Marian Middle School spotlights vocations stories

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Working in collaboration, sisters from eight religious communities wanted to form an all-girls counterpart to Loyola Academy, an all-boys Jesuit middle school a few blocks from St. Louis University.

The resulting Marian Middle School celebrates its 15th anniversary with an open house from 3-6 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, at the school in the former Holy Family School at 4130 Wyoming St.

The open house offers a chance not only for neighbors to check out the school, but also for students to mingle with the sisters and learn about the school's founding communities.

"It's really important for our students to know our founding communities," said Sister Sarah Heger, CSJ, the vice principal who will become principal in fall.

The open house also will have an element of the open houses that have been held, and will be held, in the archdiocese to celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life.

Sister Sarah, 33, is among three sisters who work at Marian Middle School, along with Sister Clare Bass, CSJ, 31, and Loretto Sister Barbara Roche, retired president of Nerinx Hall High School. About 12 sisters also volunteer at Marian, so many sisters will be on hand to tell vocation stories.

Sister Sarah, the oldest of seven children from Pacific, didn't consider religious life until after her sophomore year at Fontbonne University in 2002. She went to Aquinas Institute of Theology in Colorado Springs for a program about ministry, then caught the fire of religious life later that summer at World Youth Day in Toronto, where Pope John Paul II presided.

"I thought about it and prayed about it, and little by little, it changed who I was and how I spent my day," she said. "I was always involved in service, so I knew I wanted to give my life in service, but it added this joy piece that I had never known. Religion brought out the best me."

With a special education degree, Sister Sarah joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet -- this year is her 10th jubilee -- after hearing the Gospel on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, how Mary said, "Yes," to God's call without knowing all of the answers.

Meanwhile, Sister Clare, a temporary professed sister, was studying for her master's degree in political science at Mississippi State and didn't plan on religious life, believing few young women pursued that life anymore. But then, fortuitously, she met Sister Sarah and Sister Kate Regan, who were working nearby, through a campus vocation talk. "CSJs were a really good fit," said Sister Clare.

For Sister Barbara, serving as president at Nerinx brought her full-circle. She grew up in Glendale and graduated from Mary Queen of Peace School, Nerinx Hall and Webster University. She celebrates her 50th jubilee this year. Two years ago, she planned to retire after 26 years at Nerinx, but was called to be interim president at Marian. She served until Mary Elizabeth Grimes came on board, then didn't leave.

"I really love it here," she said.

Unlike Loyola, which educates sixth- through eighth-graders, Marian Middle School adds fifth-graders to the mix, familiarizing them with the expectations and rigors of being a middle-school student. The fifth-graders are self-contained with their classroom on the third floor; they aren't part of the rotation with sixth- through eighth-graders changing classes and the like.

"This gives us a year to prepare them for the middle-school model," said Sister Sarah, who teaches the fifth graders. "It helps to set that strong foundation."

Then, Marian pairs students with adult mentors to prepare them for life in high school, college and then the working world. It also stays in contact with students as they advance to high school and then to college, fulfilling their mission of "Educating Girls For Life."

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