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Rosary High School celebrates  a half-century of learning

Emily Rogers 2005 Rosary graduate translates phrase from LatEnglish during Lat1 class she teaches her almmater Friday September 14 2012.

Emily Rogers, a 2005 Rosary graduate, translates a phrase from Latin to English during the Latin 1 class she teaches at her alma mater on Friday, September 14, 2012. Rogers is one of a number of current teachers who also graduated from the high school. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Preachers of Christ’s word

To be Dominican Sister is to “be a preacher of the word,” according to Rosary High School’s principal, Sister Patricia Burke.

Saint Dominic founded the Order of Preachers, she said.

“Saint Dominic saw a need for people to have more access to good preaching. He first established the Dominican Sisters to pray for the success of the Order and educated the young men who followed him before they went on to preach,” she said.

A 50th anniversary banner on the front façade of the school celebrates the four pillars of Dominican life: prayer, study, preaching and community.

Many of those young Christian women — today’s alumnae — are leaders in their chosen fields living the Dominican virtues bestowed to them through their Rosary education, Burke said.

“Our girls are great young women and leaders in their families, parishes and communities,” she noted.

— Linda Girardi

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Updated: October 18, 2012 6:07AM

AURORA — The hallways of Rosary High School were filled with a joyful laughter as students returned to their classrooms after lunch break.

The sun shone through the sparkling glass breezeway overlooking a serene courtyard, as the young women passed a display case remembering the early days of the all-girls Catholic high school on Aurora’s West Side.

That first uniform was a black pleated skirt, black vest and white blouse — on special occasions, the girls wore white blazers.

Bishop Loras Lane of the Rockford Diocese, seeing a need for additional Catholic high school facilities in the early 1960s, asked the Dominican Sisters of Springfield to staff a high school for girls.

The school opened Sept. 4, 1962, in the old Holy Angels grade school on South Locust Street.

Forty-one girls were enrolled in the ninth grade, and three Dominican nuns were the faculty: Sister Mary Joseph was the principal, and Sister Mary Dominica and Sister Alphonsus Liguori were teachers.

Construction for a new school began in the early spring of 1963 on a 20-acre site at 901 N. Edgelawn Drive — the site of today’s Rosary campus. Classes for 94 freshmen and sophomores were held in the new building on Sept. 4, 1963.

The Rosary High School family launched its 50th anniversary year this month with a jubilee Mass in the school gym, attended by more than 600 people and 13 priests from the region. The Rev. Vincent Bataille, abbot of the Marmion Abbey, was the Mass celebrant.

“It was a liturgy worthy of God — it expressed the gratitude and love we had in our hearts for the 50 years of Rosary High School,” said Sister Patricia Burke, Rosary’s principal.

Burke said that when she glanced over the hundreds of people, she had to take a deep breath before giving her welcoming remarks.

“We all had the feeling of being part of a special blessing to actually be a part of the Rosary community celebrating that day,” Burke said.

Rosary High School is a Catholic college-preparatory school for young women sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Springfield. Although growth and changes have occurred, the Rosary High School mission and its purpose are the same, Burke said.

Sister Mary Joseph shared her memories of the early days at Rosary High School when there were six classrooms in the first wing and construction was not fully done.

“Only one of those classrooms had electricity,” she said.

“We carried in safe drinking water. The other classrooms had no doorknobs, chalkboards, electricity or ceiling tile. When the construction workers needed to work in one of the classrooms, the girls were asked to ‘pick up your desks’ and move to a different room.”

The late Sister Alphonsus Liguori was the librarian, and Sister Mary Dominica — who attended the 50th anniversary Mass — taught almost every subject.

“Everything up to and including physical education,” Burke said.

Sister Mary Joseph said in her reflections they knew that in order to accomplish their goals, they needed partners and collaborators.

“The trust and loyalty and support of the parents became one of the strongest and most enduring legacies left to Rosary — a legacy which I know continues to this day,” she said.

People who attended the Mass said they were particularly touched when the Dominican Sisters sang the “Dominican Blessing” and raised their arms to bless the congregation.

“The moment will be forever ingrained in my memory,” one Rosary parent said.

Many of the Rosary High School alumnae have carried their Catholic education in the Dominican tradition through their adult lives as leaders in their career fields and service in their communities, as well as across the globe. A Dominican Alumnae Award is given each year to recognize a graduate who models the mission and lives the truth as taught by Jesus Christ.

Burke said the first graduating class set the tone, with the cooperation of parents and staff. She said there are 15 young women in the freshman class this year whose mothers graduated from Rosary and many staff members are Rosary royal blue alumnae. Burke taught at Rosary from 1978 to 1986 before being appointed principal.

“It is nice to have a school with a history,” Burke said. “We actually are starting on the third generation with grandmother, mother and granddaughter all attending Rosary.”

Cindy Nagis of Aurora was in the first graduating class of 1966 and teaches math at Rosary today.

“Sister Mary Joseph always called us the premiere class,” Nagis said. “The environment was pleasant and happy — there were so many wonderful girls. It was always impressed upon us how we needed to be a good example — it has stayed with me through my life.”

Nagis said Sister Dominica inspired her to become a teacher.

“Sister Dominica taught religion, Latin, theology — and in PE we did square-dancing,” Nagis said.

Debbie Olson, director of the Rosary Alumnae Association, graduated from Rosary in 1970.

“The Rosary virtues we had then are still here now — teaching was rigorous but kept us on our toes,” Olson said.

Events are planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary throughout the year. Visit for information.

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