St. Pat’s School to mark 100th anniversary with July events

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The 18 members of the St. Patrick Catholic High School Class of 1966 composed the last graduating high school class.


St. Patrick Catholic School marks this summer the centennial of its 1921 founding, and two July events will be held to celebrate 100 years of Catholic education in Perry.

A semi-formal supper will be served Friday, July 23 at 6 p.m. in the St. Patrick School gymnasium, and a community Mass and family picnic will be held Saturday, July 24 at 4 p.m.

St. Patrick’s School was dedicated Feb. 21, 1921. However, its story begins about eight years before that date, and the story involves the dedication of a woman, Mrs. Nora Garland O’Malley, who wanted more than anything that her sons receive a Catholic school education and was willing to do what was necessary to see that they did.

Her eldest son, Dr. George Garland O’Malley, described his mother as “a spirited, outgoing person” who “had a plan which stirred up furor within the congregation of our church.”

As president of the local chapter of the Catholic Daughters, Nora used her position to pressure the members to back her cause. She also invited priests from various towns around Iowa that had Catholic schools to come and talk with the local priest, the Rev. James Cleary, who was not in favor of the project.

St. Patrick’s parish had worked on plans for a school for several years, but World War I caused delays. On April 26, 1915, the parish bought a lot on the corner of Fifth and Lucinda streets for $3,500. By August 1919, the buildings on the site were sold at auction and were in the process of being moved so the ground could be readied for the contractor.

John O’Connor was hired as architect, and the contract was let the first week in August to a local contractor. Many frustrations followed, including the securing of nuns as teachers. Finally, in July 1920 the teaching positions were filled by the sisters of Mt. St. Clare Academy in Clinton.

On Sept. 15, 1920, St. Patrick’s School opened with 66 children in kindergarten through grade seven. The formal dedication of the school was conducted by Bishop Drumm of Des Moines Feb. 21, 1921. He was assisted by a number of neighboring clergymen, and after the dedication service, an “appropriate program” was conducted in the school auditorium featuring the school children and several dignitaries.

Ironically, the dedication was held the same day Nora Garland O’Malley was laid to rest.

In 1957 an addition was added to the original three-story brick building located on the southwest corner of the block between Fifth and Sixth streets north of Lucinda Street. This added four classrooms, kitchen facilities and a gymnasium.

In June 1965 Bishop Biskup notified the Rev. Maurice Schulte that it was necessary to discontinue St. Patrick’s High School. The reasons included the need to build two extra classrooms or a new building along with much new equipment and a larger teaching staff.

The 18 members of the Class of 1966 would be the last to graduate from St. Patrick’s High School.

As Dr. George Garland O’Malley recalled, “My mother’s dream and wishes and father’s promise came true. I graduated from St. Patrick’s in 1929, Martin in 1931, Charles in 1933 and Bernard in 1935. If Nora and George W. were alive today, they would be very proud, knowing that our mother’s persistent hard work, together with their prayers and religious fervor, brought about this beautiful educational project. From St. Patrick’s Catholic education, each of their four sons went on to higher education and became successful leaders in their professional and business endeavors.”

The sisters ran the school until 1973, when a lay administrator, Steve Swanson, was hired. Eleanor Wojan was the first non-Catholic teacher when she was hired in 1965. Today St. Patrick Catholic School has an enrollment of about 100 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, and the school is securely positioned to begin its second century of high-quality instruction.

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