The picture is dated 1960, the first graduating class at Mater Christi School. Faces beam as the students realize they have ended one phase of their education and look forward to the next step in their lives.
The picture and those of subsequent classes hold a place of prominence in the foyer of the North Riverside school. There will be only one more picture to add to the collection, for the Class of 2005 will be the last class at Mater Christi. Then school will close its doors just shy of the school’s 50th anniversary.
As I looked closely at the picture, I saw Husband Joe’s brother, Russ, a member of the Class of 1960. It was then I began to think of my long association with the school.
I first came to the school in 1963 as a young (very young!) teacher in 1963. My mission was to “mold the minds” of over 40 fourth graders who were to be my students. All classes were very large and taught by nuns and lay teachers. The principal was a nun who wore a habit.
Though classes were large, the teachers were able to maintain discipline and teach at the same time. While at Mater Christi, I met future husband, Joe, through his mother who was in charge of the Mother of Mothers Shrine office at the church. Two years later, I would leave the school to get married and start a family of our own.
In 1978, I returned to Mater Christi as a substitute teacher and noticed the changes. The faculty was composed more of lay teachers and classes were getting smaller. The principal was then a man named Mr. Hunt, and since that time the position of principal has always been held by a lay person.
Over the years I have been at the school, the changes continue to keep up with trends in education. There are computers in every classroom used by students and faculty on a regular basis. The library has become a resource room where students not only take out books, but where computer classes are taught and children become more proficient in their use.
Athletics became a part of extra-curricular activities for girls as well as boys. Though the school does not have a gym, they have managed to be competitive and the trophy cases in the foyer are crammed with trophies. Most of the sports have been coached by adult volunteers many of them parents of students.
Parents were an integral part of the school family. There were 1950s dances for adults, a limited raffle, special lunches, musical productions. And lots and lots of volunteering.
As family needs increased the school began a pre-kindergarten program, an all-day kindergarten program, before and after school care and a hot lunch program. No student was to be turned away because of financial hardship, and all students were welcomed.
Class sizes have varied, nowhere near the large classes that used to be when I first started in education, which is good. I remember the year the class had only one boy, which made it difficult to hold any dances.
I would tell him in the years to come he would brag about being the only boy in the class and how all the girls liked him.
The small school nestled on the corner of 24th Street and 10th Avenue in North Riverside kept up with the paces in education and had hoped to continue its mission but a decision not made by those who are Mater Christi but by the Chicago Archdiocese said it was not to be.
This fall the halls will be quiet and alumni will not be stopping by to visit their old school. Children will not be playing on the playground, and the last graduation class picture will hang in the foyer with no one there to see it.