Learn, Lead, and Serve in the Spirit of Mary's Magnificat


Statement of Purpose
The Magnificat High School Archives exists to procure, evaluate, preserve, and provide access to materials of enduring historical value to Magnificat High School, thereby enriching scholarship about and appreciation for the school heritage and the living endowment provided by the Sisters of the Humility of Mary.

If you have artifacts you would like to donate to the Magnificat Archives, you can drop them off at the school, or you can mail them to Mary Cay Doherty, Archivist, Magnificat High School, 20770 Hilliard Blvd., Rocky River, OH 44116. Please include your contact information such as address, phone number and/or email address.

Contact Mary Cay Doherty, Archivist, at mdoherty@maghs.org or 440.331.1572, ext. 373 if you have questions about donations.

"Archives Antics"

Magnificat Athletics Part III
Getting in Shape: Glimpsing Physical Fitness History through Magnificat School Newspapers

By Mary Cay Doherty

Please click here to view the digital poster

This month’s edition marks the final segment of our three-part series about athletics at Magnificat. The first segment focused on the foundations of our physical education and intramural programs and the specific contributions of Sister Claire Young (formerly Sister Mary Pius) in shaping our athletic program. Last month, in Part II, we explored the transition from intramural to interscholastic sports in the wake of Title IX. This month we close out the series with a peek at recreational fitness trends from the 1960s to the 1980s.

The sports pages of our school newspaper reveal that beyond the world of intramural and interscholastic sports, Magnificat’s young women were keyed into the evolving world of recreational fitness. Our students were unaware at the time that Magnificat’s first decades were coinciding with shifting sands in American ideas about exercise and its role in health and wellness beyond dieting. While today we embrace exercise as a necessary measure to preserve health, concrete links between disease prevention and exercise were just emerging in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

Exercise as a Vehicle for Weight Management in the 1960s

The Winter 1960 Magnificat article “Exercise Pays in Many Ways; Insures Happier Future Days” warns students that foregoing exercise today may have consequences down the road.

The article also says that exercise helps to “relieve tension and fatigue, and to improve posture, balance, strength, and endurance.” While Magnificat students in 1960 recognized exercise as weight management tool with a general “feel good” benefit, absent from this article is an understanding of exercise as a tool for disease prevention. Their perceptions of exercise mirrored those in American culture at large.

From the 1930s to 1960s, “slenderizing” businesses captured the attention of American women. The prevailing ideology was that vibrations, focused on specific parts of the body, would eliminate fat and reshape the body (these theories have since been disproved). “Reducing” was the popular term for dieting and diet-related products; hence “reducing cookies” were diet, or low-calorie, cookies. In 1960, Slenderella was a relatively new weight loss salon system founded by Larry Mack in Stamford, Connecticut. Slenderella salons promised to help women transform their bodies with an appetite suppressing vitamin and mineral mint and time spent on a table that would strategically vibrate their fat away.

Jogging from 1949 to 1968: The long path of the “first mass physical fitness movement”

Fast forward almost twenty years to “Proper Fit Key for Comfortable Jogging” in the May 26, 1978 Magnificat offered advice to students who might be “thinking about getting in shape.” Notably, the article doesn’t define what it means to be “in shape,” and equally notable, the definition of what constitutes “in shape” has changed over time.

The article recommended jogging as an easy physical fitness activity for anyone to practice. A jogger needed only proper shoes, nylon shorts, and t-shirt to undertake the activity. Although proper form was key (“knees slightly bent, fingers lightly clenched with palms slightly up, and wrists firm”), the activity could take place anywhere. Little did these Magnificat students know, jogging was one of the first fitness activities marketed as a disease “preventer,” and it also spawned the modern fitness industry.

According to Conor Hefferan, the jogging movement that began in Oregon in the 1960s launched “a mass physical fitness movement” in the United States. On a trip to New Zealand in 1963, William Bowerman, a Physical Education Professor and track and field coach at the University of Oregon, was introduced to jogging by Arthur Lydiard who, with a businessman named Colin Kay, had formed a joggers’ club as a physical fitness opportunity for local men. Inspired by the idea, Bowerman created a pamphlet when he returned to the University of Oregon that espoused the benefits of exercise for health and introduced the idea of jogging to local Oregonians. Later in the 1960s, Bowerman joined forces with cardiologist Waldo Harris to write a book, Jogging, which sold over a million copies in the first edition. Bill Bowerman, also a co-founder of Nike, Inc., died in 1999 at the age of 88.

Both Lydiard and Bowerman’s ideas about the health value of physical fitness emerged from a growing body of evidence in the medical community that the sedentary nature of life in the modern, industrialized West had a negative impact on human health. Years earlier, in 1949, Scottish epidemiologist Jerry Morris, the “man who invented exercise,” conducted a now famous study that compared bus drivers and conductors’ overall health against the backdrop of their occupational activity level. He found that conductors who were much more active on the job than bus drivers had better long-term health. Morris was one of the first doctors to correlate increased physical activity with better health outcomes. He himself took up jogging for wellness long before the activity enjoyed mass popularity. Morris died in 2009 at the age of 99.

Aerobics from 1968 to the 1980s and beyond: The Noun and the Dance

The December 1985 Magnificat article “Winter is shaping up!” again encouraged students to find an enjoyable exercise program, and aerobics was first on the list of suggestions. According to the article, “aerobics,” very popular in the mid-80s, exercised the heart while also toning and firming up muscles.

The idea that the heart was a muscle that could, and should, be exercised was an emerging idea in the mid-twentieth century. More specifically, the concept of “aerobics” was created by Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper and first promulgated his 1968 book, Aerobics. Before 1968, the term aerobic was used as a life science adjective that meant “relating to oxygen.” Dr. Cooper transformed the adjective into a noun referring to types of activity that promoted physical health by temporarily increasing the heart and respiratory rates. Cooper’s book proclaimed that “vigorous activity has more and more proved worthwhile both as preventive medicine and as a cure.” His book included activities that were associated with points, and he encouraged followers of his exercise regime to accumulate 30 points daily for maximum health benefits. In addition to promoting exercise in general as a vehicle for wellness, Cooper’s book also lent support to the growing popularity of jogging (that had begun in Oregon with Bill Bowerman). Today, at age 88, Dr. Cooper continues to be a presence in his company, Cooper Aerobics Health and Wellness, and over the course of his lifetime, he has logged over 38,000 miles running.

But the “aerobics” that Magnificat students and others around the country engaged in, though inspired by Cooper’s work, was actually a dance-style exercise program created in 1969 by Jacki Sorensen. A former professional dancer, Sorensen had read Cooper’s book, Aerobics. She realized that dance could be a vehicle for aerobic exercise and choreographed simple work-out routines to music. Although her first class had only six students, aerobic dancing was born. Today, Sorensen serves as the President of her company, Jacki, Inc., which is headquartered in Athens, Ohio and continues her mission of helping people stay healthy and fit through aerobic dance and other classes.

The aerobic dance craze started by Sorenson was only the beginning. Judi Sheppard Missett (who created Jazzercise in 1969), Jane Fonda (whose 1982 storied “Work-Out” video sold 17 million copies), and many others have put their own unique stamp on the physical fitness world since the late 1960s.


Bill Bowerman, Kenneth Cooper, and Jacki Sorenson were probably not familiar names to Magnificat students in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. And yet, in the sports pages of the Magnificat, we see the indelible footprint of their ideas. The articles highlighted above specifically reflect students’ interests in weight management, jogging, and aerobics, and in peeling back the historical layers, we see how these students were connected to larger physical fitness trends of their time. And in these glimpses of the past, we see how physical fitness history “shapes” our understanding today.

So our series comes to an end. We have explored three distinct components of Magnificat athletics: the foundational years, the initial impacts of Title IX, and recreational fitness in the 1960s to 1980s. And yet, we have only scratched the surface of athletic pursuits and interests at Magnificat. Perhaps in the not too distant future, we will revisit our athletic history and explore new realms.

Please click here to view the digital poster


______. “Battle of the Belly Bulges (1940s)” Vintage Fashions. Accessed online March 21, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_HnA2bRQ0M&feature=youtu.be.

______. “Best of the Texas Century – Sports: Fitness Guru of the Century.” Texas Monthly. December 1999. Accessed online March 25, 2019. https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/the-best-of-the-texas-century-sports/.

______. “Conor Heffernan (Graduate Historian).” Irish Association of Professional Historians. Accessed online March 21, 2019. http://iaph.ie/members/conorhef/.

______. “Exercise Pays in Many Ways; Insures Happier Future Day.” Magnificat Vol 3. No 2. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, Winter 1960.

______. “Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH Full Bio.” Cooper Aerobics Health and Wellness. Accessed online March 21, 2019. https://cooperaerobics.com/About/Our-Leaders/Kenneth-H-Cooper,-MD,-MPH-Full-Bio.aspx.

______. “Lifetime Achievement Award for the Originator of Aerobic Dancing.” President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, May 1, 2012. Video accessed online March 21, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_sHft1x8GM.

______. “Proper Fit Key for Comfortable Jogging.” Magnificat Vol 19, No 5. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, May 26, 1978.

______. “Team Sorensen Bios: Jacki Sorensen, President.” Jacki Sorensen’s Fitness Classes. Accessed online March 21, 2019. https://www.jackis.com/about/team-sorenson-bios.

Augustyn, Adam. “Nike, Inc.” Encyclopaedia Britannica.com. Accessed online March 24, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Nike-Inc.

Halse, Henry. “The History of Aerobics.” Livestrong.com. April 17, 2018. Accessed online March 20, 2018. https://www.livestrong.com/article/324355-the-history-of-aerobics/.

Hefferan, Conor. “Born to Run: The Origins of America’s Jogging Craze.” Physical Culture Study: The Study of all Things Fitness. June 15, 2015. Accessed online March 20, 2019. https://physicalculturestudy.com/2015/06/15/born-to-run-the-origins-of-americas-jogging-craze/.

Lasko, Sarah. “The Man who Made Jogging a Thing.” The Atlantic. September 30, 2014. Accessed online March 20, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/the-man-who-made-us-jog/380847/.

Latham, Alan. “The history of a habit: jogging as a palliative to sedentariness in 1960s America.” Cultural Geographies, Volume 22, Issue 1. (Sage Choice: January 1, 2015). Accessed online March 20, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5897920/.

Oakley, Ann. “Appreciation: Jerry [Jeremiah Noah] Morris, 1910-2009.” International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 39, Issue 1. February 201, pages 274-296. Accessed online March 20, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyp390.

Petrzela, Natalie Mehlman. “Slenderizing Salons, Reducing Machines, and Other Hot Fitness Crazes of 75 Years Ago.” Well and Good, September 1, 2015. Accessed online March 20, 2019. https://www.wellandgood.com/good-sweat/weight-loss-salons-reducing-machines/.

Smith, Betty. “King of the WIDE Frontier.” Fairfield County Fair Newspaper Archives (Fairfield, Connecticut). Thursday, June 14, 1956, page 4. Accessed online March 20, 2019. https://newspaperarchive.com/fairfield-county-fair-jun-14-1956-p-4/.

Zuscik, Peggy. “Winter is shaping up.” Magnificat Vol 27 No 3. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, December 20, 1985.

Thank You

We thank Suzanne Buddie Forsgren (Class of 1967), Marie T. Campagna Klich (Class of 1970), and Lynne McIntyre (Class of 1960) for their recent donations to the Magnificat Archives. Your generosity helps preserve our history, and we are very grateful.

Archived "Archives Antics"

March 2019, "Magnificat Athletics" Part II

Magnificat Athletics Part 2: Team Sports Before and After Title IX

By Mary Cay Doherty

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In the February “Archives Antics” column (see below), we looked at the early days of Magnificat’s athletic program. In the 1950s and 1960s, our program centered largely on Physical Education (P.E.) classes and intramural sports especially for volleyball, basketball, and baseball. This month we turn our attention to the formation of competitive athletic teams in the years before and after the passage of Title IX, a 1972 federal law that prohibited discrimination in schools based on sex.

Magnificat students’ opportunities for inter-school athletic competitions in the late 1950s and 1960s varied from sport to sport, were extensions of the intramural programs, and generally hinged on sponsorship and organization from outside parties.

For example, the January 21, 1959 Magnificat noted that Sister Mary Pius had organized Magnificat’s bowling team with the intent of competing against area high schools. And, in 1965, the November 15thMagnificat reported that some Magnificat students who participated in the weekly intramural bowling program at Westgate Lanes had been selected to compete in tournaments sponsored by the Suburban High School Bowling Program. This program was in turn sponsored by The Suburban Boards of Education, the Bowling Proprietors Association of Greater Cleveland, and the Cleveland Coca-Cola Bottling Company.

The Cleveland Catholic Diocese also provided opportunities for team competitions. The Winter 1960 Magnificat reminded students that parish level CYO teams for bowling and basketball were forming. And the June 1965 issue of the Magnificat reported that Magnificat’s track team had placed first in the Diocesan Track Meet which was held on May 8, 1965 at John Marshall Field.

While athletic teams at Magnificat often operated in concert with Diocesan programs, as always, we also took initiative in creating opportunities for our young women. The June 2, 1965 school newspaper, for example, noted that Magnificat was the only all girls Catholic school in the area with a golf team.

Researching the formation of inter-school athletic teams at Magnificat can be confusing. We have already noted that a track team competed at Magnificat in 1965. And even earlier, the November 4, 1958 Magnificat reported that two tennis team students defeated a doubles team from Rocky River High School in a 14 school competition held at Western Reserve University. Yet, school newspapers from October 1977 and April 1978 sing the praises of a newly formed tennis team and track and field clubs, respectively.

How could teams that existed in the 1950s and 60s be “new” in 1977 and 1978?

Enter Title IX.

The teams forming at Magnificat in the late 1970s were new. Not in the sense that Magnificat students hadn’t competed in these sports before, but new in the sense that athletic competition for girls was operating under a new banner of equity.

Title IX is one of ten “titles” in the Education Amendments of 1972 (also called the Higher Education Amendments of 1972). Because of a rejected bill that would have exempted school sports programs, Title IX is often associated primarily with sports equity for men and women at the high school and collegiate levels. But Title IX more broadly prohibits schools that accept federal funding from discriminating against on the basis of sex in any capacity. The law has even been interpreted to include sexual harassment as a form of discrimination against women.

In the area of sports at the collegiate level, Title IX meant that schools had to provide appropriately proportional opportunities (which would vary depending on the sport) for women. Schools were not only required to address equity in sponsoring women’s teams, but also in terms of funding them directly and through scholarships (again, not a dollar for dollar equivalent with men’s sports, but proportionally by participation).

As women’s teams and scholarship availability increased collegiately, athletic opportunities for girls at the secondary level also increased. The new law gave higher education schools six years to comply so it is not surprising that the effects of Title IX don’t appear in Magnificat’s records until 1977 and 1978.

In 1977, Magnificat was a charter member in the Greater Cleveland Catholic Girls’ Athletic Conference. Sister Donna Fiore, HM helped to organize the Conference and represented Magnificat proudly. In the fall of 1977, when Magnificat’s varsity tennis team formed, we were already fielding teams in basketball, slow-pitch softball, volleyball, and gymnastics.

The April 13, 1978 Magnificat noted accomplishments for basketball and track and field. Our varsity and junior varsity basketball teams had finished first in the Western Division of the Great Cleveland Catholic Girls Conference, and our track and field club were preparing for their inaugural season. Just a month later, the Magnificat reported track and field successes an April 24th meet with Avon Lake and Lorain Catholic and at the Warrensville Twilight Relays on April 28th. One of the first coaches of Magnificat’s track and field club was Miss Anne Carmody of our English Department! The May 1978 Magnificat also highlighted the softball teams 6-1 record in the Western Conference of the GCCGAC.

Magnificat left the GCCGAC around 1990 when Gloria Polzer was the Athletic Director. Miss Polzer felt that an independent schedule would provide competitive opportunities and lead to sectional district and state competitions. Under her leadership, the Magnificat athletic program expanded to include freshman and junior varsity teams to the existing sports and added soccer and swimming and diving teams to the school’s offerings.

As Magnificat’s athletic program grew in the wake of Title IX, we endeavored to provide our athletes with the equipment and facilities to promote their success. In 1976, Magnificat made plans for regulation field hockey, soccer, baseball, and football fields as well as 4 tennis courts and a ¼ mile track. Less than a decade later, during Magnificat’s first capital campaign in 1985, an athletic field for soccer, softball, and track and field was completed and in 1987, a gym and outdoor tennis courts were added. Most recently, in 2017, our athletic complex grew to include the newly renovated Coyne Tennis Courts and Karnatz Family Field. We are the only all girls Catholic school in northeast Ohio to provide a synthetic turf field for our student athletes. Our commitment to the holistic development of girls means providing our students with the resources they need both on and off the field.

Today, Magnificat has 15 different sports and most include freshman, JV and Varsity levels. Since 1989, Magnificat teams have won over 100 District Championships, 25 Regional Championships, 14 State Runner Up Finishes and 18 State Championships. In 2018, our varsity soccer team was a regional champion and our tennis team had a state championship player and our soccer team made it the state finals.

Title IX was a game changer for female athletes at Magnificat and in the United States as a whole. While the law forbids discrimination based on sex in any educational capacity, Title IX’s effects are most visible in sports. In response to Title IX, Magnificat student athletes’ competitive opportunities expanded exponentially, but even before Title IX’s passage, our students were competing and thriving athletically. As always, we can be proud of Magnificat’s commitment to the education of young women.

Join us next month for a look back at the history of recreational fitness from “slenderizing” and yoga to jogging and aerobics!


Holzheimer, Mike. “Lakewood, Westlake residents decorate the Magnificat High School (Rocky River) Athletic Hall of Fame.” Cleveland.com, April 30,2013. https://www.cleveland.com/sun/all/index.ssf/2013/04/lakewood_westlake_residents_de.html

______. “B-ball Wrap-up.” Magnificat Vol 19, No 4. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, April 13, 1978.

______. “Bowlers Spin; Tourney Ticks.” Magnificat Vol 9,, No 2. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, November 15, 1965.

______. “Iceskating, Bowling, Drama Head C.Y.O Winter Doings.” Magnificat Vol 3. No 2. Rocky River: Magnificat High School. Winter 1960.

________. Magnificat Blue Streaks Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (Rocky River: Magnificat High School), April 17, 2015.

______. “Magnificat Girls Place in Meets; Enjoy Track, Field Competition.” Magnificat Vol 19, No 5. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, May 26, 1978.

_______. “MHS Tennis Smashes onto Scene.” The Magnificat Vol 19, No 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, October 21, 1977.

______. “Sophs Take Tourney.” Magnificat Vol 2, No 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, November 4, 1958

______. “Sports Field in Future Plan.” Magnificat Vol 17, No 5. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, May 28, 1976.

______. “Swing Cares Away: Pro Discusses Golf’s Medical Aspects.” Magnificat Vol 8, No 5. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 2, 1965.

_____. “Track Team Wins First Place Trophy; Tops Meet for Third Consecutive Year.” Magnificat Vol 8, No 5. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 2, 1965.

February 2019, "Magnificat Athletics" Part I

Magnificat Athletics: Laying the Foundation

Part one of a three-part series

By Mary Cay Doherty

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The Magnificat community mourns the loss of Sister Claire Young, H.M. who died at the Sisters of the Humility of Mary’s Villa in Pennsylvania on December 11, 2018. In the years before the H.M. sisters returned to their baptismal names, Sister Claire Young was known as Sister Mary Pius, and she was Magnificat’s first physical education teacher (1956-1967). She also served as Magnificat’s principal from 1967 to 1971.

This month we begin a three part series about the history of athletics at Magnificat, and that story begins with Sister Claire Young, whose contributions merited her place in the inaugural class of Magnificat’s Athletic Hall of Fame and continue to affect Magnificat athletics and school spirit.

For Sister Mary Pius, physical activity was a critical component in the holistic development of the Magnificat student, so she created physical education opportunities that motivated students to engage in physical education classes (P.E.) class activities and intramural sports with a focus on participation, sportsmanship, and healthy competition.

Magnificat P.E. classes included among other activities, archery. The pictures of Sister Mary Pius working with students in archery are among my favorites in the Archives. And I get the same flutter of excitement when I see the archery targets set up each fall as today’s students develop their archery skills. For me, archery is one of the many distinct components of a Magnificat education. Many of our alumnae and students might not give it a second thought, but archery isn’t part of the physical education experience for students everywhere. My grade school and high school in the Cleveland dioceses did not offer archery, and my own children’s elementary or high schools did not afford them archery opportunities either. So for me, those archery targets are yet another concrete sign that Magnificat strikes the bullseye in creating a very unique and special environment for young women.

Sister Mary Pius also brought Speedaway to Magnificat. Speedaway is a game that combines football, soccer and basketball components to create a unique, yet simple, team sport that only requires players, a field and a regulation soccer ball. This easy and inexpensive game was invented in California in 1950 by a physical education teacher named Marjorie Larsen. While the game was undoubtedly played in P.E. class at Magnificat, the December 4, 1959 Magnificat describes in detail on page 4 (“Linda Punts Record”) a Magnificat Speedaway victory over the St. Drawde Beagles and describes the rewards reaped by Magnificat students for their victory as well as the ramifications for the losing team. This presumably tongue in cheek article indicates that Speedaway at Magnificat also provided opportunities for interaction with the young men at St. Edward (spelled backward “Drawde”) High School.

In addition to P.E. class, many of Magnificat’s young women participated on intramural volleyball, tennis, basketball, baseball, and bowling teams in the 1950s and 1960. And beginning in 1957, the intramural basketball season culminated in an All-Star game by class. This playoff game system fostered class unity and school spirit as freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior teams competed to win the trophy each year in much the same way that our girls today engage in the Big-Lil Challenge every fall.

Our Big-Lil Challenge Cup also has roots in Sister Mary Pius’ “Septathlon.” The first such event was actually an Octathlon and was held in the Spring of 1958. Magnificat students competed by class for a trophy in a series of athletic competitions: running broad jump, shuttle relay, standing broad jump, 50 yard dash, a basketball throw, high jump, sit-ups, and a baseball throw. The June 3, 1958 Magnificat school newspaper noted that a freshman won the Octathlon trophy in 1958. While the first occurrence had eight events (an Octathlon), the June 1, 1959 Magnificat School newspaper referred to it as the Septathlon, indicating that an event was dropped in either 1958 or 1959.

The physical education director for the Cleveland dioceses attended Magnificat’s “Octathlon” and was so impressed with the event (which he called a “play day”) that he planned to share the concept with other Catholic high schools in the area.

Thus, Magnificat hosted the first “Play Day” in the next year on October 4, 1958. Magnificat juniors and seniors hosted teams from Central Catholic in Canton, Lourdes Academy in Cleveland, St. John in Ashtabula, and Villa Maria in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania, all schools with Humility of Mary sisters. Events included archery, badminton, shuffleboard, softball, and track and field. Another “play day” occurred on September 24, 1960. The October 14, 1960 headline in the Magnificat school newspaper read “Squaws Meet for Sports Pow Wow” although St. John’s in Ashtabula did not participate in this play day.

Sister Mary Pius promoted student participation in P.E. class, intramurals, and the Septathlon by introducing a varsity letter program to Magnificat in the late 1950s (“Gymnasts Strive for School Letter”). Initially, all students had an opportunity to earn a letter via points collected during the course of their four-year career at Magnificat. The November 4, 1958 Magnificat noted “Girls who are not athletically inclined need not be frustrated. Having a complete gym costume and having perfect posture at all times will also merit points for a student.” Students could also earn points through the annual Septathlon. Marianne McKeon

Abrigo '62, for example, was awarded the Athletic Award in June 1959 for the most number of points at the Septathlon. In 1958, girls needed 500 points for their “M” and 300 points for the numerals. The number of points to earn the letter was reduced to 350 by 1960.

As William Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.” Sister Claire Young played a pivotal role in establishing a physical education program complemented by an intramural sports program that also developed class and school camaraderie. Our athletic program which today includes physical education classes and 12 competitive team sports is rooted in the passion with which Sister Claire Young first guided our fledgling program, but also bears witness to cultural and legislative changes in the United States beginning in the 1970s. In March and April, we will look at the evolution of the fitness culture as well as the impact the Title IX had on competitive sports for women.

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_____. “B-Ball, Hockey = Speed-A-Way.” Magnificat Vol III, No 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, Dec 4, 1959.

_____. “Blue Nun” Schools Frolic With Fun.” Magnificat Vol II, No 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, November 4, 1958.

_____. “’Bouncer’ Heads All-Star Team.” Magnificat Vol I No 3. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, March 18, 1958.

_____. “Frosh Take Octatholon Trophy.” Magnificat Vol 1, No 4. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 3, 1958.

_____. “Gymnasts Strive for School Letter.” Magnificat Vol II, No 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, November 4, 1958.

_____. “Linda Punts Record.” Magnificat Vol III, No 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, December 4, 1959.

_____. Magnificat Blue Streaks Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, April 17, 2015.

_____. “Mrs. Rippon Again to Referee All-Stars; Athletic Association to Sponsor Rally.” Magnificat Vol 4 No 3. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, February 17, 1961.

_____. “Squaws Meet for Sports Pow Wow.” Magnificat Vol. 4, No. 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, October 14, 1960.

January 2019 — Paving the Way for Women: The Scientific Contributions of Sister Joan Acker, H.M.

Paving the Way for Women: The Scientific Contributions of Sister Joan Acker, H.M.

By Mary Cay Doherty, Archivist

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A couple of months ago, we took a peak at the sciences at Magnificat, and celebrated that an all-girls environment provides advantages and opportunities for young women, particularly in the sciences. And the Sisters of the Humility of Mary who founded Magnificat High School are central to the identity, mission, and values that enable us to educate young women holistically. Today we dig a little deeper into the heritage left to us by the Sisters of the Humility of Mary by exploring the contributions of a very special Magnificat science teacher — Sister Joan Acker, H.M.

Sister Joan taught at Magnificat from 1964 to 1979. During her time as a Chemistry teacher here, Sister Joan coached seven students to the International Science and Engineering Fair, and one, Maryanne Povinelli (one of 451 competitors) won the grand prize in 1978, just one year before Sister Joan would leave Magnificat High School for her next assignment at the Cleveland Clinic.

So who was Sister Joan?

Joan Acker was born in 1926 to parents Fred and Margaret Acker. She had a younger brother, Thomas (who is a Jesuit priest) and a younger sister, Patricia Acker Basista (who married, had a family, and passed away in 2013). According to the 1940 Census, the family lived at 18817 Hilliard Road in Rocky River just a little over a mile from where Magnificat High School would be built in 1956.

Sister Joan went to St. Christopher Elementary School and graduated from St. Joseph Academy in 1943. She studied English, Spanish, and Chemistry at Villa Maria College in Erie, Pennsylvania and earned her B.A. in 1947.

After graduating from college, Sister Joan taught in the Cleveland Public Schools until January 30, 1949 when she decided to enter as a postulate into the Sisters of the Humility of Mary. She took the name Sister Mary Myles when she was received into the Novitiate on July 17, 1949. Her first vows were professed on July 17, 1951, and she took her final vows three years later on July 17, 1954.

Sister Joan chose “Myles” as her religious name to honor her patron saint. In Latin, “miles” means “soldier.” As “Sister Mary Myles,” Joan Acker paid homage to Joan of Arc, “the Maid of Orleans,” who courageously led to the French to victory over the English in the 1429 Battle of Orleans during the Hundred Years’ War. She burned at the stake by the English in 1431, was later exonerated (posthumously), and was declared a saint in 1920. Six years after the canonization of Joan of Arc, Fred and Margaret Acker welcomed their own little Joan into the world.

As Sister Mary Myles, Joan’s ministry within the Sisters of the Humility of Mary focused primarily on education. After teaching three years at Central Catholic High School in Canton, she returned to the Cleveland area to teach at Lourdes Academy from 1954-1964 and then at Magnificat from 1964-1979. In addition to the seven Magnificat students who were grand prize winners at the Northeast Ohio Science Fair and went on to the International Science Fair, Sister Joan also coached nine Westinghouse Science Talent Search Winners at Lourdes and Magnificat.

The Magnificat yearbooks reflect a significant change for Sister Joan and other Sisters in the H.M. Community. In the 1965-1967 yearbooks, she is identified by her religious name, Sister Myles, but from 1968 on, as a result of Vatican II, she is identified by her baptismal name, Sister Joan Acker.

In addition to teaching, directing student science projects, and leading science clubs, Sister Joan also served as a Genesis advisor for Magnificat seniors. One of the more memorable placements that she facilitated was a three week visit for senior twins Sue and Mimi Slaght with an Amish family in Bellville, Pennsylvania in May 1976. The May 1976 issue of The Magnificat reported that the girls wore simple dresses and helped to whitewash a barn during their Genesis experience with the Amish.

After leaving Magnificat, Sister Joan had a one year fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic to help with research on hypertension before returning to the academic setting as a faculty member at Borromeo Seminary College (1980-1991). During her early years at Borromeo Seminary College, Sister Joan was one of several scientists who were technical advisors for a project that developed an audiovisual program to teach DNA and Recombinant DNA. From 1991-1998, she taught science and religion courses at John Carroll University, and in 1998, she and colleague Ernest Spittler won a $10,000 John Templeton Foundation Science and Religion award for the “Issues in Science and Religion” that they developed.

Throughout her life, Sister Joan embodied Magnificat’s lifelong learning value. In 1961, Sister Joan (then Sister Mary Myles) earned a Master of Science degree in chemistry with a minor in physics from the University of Notre Dame. And as Sister Joanne Gardner, H.M. says “Sister Joan was a consummate learner and attended NSF [National Science Foundation] institutes and other summer classes in more institutions than [I can] list…”

From 1998 until her death at the Villa in 2006, Sister Joan Acker was a writer and spiritual director. She authored an article “Creationism and the Catechism” for the December 2000 issue of America. In the article, Sister Joan challenged the articulations in the second U.S. edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for not endorsing evolutionary theory more stridently. As a scientist and a woman of deep faith, Sister Joan argued that acknowledging the role of evolution was not only good for science, but also for our faith since it reinforced the importance of God the Creator who set such exquisitely perfect mechanisms in motion to form the world in which we live.

Researching Sister Joan uncovered a potential for mistaken identity. There was another Joan Acker active as an academician in the United States during many of the same years as “our” Joan Acker. The “other” Joan Acker was a sociologist from the University of Oregon who became a relatively well-known scholar in the second wave of feminism. This Joan Acker was born in 1924 (just two years before “our” Joan Acker) and died in 2016. In his critique of Sister Joan’s article “Creationism and the Catechism,” John Shea inaccurately claims “Sister Acker teaches sociology at the University of Oregon and has been involved in feminist activities since the late 1960's.” The close birth and death dates for these two women who share first and last names made careful cross-checking of information a necessity in the research for this article.

Sister Joan left an indelible mark on the world. In the online guest registry affiliated with her obituary, Sister Barbara Lenaric, H.M. commented “Sister Joan taught astronomy and science when I was a novice at Villa Maria [sic] back in the 60s. I loved her class…” Ann McGill, an H.M. Associate, said of Sister Joan, “She was truly a wonderful and learned woman, and I and my prayer life are much the richer for the opportunity [to have known her.]”

And the current president and CEO of the Great Lakes Science Center, Dr. Kirsten Ellenbogen, even has ties to Sister Joan Acker. In a February 2016 interview with WKYC Channel 3, Dr. Ellenbogen credited her mother, Mary Lou Gaffey (a Lourdes graduate) for instilling in her a love of science. Mary Lou then posted a link to the interview on the Sisters of the Humility of Mary Facebook page, and wrote, “A tribute to Sr. Mary Myles (Joan Acker) who helped make possible for me these [science] opportunities.” Sister Joan shared a love of science with Mary Lou Gaffey. Mary Lou Gaffey shared that love with her daughter, Kirsten. And now as President and CEO, Kirsten Ellenbogen helps instill a love of science in visitors to the Great Lakes Science Center.

While we celebrate Sister Joan’s influence beyond the halls of Magnificat, we are especially grateful for her years of service here. Sister Joan Acker — learner, teacher, writer — shepherded our young scientists for fifteen years and helped to shape the science department. We hope that as she looks down upon us from heaven, Sister Joan Acker smiles proudly knowing that she made a difference in the science and faith lives of so many young women.

Please click here to view the digital poster.


_____. “ACS Recombinant DNA Program.” The Chesapeake Chemist, Vol. 39, No. 4. Maryland Section American Chemical Society, April 1983.

_____ . “Commencement Exercises, Summer Session 1961.” The University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame: The University of Notre Dame, 1961. http://www.archives.nd.edu/commencement/1961-08-03_commencement.pdf.

_____. “Maryanne Wins International Fair.” The Magnificat, Vol. 19, No. 5. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, 1978.

_____. “Science Department.” Magnifier ’65. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, 1965.

_____. “Seniors Venture Forth: Genesis Encourages Growth.” The Magnificat. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, May 28, 1976.

Acker, Joan. “Creationism and the Cathechism.” America: The Jesuit Review (New York: America Press Inc.) 2006. https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/392/article/creationism-and-catechism. Accessed 12/11/2018.

Eppley, George. “Hero: Sister Joan Acker, H.M. “Gladly Would She Learn and Gladly Teach.” Eppley Files(2006). http://www.georgeeppley.com/archives/sisterjoanacker.shtml. Accessed 12/7/2018.

Gardner, Joanne. “RE: Sister Joan Acker.” Email to Mary Cay Doherty, December 6, 2018.

Shea, John B. “New evolutionary theology: Abolishes Adam and Eve, Sin, and Redemption.” Life Issues.net: Clear Thinking about Crucial Issues, 2005 (originally written in 2002 and reproduced with permission from Catholic Insight). http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/she/she_17newevoltheology.html. Date accessed 12/11/2018.

Archives Donations

If you have item(s) you would like to donate to the Magnificat Archives, you can drop them off at the school, or you can mail them to Mary Cay Doherty, Archivist, Magnificat High School, 20770 Hilliard Blvd., Rocky River, OH 44116. Please include your contact information such as address, phone number and/or email address.

Contact Mary Cay Doherty, Archivist, at mdoherty@maghs.org or 440.331.1572, ext. 373 if you have questions about donations.

Magnificat High School Archives Statement of Purpose

The Magnificat High School Archives exists to procure, evaluate, preserve and provide access to materials of enduring historical value to Magnificat High School, thereby enriching scholarship about and appreciation for the school heritage and the living endowment provided by the Sisters of the Humility of Mary.