By Diane Freeby
SOUTH BEND — The “house” at 453 North Notre Dame Ave. became “home” last week as students arrived for the first day of classes at the new Saint Joseph High School in South Bend. Seven years in the making, the school is nearly filled to its 900-student capacity. Seniors expressed the same sense of awe as did incoming freshmen while they made their way through busy halls, tried to find their classrooms and worked on locker combinations.
“When I walked through the door for the first time it was very daunting, but also very exciting,” beamed Student Body President Charlie Hoye. “To actually have the students here is fantastic!”
“I wasn’t nervous, I can tell you that!” insisted freshman Quynn Hickey, a self-proclaimed locker expert. “I think it’s awesome that we get to start all four years at the new school. I feel special!”
“I was terrified!” countered her freshman classmate Melissa Brooks. “I knew I was going to get lost multiple times, which I have, multiple times now! I’m also nervous about getting through the crowded hallways.”
Upperclassmen laughed about getting lost and expressed appreciation for being in the new school.
“I was really excited about the new environment and atmosphere,” said junior Hali Barany. “Just walking in, it’s so much more open. And of course I enjoy the air conditioning!”
Junior Nicole Francoeur didn’t hesitate when asked what part of the school she likes best.
“The gym!” the two-sport athlete replied with a big grin. “I love the gym so much! We got our first volleyball win there last night!”
Magda Rzeszutek attended an intensive summer program at Loyola Univesity in Chicago and she is anxious to apply some new study techniques as she heads into her junior year.
“I look at it as a new opportunity,” she smiled. “It’s been amazing and I’m very excited to see what’s coming.”
Science teacher Brian Dolezal graduated from Saint Joseph’s High School in 1972 and sent his three children there as well.
“The bells aren’t quite right yet, but we’re getting there!” he revealed, as electricians and construction workers continued to work on finishing touches. “It’s confusing but at the same time this is just great! The whole building is beautiful and kids seem to be really locked in to what we’re doing. They seem to be curious about everything. I’m really anxious to get into the chemistry lab to see how everything’s going to work there!”
Principal Susan Richter, like a mother hen, tended to everything from early morning media requests to finding a band-aid for a student with a blister. Arriving at school well before 5 a.m. (some question whether she went home at all to sleep!), by the first lunch period Richter was happy at how well everything was going.
“It’s certainly a dream come true,” said Richter, taking a few moments to sit down after the first rush of hungry students had come and gone. “Many, many people have been a part of it. I feel a sense of pride, but more importantly it’s such a tremendous gift to the Saint Joe family. We’ve been blessed by so many and by the generosity of thousands of people. Not just in the Saint Joe family but in the community at large. It’s pretty hard to put into words exactly what this means. It’s overwhelming and still a very emotional day for me!”
Feelings of gratitude were expressed by several teachers, many of whom were also students themselves at Saint Joseph’s High School.
Math teacher Joe Wisniewski, ’69, says both he and his wife were born at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, the previous owner of the land now home to Saint Joseph High School, and sent their five children to Saint Joe as well. Wisniewski said three words sum up his thoughts on the new school.
“A true miracle!” he stated without hesitation. “Compared to the old high school, which we loved, this is just unbelievable! The things that are available to the students: the technology, the sports facilities, the extra curricular activities, just the environment looking out across the city, the view of the sports field … it’s just tremendous!”
“I love the fact that we’re still a city high school, and that we didn’t move out to the suburbs,” added government teacher Henry Chandler, class of ’67 and entering his 33rd year of teaching at Saint Joseph. “I think it’s a fabulous addition for the city; we kind of anchor the southern end of Eddy Street and Notre Dame Avenue. The social studies rooms especially have some gorgeous views of the city and the football field … some of the best views in the building!”
As assistant principal and boys’ basketball coach Marty Harshman, ’93, made his way through the lunchroom to check on a table of senior boys, he reflected on the old and the new.
“I’m like all the other alumni out there who say we wish we were here, going to school in this building!” he admitted. “I love many things about the old building, but this is a very special place. As an employee here, you’re proud to be a part of creating a wonderful building for these current students, but more importantly creating a campus that’s going to be around for future Saint Joe students and also for the city as well. That’s the most gratifying thing; knowing we’re laying a foundation for 100 more years. I will not be here for 100 years, but this place will be!”
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