LAKE FOREST — Part of the School of St. Mary building in downtown Lake Forest is 100 years old, but there are many new people and programs to complement tradition as the school prepares to enter its second century when classes start on August 22.
One of the newest faces is Dave Wieters. He took over as principal July 5 with 27 years of experience as an educator in both Catholic and public school systems.
Along with students who started at St. Mary’s as kindergartners and are now eighth graders, there are first-time pupils. Some of both groups got a preview of the freshened facilities August 18 as they stopped to see the building and meet teachers.
Views on the significance of the milestone of the school’s centennial varied among students, their parents and Wieters, but there was a common theme: The School of St. Mary is doing something right.
“This is a good school with a long tradition of excellence in education,” said Wieters. “It molds students not only academically and physically but spiritually and morally as well.”
When Bonnie Donahue and her family moved back to the Chicago suburbs from Indiana because of her husband’s job, they chose to live in Lake Forest because of St. Mary’s. She knew she wanted a Catholic education for her children. She examined several in the area, chose St. Mary’s, and they found a home in the city.
“It’s quite a legacy,” said Donahue of the centennial. “We’re proud to be able to be part of it. We picked Lake Forest because we wanted to be near the school.”
Eighth Grader Talks About Centennial
Eighth grader Mitchell Goodman of Lindenhurst, who started at St. Mary’s as a kindergartner, appeared awestruck when asked what it felt like to be going to a school that is 100 years old. His father, Jason Goodman, said it is one of the reasons they transport their son nearly 20 miles each way to school.
“It means you’re doing something impressive to be supported by the community for 100 years,” said Jason Goodman. “You know what kind of lessons in life he will be getting.”
“It’s great to be part of it,” said Mitchell Goodman. “I know I’m going to get a really good education.”
Aiden Fowler of Lake Forest, a seventh grader, and his fourth-grade sister Avery Fowler both equate the centennial to community support. They also feel it will add to their education.
“It’s pretty cool the school is 100 years old and Lake Forest has been here so long,” said Aiden Fowler.
Heather Fowler, Aiden and Avery’s mother, said the tradition built over the last 100 years and the attachment of alums who continue to contribute to the school is impressive. She is also impressed by the gift of the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) lab in May 2016 by the family of the late Editha Kapoor.
“I’m very proud of what the families do here,” said Fowler. The (Kapoor) family donated the lab and they’ve been away from the school for years.”
STEAM Lab Draws Praise
The STEAM lab is the latest in a line of 21st century innovations that have put St. Mary’s students at the cutting edge of education, according to Mary Pat Fox, a Deerfield resident who is starting her 31st year teaching language arts.
“I’ve always been impressed with the technology and how the students use it,” said Fox. “We were always at the forefront of education technology. We taught programming in BASIC on (early) Apple Computers.”
Fox said she likes teaching in a parochial school because of the opportunity to incorporate Catholic values into all lessons, whether in the classroom or on the playground. Implementing religious values into daily life also drew Wieters into Catholic education after 14 years teaching in public schools.
“I’m a product of Catholic school education,” said Wieters. “You bring the lessons of faith into what we do.”
Wieters taught social studies and physical education to middle and high school students in Hebron for 14 years. Once he received the education and credentials to be an administrator, he led Catholic schools in Kenosha, Wis., and Lake Geneva, Wis., before spending the last three years at Catholic Central High School in Burlington, Wis.
School will be in session for a month before the St. Mary’s community holds its official centennial celebration at 5 p.m. Sept. 23. There will be a mass at 5 p.m. followed by a block party at 6 p.m. at 185 East Illinois Road.