This is the story of Holy Rosary School, as told by Monsignor Maurilius Bilskie, founding pastor of Holy Rosary Catholic Church.
From the booklet, A Pastor Remembers… Recollections of Holy Rosary Parish by Monsignor Maurilius Bilskie, Pastor Emeritus as compiled by Barbara Klein.
Many of our families were young families with small children. I heard this question often: “When will we have a school?” Our children still went to Christ the King parish. In the fall of 1951, we started making plans for our school. We had a drive for pledges from one hundred twenty families, and we raised $30,000. Bishop Grimmelsman knew that we needed a school, but it was a big undertaking for a small parish. He gave permission, and Virgil Miller was hired to draw the plans.
The first big problem was obtaining steel for the building. The Korean War had our government rationing steel. When we got our steel allotment, we did not get enough for a steel structure building. The only way we could build was to use poured concrete beams with steel rods, which would cost more, but would create a stronger building. Our finished plans called for a sandstone building trimmed in limestone, eight classrooms, and a full basement with a cafeteria kitchen. The plans were put out for bids in early May. The following bids were received the first week in June; contracts were signed on June 9, 1952:
Loehrlein Brothers, General Contractor, $143,620
Altoff Howard Electric Company, $11,296
Wahnsiedler Plumbing and Heating Company, $34,637
Santarossa Mosaic and Tile Company, $9,626
The total bid, with architect fees, cost $211,229.74.
While the school was being built, I had to find Sisters to teach, so I contacted several orders. I was very happy to hear from the Reverend Mother at Ferdinand that the Benedictine Sisters would teach at Holy Rosary School.
The next problem was water. There was a small well in the basement of the church, but it could not supply our school. I began contacting the Water Works. They had no plans for extending the water line at Washington Avenue and Green River Road, because we were not in the city. They finally told me that the only way I could get water would be to pay to have pipe extended from Washington Avenue. We could not put in a small pipe to suit our needs; it would have to be a five inch pipe, for future expansion. The Water Works told us we would get out money back in tap-in fees. The line cost us more that $5,000. The area was later taken into the city, and we never collected one tap-in fee.
The next big problem was to get ready for our Sisters.
SISTERS FOR OUR SCHOOL
Since the Sisters of St. Benedict were teaching in many of the schools in the diocese, Bishop Grimmelsman asked me to try to get teaching sisters from on the other teaching orders. I went to three different convents, where I got the same answer: “We are not taking any new schools.” Then I went to Ferdinand, to the Convent of the Sisters of St. Benedict. The Reverend Mother was very kind, and said that she would send six sisters to start Holy Rosary School. Later, she assigned Sister Anselm to be our first principal, Sister Mary Eve to be the music teacher, and Sisters Mary Herman, Ambrose, Lorraine, and Mary Ann to be our first faculty.
Where would the sisters live? On the northwest end of our school, there were two classrooms separated by a hallway. One classroom became their bedroom. In one room there were six single beds, six dressers, and six small desks with chair, which were their articles of bedroom furniture. The hallway was enclosed and made into two rooms, which became their reception room and the back half of their bathroom. The other classroom was divided into a “T”. The front part was their living room; the next part was their dining room, and the last part, their kitchen. These pioneer sisters, who put up with these small quarters made our school possible. The city Water Works was slow in laying the water line, so we started school five days late in September, 1953. If I remember correctly, we opened with 237 pupils. I will always remember the generosity of those first Sisters of St. Benedict who made our school possible.
I remember some of the early problems. We had city water but there were no city sewer lines. When the school was built, two sump boles were dug eight feet wide and sixteen feet deep. They were to handle all the school sewage. In about six weeks, the toilets began to back up. What could we do to solve the problem? Someone suggested that we use dynamite in the sump holes. Julius Heerdink, our janitor, was a farmer, and I had lived on a farm where dynamite was used to blow out stumps. Joseph Loehr of our parish, worked for an oil drilling company. He brought us a box with quite a number of sticks of dynamite. One night we cut a hole in the concrete tap. We tied three sticks of dynamite to a long piece of electrical conduit. We attached a dynamite cap to the sticks of dynamite, and fastened some electrical wire to it. We had the pipe with the dynamite in the hole, and we were going to touch the wires to the battery of Julius’ car, when ladies of our Altar Society began to drive in. We had forgotten about an Altar Society meeting. We decided to wait until all the ladies were in the cafeteria and we could listen to them saying the opening prayer for their meeting. When we heard them praying, Julius touched the terminals of his car battery with the wires. It blew like a depth charge. The dynamite helped for a time until we later added field tile. With the opening of the school, the parish membership began to grow. We soon had an enrollment of 480 students, and had temporary classrooms in our cafeteria. We now needed a sisters’ convent.
The convent was completed in 1955. It had fourteen bedrooms for the sisters with the possibility of adding more. If I remember correctly, Cletus Dressel and Bauer Brothers built the convent for an approximate cost of $67,000. At one time it was filled with Sisters of St. Benedict. The parish continued to grow and we needed more classrooms. In 1961, a new eight classroom addition was added to the school. Our 400 parish families raised $105,000 for the cost of the addition. Mr. Leo Peyronnin built the new addition for about $161,000. When we first opened Holy Rosary School, we were still not part of the city. There was no Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation. The township trustee, a man named Mr. Wilkinson, was in charge of three schools: Caze, Hebron, and Burkhardt. He furnished school bus transportation for our children. Each year he would call me and ask, “When are we going to open and close our school?” We usually closed a few weeks before the city schools closed.
Over the years, the following were the principals of our school:
Sister Anselm, O.S.B.
Sister Mary Matthew, O.S.B.
Sister Cleophas, O.S.B
Sister Lillian, O.S.B.
Sister Alberta, O.S.B.
Sister Mary Cuthbert, O.S.B.
Sister Mary Roman, O.S.B.
Sister Johnetta, O.S.B.
Sister Agatha, D.C.
Nancy Schum (Sanderson)