Book Excerpts


IHM Academy, Coeur d' Alene, Idaho

Published by: RoseDog Books

The IHM Academy in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho was one of only three high schools in the state. St. Theresa's, Boise, and St. Gertrude's, Cottonwood, were the other two.

The old Fort Sherman buildings in Coeur d'Alene, dating back to the 1890s were to serve well as convent, boarding school and as the IHM Academy elementary and high school for more than fifty years. Mother Cyril Conway and Sister Clement Kearns, first Academy superior, could not have imagined that the Fort Hospital and Administration Building, purchased in 1905 at a government auction for $1,500, and the Post Opera House, a gift of Jack and R.B. Stack, would be the base from which over half a century's legacy of faith, education, and loving dedication would emerge.

From the simple beginnings in 1903 in a building known as St. Cyril's School, it was evident that the Sisters of IHM were outstanding educators. These first sisters were Sisters Clement Kearns, Dositheus Cawley, Justine Duffy, and Maria Loughlin. (30)

By the 1940s, the overcrowded classrooms became a great concern. In 1944 and 1945, letters between Mother Marcella and Sister Vincent Burke, local superior, indicate their belief that a new grade school should be built by the local Redemptorist Parish, St. Thomas. There was at least one suggestion by Mother Marcella that the parish should build both grade and high schools in which the IHM Sisters would serve on a salaried basis.

These ideas were pursued to the extent of Sister Vincent's presenting a case for a new parish elementary school in a letter to Bishop Edward J. Kelly of the Boise Diocese. He, in turn, expressed his support in a letter to the Redemptorist pastor, Reverend A.C. Dittrich. With a parish free of debt in 1945, Father Dittrich began to set aside funds for the new school. With the change of pastors in the interim, St. Thomas Grade School became a reality in 1950.

As early as 1953 Bishop Kelly had written to Sister Mary Kevin Nagle, then local superior in Coeur d'Alene, to assure his support for a building plan for a new Academy High School and a new convent. In a letter of April 29, 1953, he gave permission for a fund-raising campaign for this purpose. He wrote:

Everyone realizes the temper and nature of your present school building, which originally was old Fort Sherman, dating back to the primitive days of Idaho history. We ask that God may bless every donor towards this most worthy cause that you plan to carry into effect immediately. (31)

"Immediately" came several years later after the larger picture made its impact on local Coeur d'Alene projects. Mother Marcella died in 1955 and the General Chapter of 1955, which elected Mother Kathleen, also elected Sister Mary Kevin to the council. The fact was that major figures in the picture had changed.

To provide the dynamic, energetic and persevering leadership for the development of the IHM Academy in Coeur d'Alene, Mother Kathleen sent Sister Rebecca Doyle as principal and superior in 1955. Without the aid of later technologies, such as fax machines and e-mail, Sister Rebecca managed to put communication between Coeur d'Alene and Scranton on a very fast track!

By December 5, 1955, Mother Kathleen was responding to Sister Rebecca's building project plans, which included the girls' boarding school, a new academy, a gym and auditorium, and a two-story convent for the sisters! It was obvious that in addition to the funds that the sisters had saved over the years, a fund-raising campaign would be needed. A letter from Mother Kathleen dated December 8, 1955 gave the council's permission for the fund drive, subsequent to having received the approval of both Bishop Jerome Hannan of Scranton and Bishop Edward J. Kelly of Boise.

Bishop Kelly would not live to see the Academy completed. His death on April 21, 1956 was a shock to the entire diocese. Bishop Kelly was succeeded by Bishop James Byrne, who would also prove to be a supportive advocate in all endeavors that lay ahead for the IHM Sisters, especially in Coeur d'Alene. (32)

Plans for the building program moved on. Later in 1955, the Building Committee selected the architect, Mr. Carroll Martell. In August 1966, a loan of $200,000 was finalized from the Coughlin Company of Denver, Colorado.

One piece of the total building project, namely, the gymnasium and auditorium, was set in place as Mr. Larry Brown of Northwest Lumber Company, Coeur d'Alene, generously donated funds for this building which was named for him. In July 1956, the convent porch along the Coeur d'Alene Avenue side of the property was taken down to make way for the new gymnasium/auditorium. This building had special interest because it was the first gym the Academy had in its long history and because of the unusual wood selected for its interior: fine-grained cedar wood lining the lower walls and course-grained cedar on the upper walls. Between the lofty beams, finished in soft driftwood, celetex white tile added to both the beauty and the acoustics. (33)

The year 1957 was an historic one as significant endings and beginnings occurred for the IHM Academy, its students, and faculty. Graduation exercises were held as usual, but nostalgia prevailed as graduates realized that May 27, 1957 was the last day of school in the old Fort Sherman Building, which had housed the Academy for fifty-four years.

So much promise lay ahead, however, as the new Academy moved toward completion and the fall term of 1957 saw one celebration after another. Open house was held on August 25; the new Academy opened for classes on September 5; and on November 4, Bishop James Byrne of Boise dedicated and blessed the school. Sisters on the high school faculty were Sisters Kevina (Joan) Mooney, Spiritus (Kathleen) McNulty, Teresine (Eleanor) Desaulniers, and Barbara DuMont. Sisters Aloysia Shermanson and Timothy Smyth were the music faculty. Sister Rebecca Doyle was principal. (34)

Meanwhile, not skipping a beat, Sister Rebecca had obtained Mother Kathleen's permission to proceed with plans to build a convent for the sisters. There was general awareness of the declining conditions under which both the sisters and the boarder girls were living in the old Fort Sherman buildings. Permission for the new convent and girls' boarding school was given in March 1957. Two months later, Sister Rebecca, faced with the debt on the Academy project, yet eager to proceed with the convent building, asked Mother Kathleen to consider granting a Congregation loan of about $300,000 for the convent project. This request was denied at a council meeting on July 28, 1957.

Again, in answer to Sister Rebecca's appeal for Congregation assistance, the council's action on January 22, 1958 deferred for at least a year any possibility of a loan. It was clear that existing Congregation debt, and the pressing need for a new novitiate building prevented the Congregation from involvement in the Coeur d'Alene building projects. (35)

Anticipating Sister Rebecca's disappointment at these replies, Mother Kathleen wrote:

No doubt you will be disappointed with our decision, but you must realize that we have to consider the over-all picture of the finances of the community . . . I appreciate the fact that you are anxious to complete the work you have begun. In God's providence He will make this possible if we are patient and place our trust in Him. We are not unmindful of your tireless efforts and the fine things you have already accomplished. (36)

Sister Rebecca must, indeed, have known many discouraging days in this situation, but she ran a "tight ship," setting aside for the time being her great desire to see a new convent and boarding school built. The salary of the eight sisters teaching in St. Thomas Grade School, together with the income from the boarders and the music lessons given all day every week day by Sisters Aloysia Shermanson and Timothy Smyth provided funds to live on and even savings to pay down the debt on the new Academy building. By March 15, 1959 the debt had been reduced to $167,000 on this $500,000 project. In March, and again in November, Sister Rebecca proposed that the Congregation assume the remaining debt, which at that point was down to $145,000. The council did not approve her request.

Sister Rebecca's spirit was never idle as she thought of ways to take at least small steps toward continuance of the building plans. Her letter to Mother Kathleen dated September 28, 1960 requested permission to tear down the old high school building separating it from the former grade school section and boys' boarding quarters. This was the old Fort Sherman Opera House that had been moved to the spot in 1905. Sister Rebecca rightly observed that this section was obstructing the view of the new Academy, was an expense to continue heating, and would have to come down eventually for further building. She wrote:

May we, then, Reverend Mother, have permission to go ahead with this project? It would provide that little extra ray of hope and expectation on the part of the sisters and the people, which would be psychologically good at this point. (37)

Mother Kathleen's prompt response dated September 30, 1960, granted Congregation permission, noting the need to also secure the permission of Bishop Byrne. It was not until February 14, 1961 that the old high school was finally dismantled, thanks to the laborious work of the members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of the parish. (38)

On August 4, 1961, Sister Rebecca, having completed her tireless and fruitful term of six years as principal and superior at Coeur d'Alene, returned to the East. Sister Avellina Ryan, herself an early graduate of the IHM Academy, and former faculty member, was appointed in Sister Rebecca's place and arrived on August 23, 1961.

Within the space of seven months several stark realities faced Sister Avellina. On January 31, 1962, Mother Kathleen died of a heart condition after weeks of illness; on February 8, 1962, the buildings housing the sisters and girl boarders were condemned as unsafe by the Fire Department and an order issued that they be evacuated at the close of the semester; and on March 7, 1962, Bishop Byrne was named Archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa. (39) Events beyond human control would thus expedite the building of the new convent, and a new cast of major players would bring the drama to completion. The dreams of Mother Kathleen, Sister Rebecca, and Bishop Kelly would be realized.