Catholic Middle School shares cathedral’s anniversary
In Rapid City, Perpetual Help School, now named St. Thomas More Middle School, was built at the same time as Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral and dedicated in 1963. The West River Catholic staff reached out to some of the students and faculty to share their memories.
Bill Whitney and members of his family were involved with Rapid City Catholic education from 1960 to 2022. He was one of the first students to attend Perpetual Help Grade School when it opened in 1963.
For 3rd-6th grades, he attended St. John School in north Rapid City on the land where St. Therese the Little Flower Church sits. When he was a 7th grader, Perpetual Help School opened on Fifth St. He recalls his mother let him drive to school and then she would take the car home. “The new school was pretty basic and it still has the same walls and tiled floors 60 years later. From the classroom window I could watch construction workers leveling the football field for Catholic High School,” he said. Catholic High School students attended school a few blocks away on Fifth St.
For the past 25 years Whitney has helped Coach Dave Hollenbeck with 9th grade boys basketball. Before that, he coached his son’s middle school basketball team in the same building where he attended 7-8th grades.
Jennifer Schweppe went to middle school there when it was called St. Elizabeth Seton Elementary and it combined pre-school, elementary and middle school together in one building. Now the SES pre-school and K-5th grade school are on the Terra Sancta Campus on the west side of town.
She teaches at the new school. “My elementary teachers inspired me to become a teacher. Plus, here I get to openly practice my faith, and help the students to grow in theirs,” she said.
Her favorite memory of attending school in the STM building was a fine arts trip to Santa Fe in 1999. “The art and architecture we got to see was amazing. We even got to visit the Loretto Chapel with the miraculous spiral staircase,” said Schweppe.
Abbey Hilt is also a teacher who attended school in the STM building. Hilt remembers the crowded classrooms when Pre-school-8th grade were taught in the same building and the rooms were split with wooden dividers to make enough classrooms.
“Now I can’t imagine teaching in only half of my classroom space! The move to Terra Sancta also changed some of our tight-knit community. For example, I loved seeing all of my siblings in the hallways and having K-12 Mass every week. When we got older, we had the responsibility of being good role models for the younger students, even sitting with the kindergarteners at weekly Mass. The physical proximity of grade levels created opportunities for interactions between the wide ages of students, and I always felt a strong sense of community because of that,” she said.
She graduated from the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, in 2019. “My main goal was to use the gifts I had been given to glorify God. I’ve always been grateful for the education and formation I received in the Rapid City Catholic School System, so it seemed natural to give back to this community. I love being able to teach academics while modeling how to live as a Christian and a Catholic in daily life,” she said. Hilt recalls loving her teachers growing up and is glad to teach alongside some of them now.
Jane Holeton was in the same building as a librarian for 26 years, from 1986 to 2012. “I was hired as a part time librarian and then started full time a couple years later. I loved every day at SES and my students. I always felt that God wanted me at SES because he made it happen,” she said.
“Another parent, Mary Borella, called me and asked me if I was a Certified Librarian/teacher. I said I was, and she said Principal Norman Graham wanted to talk to me. My oldest daughter, Angela, was at SES kindergarten. So, I met with the new principal, and he hired me,” she said.
“I started a morning rosary in the library, a Read-a-thon, a Mardi Gras talent show, and the Little Angel Christmas Store which was a major fundraiser to help me purchase new books, computers, and anything else the library needed.” she said. During her tenure the card catalog was computerized.
“I helped elementary school principal Coleen Lecy with Packing Hope (a food program for developing nations) and with many other projects too. I couldn’t have accomplished any of this without the help of my faithful and wonderful library volunteers,” said Holeton.
Her favorite memories are being a part of the school and seeing first-hand how students can be filled with the joy of reading.
Trapped in time
When the cornerstone for Perpetual Help School was laid, a copper box was placed inside it to reflect the day and era. The stone was blessed November 27, 1960, by then-Bishop William T. McCarty and put in place.
It contains some interesting items:
- 3 religious medals featuring Our Lady of Perpetual Help
- 1 Sacred Heart Badge
- List of names of diocesan staff, civic officials, and the architects
- 1 fundraising brochure
- List of the Sister Superior and Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary who were on the faculty
- Fact sheet and floor plan
- Rapid City Journal, November 25, 1960, showing President-elect John F. Kennedy on the occasion of his son’s birth
- 5 Small pictures of Our Lady of Perpetual Help signed by Bishop McCarty, Msgr. Costigan, Msgr. Drew, Fr. Doyle and Fr. O’Connell
- Picture of Bishop McCarty and Pope John XXIII
- Rosary blessed by Pope John XXIII