Reunion to celebrate St. John Vianney turning 60
Cheerleaders at St John Vianney around 1991 (photos courtesy of Jeannette Foley)
Reunion at a glance
What: St. John Vianney Catholic Elementary School in Northlake is turning 60 years old in 2012 and the SJV Alumni Association is planning a huge party.
When: July 21
Details: The Alumni Association is looking for all alumni, teachers and parents from the Class of 1955 through the Class of 2011.
Contact: Mary Rioux-Martorelli, Class of 1970, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jeanette Lentini-Foley, Class of 1982, at email@example.com
Updated: July 23, 2012 6:18AM
When Mary Rebmann (then Maden) attended St. John Vianney School in the 1960s, younger grades sat in attached desks that had (unused) holes for inkwells.
Girls work black and white checked jumpers with a white blouse, green tie and Peter Pan collars. Boys wore light blue shirts with blue snap-on ties.
On July 21, a reunion will take place for all students who attended the Catholic school in Northlake during its 60 years.
St. John Vianney church was started in 1941. Parishioners built a small wooden building for services “but the emphasis was to get the school built,” said Jeff Sherwin.
“You had all these kids and education was the thing,” Sherwin said.
The congregation put off building a larger church and in 1952 instead built the basement on the first floor. A few years later they added a second floor and eight classrooms and in 1957 added another section.
Services were held in the basement of the school until 1965, when the present church was constructed on a former playground.
Mary Martorelli (then Rioux) who graduated in 1970, recalls a typical day. Mass, then breakfast at the desk, then Mother Suzanne with announcement. Students would kneel for prayers, then recite the pledge of allegiance.
“You stayed in once classroom until junior high,” Martorelli said. “There was one teacher (a nun) for all subjects.
Lunch was also at a desk and student could buy milk at 2 cents for white, 3 cents for chocolate. Then recess.
“They decided boys could go to the gym and play,” Martorelli said. “Girls would go down to the library and learn how to crochet.” She laughs. “I don’t want to say we were a sexist school.”
The school did have clear standards.
“If the uniform (skirt) was too short, they’d sew on newspaper to lower the hem,” Sherwin said. “If you chewed gum, you’d have to have it on your nose all day.”
Martorelli remembers teachers bringing televisions into the school on May 5, 1961, so students could watch Alan Shepard become the first American launched into space.
Student enrollment was higher in the 1950s and 1960s. Sherwin and Martorelli can remember 1000 students in the school.
By 1982, when Jeannette Foley (formerly Lenini) completed eighth grade, there were 35 graduates in her class. The nuns were mostly gone and replaced by lay teachers.
Enrollment remains much lower today. Sherwin speculates its economics.
“People had jobs at Automatic Electric or Harvester,” Sherwin said. “People had good jobs. You could support a family with one job.”
“It was mostly nuns,” Martorelli said. “That was free labor. They got room and board and a stipend for teaching. Once they brought in lay teachers the cost of running this school went way up.”
Sherwin also recalls that students at St. John Vianney School had different days off than public school students.
“On their days off, they could come by and yell sucker, sucker,” Sherwin said. “We would do the same on our days.”
Rebmann said she has close relationships for her days at St. John Vianney School that have endured. “I think because it was a small class.”
“For all the horror stories you hear (about Catholic schools), ee all got good educations,” Sherwin said. Everyone learned grammar, spelling and sentence structure. We read substantial material.”