she was teaching in college. Her classes were very confusing,
but, as I recall we never opened our textbooks. We were always in the library reading books, and
not just any books but those by her special friends, G.K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Sir Arnold Lunn,
C.C. Martindale and many more. We read books and reported on them. I never understood half of what
I read. (I always said we all read Chesterton, and only our classmate Melvin Ketter understood him.)
But from these wonderful books, I knew these authors were great thinkers and most of them had thought
their way into the Catholic Church, and the faith was not just a lot of questions and answers, but
a most intelligent and reasonable way of life. It was just what I needed. And since then I have read
most of these books again and again, and each time get more out of them. “How good of God to send us
this inspiring teacher when we needed her the most.
It must have been an exciting time for the students, when Sister Rita Butell, OSU, at her request was
commissioned to Manchuria in 1932. She had received permission to transfer to the Orthodox Rite of the
Church that was practiced there. Sister Rita was a high school teacher at the time and it must have
been a most unlikely assignment for this mid-western nun. According to Sister Mary Anne Frederick, OSU,
she was from a missionary-minded family with four nuns, the other three being members of the Sisters
of the Blessed Sacrament, Mother Catherine Drexel’s order, who were home missionaries among the Negroes
and Indians. Mauvaleen Davis Heller, `37, remembers that all the students went to the train station to
see her off, with a large basket of fruit for a going away gift. Sister Rita corresponded with many of
her former students. She was finally brought back to the United States after Manchuria was invaded by
Julia Frederick was part and parcel of Sacred Heart and remains in the memories for any one attending
Sacred Heart during the 38 years she lived at Sacred Heart. She was ever-present, teaching music and
acting as accompanist for the grade and high school glee clubs and musicals. She lived in a room on
the third floor of the school building adjacent to the boarder’s dormitory. She kept watch over the
building and was at the beck and call of anyone who needed her. Francis Casey, `38, recalls his memories
of Julia during his twelve years at Sacred Heart: “Julia died December 23, 1959 having served Sacred
Heart schools and Sts. Peter and Paul parish for 38 years. For several years she taught music in the
school and also gave private instruction in piano after school and on Saturdays. Of all the changes
that took place in the teaching staff and student enrollment, one thing was constant- the presence
of Julia at the piano playing accompaniment for all the school programs and graduations. Added to
this busy schedule, she also found time to be sacristan and organist for religious services in the
church. “The last two years of her life were spent in a nursing home. It isn’t too difficult to
imagine that many times her fingers played “Pomp and Circumstance" on the arm of her chair, while
in her mind, she saw the current graduation class march into Tiehen Gym to receive their diplomas.”
Another constant figure in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s was Gussie Schawang, the janitor and handy man
for many years. Gussie lived in a little two-room stucco house to the east of the wooden school
building. He was Julia Frederick’s uncle, so dedication to their work seemed to be a family trait.
Francis Casey also remembers Gussie: “You will not find his name on the church’s roster of recognized
saints. But looking deep into the hearts of former students of Sacred Heart during the years 1921 to
1950 you will find it. After all, who of us could forget Gussie Schawang, Sacred Heart’s and Sts. Peter
and Paul’s own hermit saint? “Born in a log cabin northeast of Falls City on January 24, 1871, he lived
a life of humility for 82 years. Twenty-nine of those years, he served at Sacred Heart School. He took
up residence in the “little house on the school grounds in 1921 and for the next twenty-nine years was
the ever faithful sexton. If anyone was late for the school mass, it wasn’t because the church bells
hadn’t been rung on time. At the appointed time Gussie was pulling the ropes, ringing the bells that
ringing the bells that easily outweighed him.
“There were times when unthinking children teased him. Even adults cast knowing glances when he made
his rapid, consecutive signs of the cross. Taking all these thoughtless practices in stride, he served
his God to the best of his ability. In poor health, he retired in 1950. He lived three years longer,
dying at a local nursing home on February 27, 1953. As the 30th decade turned into the 40th, there
were many changes taking place. In the late 30s, the last of the boarders were grade schoolers, the
ones in the 30s were high school students.
Transportation had undergone big changes. No longer did students come to school via horseback or in
buggies, which had necessitated an early arrival, so that they could feed and stable their horses in
the neighborhood barns of relatives or friends. Roads were in better condition and cars had replaced
the horse. Many of the families came to school, with the eldest driving the family vehicle. If the
family members did not fill the car, they picked up neighborhood children. Today’s environmentalists
would be proud of their car pooling efforts. Those who lived in town walked to school even from the
farthest edges of town.
A major development occurred in June, 1941, when the Ursuline Mother General in Rome, at the suggestion
of the Holy Father decided to close some of the schools that they staffed in the Central Province. Falls
City fell within that province. At the time, they lacked sufficient number of teachers to adequately
staff all of their schools. It was thought best to close all of the Nebraska schools. With disappointment
and regret the Sisters had to leave Sacred Heart that they had staffed since 1895. They sold the convent
and school property to the Sts. Peter and Paul parish.
The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth assumed the administration in the fall of 1941. They had already
taken charge of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Hospital in Fall City the year before, so they were asked
by the Bishop to staff the school and they agreed to do so. The Sisters of Charity headed by their
founder Mother Xavier Ross came to Leavenworth, Kansas in 1858 to care for the orphans and children
of the west ward bound settlers. Since that time the community has grown to include missions in the
states of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, California, Colorado, Wyoming, Illinois
and Montana. They also have two foundations in South America. With the change of religious staff came
a change of names. Sacred Heart Academy became Sacred Heart Memorial School. Sister Mary Zoe was principal
until 1947. Other principal from the Sisters of Charity were as follows: Sister Patricia, 1947-49; Mary
Eugene, 1949-51, 1956-63; Mary Columba, 1952-55; Mary Ellenice, 155-56; Ann Teresa, 1963-69; Marie Carmel,
1969-72; Mary Hilaria, 1972-81 and Mary Denise, 1981-85.
It was during Sister Mary Eugene’s tutelage that the students began to publish the SPOTLIGHT. It is one
of the longest on going and significant activities at Sacred Heart. It came into existence in September,
1949 and continues to be published each year. It is a communicating tool with the alumni and the community.
A new school had been the dream of several pastors, according to Sister Loretta Gosen’s HISTORY OF THE
DIOCESE OF LINCOLN. It started with Father John Hoffman, who had been thinking in terms of a new school
building in 1935. But Father Hoffman was transferred in 1935 and replaced by Rev. James Gilroy. Father
Gilroy pastorate was short and had little time to adjust to the parish, as Msgr. P.J. Healey replaced
him in 1939. The idea of a new school became Msgr. Healey’s problem. At the time it just wasn’t financially
possible. He remained ten years and he left with the new school still a dream. Father Joseph Murphy
replaced him, but in three months he became ill and on September 30, 1949. Then the Rev. Lawrence Obrist,
a former army chaplain came to Falls City as the new pastor. As time passed, financial difficulties of
the parish improved and the much needed school was again considered. An intensive fund raising project
began March 1, 1952. Catherine Tiehen, whose donation had erected the Tiehen Gym, came forward with a
gift of $65,000. The parish was to match this sum and collect an additional $50,000 for the $185,000
structure. Plans for the new building were to be a long range $390,000 project with the first phase
being a one story $185,000 structure of contemporary design. It was a secondary teacher, who had died
at the convent very suddenly on April 9, 1951.
The Sacred Heart statue was a gift of the students in memory of their teacher and the Blessed Virgin
statue was a memento by Sister Mary Evelyn’s brothers. On February 28, 1957, Sacred Heart’s patron,
Catherine Tiehen died. In death, she remembered the school that was built with her generous gifts.
From her home she could watch the children and she must have been pleased with the results of her gifts.
When her will was probated she left to the church another $50,000 for the building she wanted for the
school she loved. Monsignor Obrist blessed and broke the ground for the second phase on May 20, 1962.
The new unit was built north from the structure that was built in 1953. It consisted of four additional
classrooms plus offices, work rooms and auxiliary facilities. Construction and design matched the existing
building and was of beige brick over steel. This time because of Catherine’s generous bequest the parish
only had to raise $39,000. Henry Krumme owner of the Krumme Construction Company was again employed by
Monsignor and his advisors. Mr. Krumme’s personal interest in the project, coupled with his professional
ability made the Sacred Heart School, one of the most modern up-to-date buildings in the state at that
time. Mr. Krumme later had grandchildren who attended the school. Open House for the new grade school
was held April 5, 1963. The new addition had 163 grade school children, one through eight. Grades five
and six remained in the older part of the building.
At the end of 1963, with the larger school facility in Falls City, it was announced that St. Mary’s
school in Dawson would consolidate with Sacred Heart School. The enrollment at St. Mary’s at the time
was 27 children. The Sisters of Christ, who staffed both schools, thought that the three sisters
serving St. Mary’s could reach a larger number of students by consolidation. St. Mary’s was to provide
the transportation for the students. Transportation for children from outlying parishes was forever a
problem. On August 3, 1963 the articles of incorporation of the Sacred Heart Bus, Inc. was signed and
it became possible for the corporation to provide transportation for students of Sacred Heart from Sts.
Peter and Paul’s Church of Falls City, St. Mary’s Church of Arago, St. Mary’s Church of Dawson, St.
Anne’s Church of Shubert and Immaculate Conception Church of Rulo. Since Nebraska law still forbade
parochial students from riding on the public school bus, the parishes as an entity proceeded to purchase
and run their own buses. This continued until 1968 when the cost became prohibitive. Rulo, Arago, and
Shubert abandoned the buses and the families again furnished their own transportation. Dawson continued
their own bus service for a number of years.
It was LB 522 that approved by the Nebraska legislature, required public school buses to pick up
parochial and private students on their regular bus routes. The bill was designed to conserve energy
during the nationwide oil crisis of the 1970’s and to safeguard the students. The SPOTLIGHT, September,
1975 said it eliminated about fifteen cars in the parking lot and saved about 320 miles a day on the road.
The Sacred Heart Lunch program began in the 1940’s. Pat McMahon, who served as coach and athletic
director at that time, explained the new federal program to a group of parishioners on Sept. 11,
1940. It was a project in connection with the Works Progress Administration of the Franklin Roosevelt
presidency and a program of the “New Deal.” Sacred Heart was the sixth school in Richardson County
to adopt the plan and lunches were served in the basement of the Tiehen Gym. They continued to be
served there until the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish hall was built. A much larger and more modern
cafeteria was installed on the second level of the hall. The parish hall was built across the street
from the original church property in 1982. It is on the lot where the former Ida Baker home stood.
The home had been donated to Sts. Peter and Paul parish by the Baker family upon her death. Since
the school has a closed lunch hour, most students take advantage of the lunchroom. The program
provides a hot nutritious meal and eating together adds to the camaraderie of the students.
From 1944 to 1972 a familiar face and constant presence at Sacred Heart was Herman Niemeyer,
who was janitor and jack-of-all trades for 28 years. Linda Faller Sanders, ’69, Herman’s
granddaughter, recorded the changes in the school during this period in an article about
her grandfather in the SOUTHERN NEBRASKA REGISTER: “The garden from which he produced a
variety of vegetables and berries in 1944 is now a football field to be mowed in summer
and occasionally reseeded. “
When asked what his outstanding job was on one occasion, Mr. Niemeyer said, “I believe
cleaning the boy’s locker room after a muddy game. You should see that place. Even at
that, I enjoy my work and like it here.” Sister Ann Teresa Conroy, principal of Sacred
Heart for ten years, said, “What would we ever do without Mr. Niemeyer?” (SPOTLIGHT,
Members of the Sisters of Charity on the faculty at Sacred Heart were responsible for the
beginning of the Headstart Program in Richardson County. Sister Mary Cleophas Brost, who
taught from 1966-68 as first grade teacher, initiated the new program in the summer of ’67.
Sister Ann Teresa was Mother Superior and principal at that time. Operation Headstart
developed from President Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” and was provided for under
the Education Act of 1965. The first Richardson County classes were taught at Sacred
Heart. Later, because of more rigid restrictions concerning separation of Church and
state, it could not continue the program for the diocese.
In 1970, the Diocesan Development Program (DDP) was initiated which provided for a
revolving fund from which parishes could borrow at low interest rates for repairing
or buildings. If the parishes maintain a grade and high school, eighty percent of
what is contributed is returned to the parish. In 1990, the amount returned to Sts.
Peter and Paul’s parish was $25,310 with a commensurate amount sent back to the four
smaller parishes involved.
The new church that was being built at this time was to stand on the ground occupied
by the nun’s convent, the Dundee house. In order for the construction to start, the
inside fixtures were sold at an auction in the summer of 1971 and the Ankrom Moving
and Demolition Company proceeded to pull down the 100 year old house. Since a rectory
was to be built connected to the new church, the nuns on the faculty in 1971 moved
into the old rectory. This rectory had been built in 1910, and was the home for the
two Sisters of Charity serving the school during the Centennial year.
There have been several organizations that have lent support and material aid to the
school. The Sacred Heart Alumni has been in existence since the early Clara Mooney
Stone, ’30, Marie Timothy Hinds, ’31, Betty Babb Ralston, ’31, Tom Mandeville, ’31,
and Verna Gerweck Harrison ’29, were the prime movers for this organization. Since
the first meeting there has been a biennial gathering to celebrate the golden
anniversary classes. All alumni, who have been graduated more than 50 years, are
invited to come to the reunion. The Centennial year was the fifth such celebration.
Two alumni, who could truly be names Mr. and Mrs. Sacred Heart, because of their
involvement in school during the past 25 to 30 years, are Dick and NiNi Frederick
(classes ’42 and ’45 respectively). Dick began driving the bus and running the clock
and chains at games 30 years ago and is still continuing his service today. NiNi
had been the school secretary for 25 years, but service for the two of them began
with the Alumni and the Home and School. Much of the history of the school in
documents and pictures was preserved and kept by NiNi as she worked in the school
office. NiNi and retired the Centennial year, but expect to see her at every Irish
game and tournament and Dick may well haul another generation of Sacred Heart Students.
The present Home and School organization probably came into existence in the late’
30’s as a Mother’s club. They lend their hands to the menial tasks around the school.
Each summer they paint and do needed repaint in the school buildings. They run the
concessions at all the home games. They are responsible for the Christmas Formal,
the Awards banquet and other extracurricular activities. Over the years the school
library has been especially enhanced and kept up-to-date bye their contributions.
Father James O’Connor, who had given 19 years to the pastorate in Falls City,
moved in 1988. Father Robert Roh came from St. Peter’s, Bellwood, NE, where he
had been a teacher and track coach at Aquinas High School in David City. After
a year’s time, Father Roh found a pressing need for two new classrooms, because
of an increased enrollment in the grade school. It was decided to build onto the
“grand old dame”, the Tiehen Gym. The parishes shared the work with Dawson and
Shubert furnishing the architect, Tony Ahern, ’70 who collaborated with Chris
Rathman, ’83 Lincoln, on the plans for the addition. Rulo and Arago parishioners
put up the steel frame with their farm equipment under the direction of Tim Pfister.
The seventh and eighth grades were the first two occupants of the light and airy
rooms that were built onto the south end of the gym. New Locker and showers rooms
for both the boys and the girls are between the old gym stage and the new rooms. An
almost identical brick matches the old portion of the building and the old and the
new is blended into a fine and useful building.
In 1985, the Sacred Heart Endowment Fund for the high school began with the
encouragement of Bishop Flavin and the help of Jim Luensmann, Diocesan Director
of Endowments. By December, 1986, the endowment was solidly in place and the
amount raised was only a few hundred dollars from the three year goal of $200,000.
The entire principal is to be invested and all of the interest goes directly to
the general budget of the school. Father Benton, Principal of the high school from
1985-88, challenged alumni to donate to the fund so it would continue to grow. A
telethon conducted by local alumni brought gifts from many areas. During this time
Jane Buchholz Schroff, ’34, donated a family home she had inherited to the Endowment
Fund. During the years 1985-87 the home was used for the Chapter I Remedial Program
and the last two years it has been rented to Coach Doug Goltz and his family.
The parishes have initiated many things over the years to make their share of
school expense. Sts. Peter and Paul sponsor bingo twice a week. offering an
evening’s entertainment and serving an evening lunch to the players. The Falls
City and Shubert parishes were given land in the will of Lawrence Parchen, a long
time farmer and parishioner. The alumni, who live in St. Anne’s, Shubert and St.
Mary’s Arago, furnish their equipment and labor, with the proceeds going to the
school. Rulo has a summer barbecue and the ladies often serve farm sales while
Dawson runs a three day concession stand at the Humboldt Fair.
The Cecil Murphy Scholarship program was also started in 1985 by Father Rawley
Myers, ’42, and Dr. Jim Myers, ’40. Cecil Murphy, ’42, son of the late Paul and
Florence Murphy died in a plane crash on July 10, 1944. He was one of the crewmen
on a B-17 bomber that went down in a storm over Marine enroute to England. His
bomber was one of the famous “flying fortresses” of World War II. The Myers
brothers were two of his closest friends. Cecil’s mother, Florence, died in 1985
at the age of 91. It was her wish that the Cecil Murphy scholarship continue.
So her heirs, Maryetta Parchen Lyman, Alliance, NE; William Parchen, Littleton,
CO; Art Parchen, Kansas City, KS; and Marjorie Morsman Carlstrom, Morton, IL,
are continuing to fund the scholarship.
The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, who have staffed the school for 50 years
have been funding scholarships for worthy students for many years. Many students
have benefitted from their generosity. Other scholarships that were given for a
limited time were the Evelyn Kanaly Nusbaum Scholarship, the Msgr. Clarence J.
Riordan Memorial Scholarship (a traveling scholarship sponsored by the Diocesan
Council of Catholic Women), the Orscheln Brothers and the local Knights of Columbus.
During the years from 1975 to 1987 a matching funds gift from Firestone Foundation
was very active. Tom McGinnis, an employee of Firestone, supervised this program
that brought needed dollars into the Sacred Heart school system.
For 94 years a woman religious had been the principal of Sacred Heart. A nun from
one of the three religious orders that had served the school during these many years
was assigned as principal. The Sisters of Charity often had separate principals for
the grade and high school. The number of nuns at the school declined, until there
are now only two, Sister Mary Virginia, the first grade teacher and Sister Mary
Eugenia, the fifth grade teacher. The diocesan priest, serving as pastor of Rulo
and Arago, Father James Benton, became the first male principal in 1985-1986 and
served three years. Father Benton left as a diocesan missionary to Barquismeto,
Venzuela and Father James Reinert replaced him in his pastorates and principal
position in 1988-1989 school year and is still serving in that position.
There have been many caring and dedicated teachers, who have served Sacred Heart
over the years and have left indelible marks on their student’s minds. Two of them,
Sisters Mary Eugene and Sister Mary Hilaria, are vividly remembered by two alumni.
Josephine Ryan, ’60, writes about Sister Mary Eugene, who served as principal from
1949-52 and again from 1956-63 and taught science. “Sacred Heart School has been
blessed with excellent teachers. One of the finest was Sister Mary Eugene. She
expected the best from each student and it was a given that you did your best in
her science classes. A saying of hers that I recall, ‘Either you control the
situation controls you,’ may explain why she had on discipline problems. I think
all the students knew this lady expected us to control ourselves. “I am most
grateful for the sound foundation Sister gave me in the study of science. Her
lessons were also about being a Christian in today’s world.”
Mary Beth Frederick, ’66, gives her impressions of Sister Mary Hilaria Phipps,
who served Sacred Heart longer than any other Sister of Charity. She was on the
grade school faculty from 1954-58, a high school teacher from 63-71, and as a
principal of the high school from 72-80. Mary Beth writes the following: “What
stands out in my mind about Sister Hilaria after all these years was her utter
straightforwardness. This realization has come only after working in the corporate
environment where much time and energy are spent in the quest to figure out the
other person’s hidden agenda. We students never had to do that with Sister Hilaria.
Looking back, it seems that she very much knew who she was, what she wanted to
accomplish, and was secure in that knowledge. She expected the best from her
students and would expend many more than the required hours and much more than
the required energy to help us achieve it. She expected, also, a return of the
same integrity she possessed - not necessarily to know exactly who we were or
everything that we wanted, for these were some of the things we were in school
to discover - but she did expect us to acknowledge when we weren’t sure of some
concept she was trying to convey, to wrestle with it, and to ask and wrestle
repeatedly until we did understand it. The only times she was angered was when
we either didn’t “use our heads or tried to excuse our poor performance on a
test or in a project report by saying that we hadn’t really understood when she
taught the subject. She tempered her expectations of excellence and honesty
with true excitement and joy in the experience of learning; I always felt that,
although she had the superior knowledge, she was learning alongside us as she
was teaching us. This enthusiasm for subjects as diverse as physics, journalism,
and drama (and the latest Documentary series on the education station) mad her
seem not old in that way that teenagers consider anyone over 21 and in a position
of authority. I do not have any direct knowledge of her teaching style today, but
I have been privileged to remain her friend and to know that her personal hallmarks
are still straightforwardness and enthusiasm.”
Sacred Heart approached the Centennial year as a vital and progressing school.
The total enrollment is 271 students. The grade school has 210 pupils and the
high school has 61. The enrollment has varied through the years, but it still
remains a small school by 1990 standards. Lay teachers are in the majority now,
with the count of 17. Two Sisters of Charity taught in the grade school with
the four priests from the combined parishes rounding out the number of teachers
at 22. With the increased number of teachers has come an expanded curriculum
that adequately prepares students for college or gives them sufficient educational
background to make their way in non-professional pursuits.
Reflecting on the hundred years, brings us to the realization that the word of
God is prolifically spread and the students’ lives enhanced by their Catholic
sanctification, but it fixes direction and moral values that help people live
lives of purpose and service. It is the spark that ignites faith. Sacred Heart
is what the name implies, the heart of southeastern Nebraska’s Catholicism.