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.



Gardner, Joanne. Information about Sister Susan M. Klein’s childhood, education, and joining HM Community. Email. 8/26/2019.

"Archives Antics"

Archived "Archives Antics"

October 2019 - These Are Our Sisters: Part I: The Founding of a New Religious Order and The Journey to America

Please click here for the digital poster

We cannot speak about Magnificat without also talking about the Sisters of the Humility of Mary who founded our school in 1955 and under whose sponsorship we continue to thrive. The rich faith and service traditions of these women inform and inspire us.  But who exactly are the Sisters of the Humility of Mary?  Our next three Archives Antics columns will delve into this question.  Our exploration will begin with the history of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in France and their earliest days here in the United States.  In subsequent columns, we will explore their contributions to healthcare and education, and then we will focus on the Sisters who transformed the lives of Magnificat students. 

This month, as we retell the story of the community’s founding and earliest days, we will also explore what was happening in France, in Cleveland’s Catholic community, and in the United States in the 19th century.

Setting the Stage: Dommartin-sous Amance and France in the 1850s

Our story begins in Dommartin-sous-Amance, a village in the district of Nancy in northeastern France. Today, France is organized into 101 departments, and Dommartin-sous-Amance is in the department of Meurthe et Moselle within the region of Lorraine.[1]  In 2016, the population of Dommartin-sous-Amance was 273.[2] By comparison, there are over 700 students at Magnificat today.

In the mid-19th century, France, including the town of Dommartin-sous-Amance, was ruled by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon I.  Louis-Napoleon had grown up in exile outside of France but returned as an adult to restore Bonapartist rule. In 1848, he was elected as the first president of the Second French Republic.  But by 1852, he had garnered enough support to mount a coup d’état and declared himself Napoleon III, Emperor of France.  His reign endured until 1870 when he abdicated in shame after suffering a humiliating defeat from the Prussians in the Franco-Prussian War.[3]

Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte originally allied himself with the Church and promoted Catholicism as the religion of France. For this reason, many French Catholics backed the coup[4] that made Napoleon III the Emperor of France. But by 1858, Napoleon III supported Italian unification over protecting the interests of the Papal States, and this upset Catholics in France[5]. Additionally, since the French Revolution, France had been beset by anti-clericalists[6] who resented and opposed the Church’s sway over families and politics. 

The Founding: A New Religious Order is Born[7]

In the 1850s, Father John Joseph Bégel was pastor for the church in Dommartin-sous-Amance, as well as for a church in a neighboring town.  He dedicated his life to helping the poor and was particularly interested in providing religious instruction for poor children. For a time, he used the town hall in Dommartin as a classroom for these lessons.  But anti-clericals ultimately prevented Father Bégel from using this public space for religious instruction.

Fortunately for Father Bégel, a wealthy, educated parishioner named Antoinette Potier was also interested in helping Dommartin’s poor and offered her home as a school for the children. And so, in 1854, Antoinette Potier, her housekeeper Marie Gaillot, and a lay teacher Julia Claudel began operating an orphanage and school from Antoinette’s home.

By May of 1855, five more young women in the area volunteered to help at the school. And over time, a religious order began to take shape.  Early in the school’s operation, Father Bégel gave Antoinette Potier authority to settle disagreements that arose within the group. Soon the women asked Father Bégel for more structured guidelines that would help them operate as a community.  In June of 1855, Father Bégel gave the group the Rule of the Society of the Children of Mary.[8] On the Feast of the Assumption in 1855, the women came to the chapel at Dommartin in their new blue wool uniforms with white collars, blue capes, and simple caps.

From 1855-1858, Father Bégel studied the rules of religious orders and drafted a Rule that could apply to this new order born of the partnership between Father Bégel and Antoinette Potier. On August 29, 1858, the Bishop of Nancy approved Father Bégel’s request to formally recognize the association. The group had suggested the order be called “Assumption of Mary,” but the Bishop chose to call them “the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary” (the word “Holy” was removed to simplify the title after Vatican II[9]). Antoinette Potier, the order’s co-founder took the name Mother Madelaine and became its first Mother Superior.  Marie-Anne Tabourat, another young woman of the congregation, took the name Sister Anna. 

America Part I: History of Catholicism in Cleveland

German and Irish immigrants constituted a good portion of the Catholic community in Cleveland in the 1820s and 1830s. Many came to Cleveland to work on the construction of the Ohio and Erie Canals.  The first parish, Our Lady of the Lakes formed in 1826, and was more commonly known as St. Mary’s-of-the-Flats. In its early days, parishioners used other spaces in Cleveland for Mass, and missionaries and visiting priests like Father Stephen Badin, served the area.[10] Father Badin was the first ordained priest in America, and he also donated to the Bishop of Vincennes in Indiana the land that would later be home to the University of Notre Dame.[11]

In 1835, John Dillon became the area’s first permanent priest, and he also began raising funds for the construction of Cleveland’s first Catholic church building which was finally dedicated in 1840. The church closed in 1886, but many west-side parishes were born from St. Mary-on-the-Flats.

While this church no longer stands, the site is currently home to the Foundry,  a non-profit organization dedicated sailing and rowing education and outreach programs for children and adults. The Foundry is also home to Magnificat’s rowing team.

The Cleveland Diocese was created on April 27, 1847 to serve the 10,000 Catholics living in what is today the Dioceses of Cleveland, Toledo, and Youngstown. Right Reverend Amadeus Rappe served as the first bishop of the diocese from 1847-1870. Under his leadership, the first seminary, St. Francis de Sales, opened and ordained Cleveland’s first priests in 1848. Later, the seminary’s name would be changed to St. Mary’s Seminary.  Construction of St. John’s Cathedral began in 1848 and was completed and dedication in 1852 (in the same year that Napoleon III became Emperor of France and just two years before Father Bégel and Antoinette Potier began their work in Dommartin-sous-Amance). And when the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary arrived in Cleveland, the diocese was only 17 years old.[12]

As a point of reference for Magnificat High School, the city of Rocky River was originally part of Rockport Township which was created in 1819.  Rocky River itself was organized first as a hamlet in 1891. It became a village in 1903 and was incorporated as a city in 1930.[13] Rocky River’s St. Christopher parish was organized in 1922.[14]

Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary Journey to America[15]

In the fall of 1863, when the congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary was just nine years old, the Reverend Louis Hoffer, a French priest working as a missionary in the Cleveland diocese, visited the Sisters and asked if three members of their congregation could come to Louisville, Ohio (30 miles southeast of Akron). Four sisters originally volunteered for the assignment, but ultimately, the Sisters decided that the entire congregation would travel to America. The tensions between Napoleon III and the Church as a result of his support for Italian unification had reached a fever pitch, and Napoleon III’s policies toward the Church were increasingly hostile.

The Sisters planned to sell Mother Madelaine’s house and property to finance the trip, but when Mother Madelaine, already sick with tuberculosis, died on March 7, 1864, her property reverted to family members. Despite this financial setback, plans for the move to America continued. By the end of May, Father John Joseph Bégel, Mother Anna Tabourat, eight other sisters, two novices, and four orphans left France for America. They arrived in New York on June 13. Mother Anna Tabourat, who had been named superior after Mother Madelaine’s death, was also now the congregation’s foundress in America.

The Sisters remained in Louisville, while Father Bégel went to Cleveland where Bishop Amadeus Rappe, a French native, welcomed Father Bégel and the Sisters to the Cleveland Diocese. He offered the Sisters a brick home in Cleveland for $8,000, but they were unable to afford the residence.  So instead, he offered them a house and 250 acres in New Bedford, Pennsylvania for 2,500.00.[16]  Three sisters and one of the orphans remained in Louisville, but the remaining six sisters, two novices, and three orphans went to New Bedford, Pennsylvania and began their ministry in America. The Sisters arrived at their new home on July 25, 1864.

Father Bégel painted a rosy picture for the Sisters about their new home, but, in reality, other communities had abandoned the property.[17] The rocky and swampy grounds made farming difficult, and the property was isolated and difficult to reach. The Sisters had little experience plowing and clearing land, spoke no English, had limited funds, and no outside assistance. Despite these insurmountable hurdles, they forged ahead. But when their first crop – potatoes—failed, Mother Anna knew she needed help.  Some of the Sisters and orphans were already sick, and without a reliable food source, the community’s survival was imperiled.

Mother Anna asked Father Bégel for help, but his reassurances that God would provide for the community would not meet their needs. So Mother Anna, Sister Odile, and Sister Mary of the Angels set out for Cleveland to beseech Bishop Rappe for his help.  The Sister departed on foot around 5 p.m. for Youngstown.  They walked barefoot for most of the twelve-mile trek and reached the train station sometime after 10 p.m. The overnight train took them to Cleveland, and they finally reached the Bishop Rappe’s residence.[18] 

They laid their dire situation before the Bishop.  According to A Dream Fulfilled, Sister Odile later confessed, “I disgraced the community by sobbing aloud.”[19] And Mother Anna asked that the community be permitted to return to France rather than starve to death in New Bedford.  Bishop Rappe gave the women a small amount of money and entreated them to obey and trust in God’s providence.  This was enough for Mother Anna who felt the Bishop’s words reflected God’s will for community. [20]

With assistance from Bishop Rappe and Mother Anna’s resolve, the community began to flourish.  In addition to farming and growing fruit trees, the community enlarged the convent and built a hospital,[21] a chapel, a sawmill and a brick kiln.[22] 

Mother Anna understood that the community needed to integrate into America society in order to accomplish their missionary purposes.  She learned English and encouraged the other Sisters to learn as well.  Around 1877, Mother Anna had the Villa officially incorporated into the State of Pennsylvania.[23] In 1889, the property had its own U.S. Post Office and from that point on, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary’s motherhouse was known as Villa Maria. By this time, Sister Odile was the community’s mother superior. Mother Anna resigned in 1883 after an illness left her paralyzed and bedridden.

By 1872, the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary served at parishes in the diocese of Cleveland, Pittsburg, and Erie. They opened hospitals, schools, and orphanages. In addition to their work in hospitals and schools, during their first 100 years, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary worked in 69 parishes, served as missionaries in South Dakota and Chile, and also assisted in other diocesan organizations.[24] The community also had Sisters working in St. Joseph, Missouri, although by 1874, the bishop for the Missouri community declared them a separate congregation, The Humility of Mary, because the distance between the two congregations was too far for meaningful association.[25] 


America Part II: A Snapshot of the U.S. Circa 1860s-1880s

Earlier in this column, we placed the Sisters of the Humility of Mary’s founding in France and coming to America within the context of French political history and the history of the Catholic Church in Cleveland. But, more generally, what was happening in the United States when the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary arrived in 1864? 

In the summer of 1864, as the Sisters were arriving and getting acclimated to life in New Bedford, Pennsylvania, the Civil War between the Union and the Confederacy was raging.  The war had begun in 1861 and would continue until 1865. Modern historians suspect that the original death toll numbers were low and that as many as 750,000 people may have died.[26]

The Civil War’s bloodiest battle was fought in Gettysburg (225 miles southeast of the Villa) approximately 11 months before the Sisters arrived in America. After the July 1-3, 1863 battle, 51,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were dead, missing, or wounded. Using peppermint oil to “mask the horrid stench,[27]” local townspeople cleared dead soldiers (approximately 7,000 died at Gettysburg)[28] and about 5,000 dead horses and mules[29] from the battlefield and buried them.

Other events that coincided with the Sisters’ arrival in the United States include President Abraham’s declaration on October 20, 1864 that Thanksgiving should be a national holiday, and the admittance of Nevada as the 36th state in the Union[30] on October 31, 1864. President Lincoln was also elected to his second term in November 1864.  In 1868, four years after the Sisters arrived, Louisa May Alcott published Little Women.[31]  

Photography was a rapidly evolving technology in the latter half of the 19th century.  The daguerreotype had been invented in France in 1839 by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre[32], and in 1888, George Eastman invented the first Kodak camera.[33] The Magnificat Archives is proud to have reprints of photographs taken of Mother Madelaine, Father Bégel, and Mother Anna. While we do not have specific dates for these photographs, we know that Mother Madelaine’s photograph dates to before 1864 since this was the year of her death. 

Construction of the transcontinental railroad began in 1862 and was finally completed in 1869.[34] At the time, it was also called the Pacific Railroad, or the  Overland Route, and included 1,912 miles of rail that connected the east and west coasts of the United States for the first time. 

Railroad construction in Ohio also increased significantly after the Civil War.  By 1900, there were 8,900 miles of track in Ohio, and by 1910, the number rose to more 9,500 miles of track.[35]  Notably, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary opened St. Joseph Infirmary, the first hospital in Mahoning County, in 1879 specifically to take care of injured railroad workers.[36]  

Nineteenth century U.S. history cannot be fully encapsulated in this space, but the above information about national events and innovations gives us a glimpse of the United States that the Sisters encountered upon their arrival and during their early years in New Bedford.


Today, we barely scratched the historical surface of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary’s founding and immigration to America. More extensive research in our own Archives and in the Villa Archives would provide even more details.  The Magnificat Archives is fortunate to have reprints of histories written in the 1950s: A Dream Fulfilled: The Story of the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary and Mother Anna Tabouret.  Additionally, our collection includes a 1979 translation of Father Bégel’s 1879 notes about Mother Madelaine and the founding of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary. In addition of print materials, the Villa archival collection also includes Mother Anna’s violin and wooden shoes. Both of these items were brought to the United States by Mother Anna in 1864.

We also used some national and local history to put the history of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in context with their surroundings.  People do not live in isolation, and so they also cannot truly be understood isolation.  As with the history of the Sisters, these ancillary pieces of information scratch only the surface of events and trends in France, in Catholicism, and in the United States.

In the coming months, I hope you will join me as we continue this journey. We will look more specifically at the Sisters’ contributions in healthcare and education. And we will take a much closer look at the Sisters whose lives shaped Magnificat High School.  Until then, Happy Fall!

Please click here for the digital poster



_____. “10 Quick Facts: Gettysburg.” American Battlefield Trust. Accessed 9/27/2019. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/10-facts-gettysburg.


_____. “About: Our History.” Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Accessed 9/17/2019. https://www.dioceseofcleveland.org/about/our-history.


_____. “Books that Shaped America: 1850-1900.”  The Library of Congress: Exhibitions. Accessed 9/17/2019.  https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/books-that-shaped-america/1850-to-1900.html.


_____. “Catholics, Roman.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University. Accessed 9/17/2019. https://case.edu/ech/articles/c/catholics-roman.


_____. A Dream Fulfilled: The Story of the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary. Villa Maria: Villa Maria Convent. 1954.


_____. “Foundry History.” The Foundry. Accessed 9/17/2019. https://www.clevelandfoundry.org/history-1.


_____. “Gettysburg” American Battlefield Trust. Accessed 9/27/2019. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/gettysburg.


_____. “Historical Events in 1864.” On This Day. Accessed 9/17/2019. https://www.onthisday.com/events/date/1864?p=2.


_____. “History of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary.” Magnificat High School: 2018-2019 Faculty/Staff Handbook. Rocky River: Magnificat High School. March 2019.


_____. “Original Kodak Camera, Serial Number 540.” National Museum of American History. Smithsonian Institute. Accessed 9/25/2019, https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_760118.


_____. “Parish History.” St. Christopher Parish. Accessed 9/28/2019. https://www.stchrisparish.com/history.


_____. “Populations légales 2016: Commune de Dommartin-sous-Amance (54168).” Insee (Institut national de la statistique et des études économique). Accessed 9/21/2019.  https://www.insee.fr/fr/statistiques/3681328?geo=COM-54168.


_____. “Railroads.” Ohio History Central. Accessed 9/26/2019. https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Railroads.


_____. “Rocky River.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University. Accessed 9/27/2019. https://case.edu/ech/articles/r/rocky-river.


_____. “St. Mary’s-on-the-Flats.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University. Accessed 9/17/2019. https://case.edu/ech/articles/s/st-marys-flats.  


_____. “The History of Photography.” Photography School Spéos ("Maisons des illustres"). Accessed 9/25/2019. http://www.photo-museum.org/photography-history/.


_____. “The Transcontinental Railroad.” The Library of Congress. Accessed 9/25/2019. https://www.loc.gov/collections/railroad-maps-1828-to-1900/articles-and-essays/history-of-railroads-and-maps/the-transcontinental-railroad/.


_____. “Town of Dommartin-sous-Amance.” Map-France.com. Accessed 9/21/2019. http://www.map-france.com/Dommartin-sous-Amance-54770/.


Euler, Heinrich Gustav. “Napoleon III: Emperor of France.” Encylopaedia Britannica. Accessed 9/17/2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Napoleon-III-emperor-of-France

Goyau, Georges. "Napoleon III." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. Accessed 9/17/2019. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10699a.htm.


Gugliotta, Guy. “New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll.” The New York Times. April 2, 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/science/civil-war-toll-up-by-20-percent-in-new-estimate.html.


Hickey, Cindy. “150 Years of Caring: Humility of Mary Sisters Share Mercy Ministry and Legacy.” Mercy Medical Center. July 8, 2014.  https://www.cantonmercy.org/mission-blog/150-years-of-caring-humility-of-mary-sisters-share-mercy-ministry-legacy/

Kenneth, Sister Mary HHM. Mother Anna Tabouret, Reprint from Review for Religious, Vol 18, No 5. 1959.


Marszalek, John F. “Who was Stephen Badin?” Notre Dame Magazine. Summer 1994. https://magazine.nd.edu/stories/who-was-stephen-badin/.


Mockenhaupt, Brian. “The Battle of Gettysburg: A Time When Americans Saw War Firsthand.” The Atlantic. July 3, 2013. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/the-battle-of-gettysburg-a-time-when-american-civilians-saw-war-firsthand/277499/.


Zarzecny, Matthew. “Religion in Napoleonic France, Part II: Napoleon III and Religion.” The Napoleon Series. Accessed 9/17/2019. https://www.napoleon-series.org/research/napoleon/c_religion2.html





[1] _____,“Town of Dommartin-sous-Amance,” Map-France.com, Accessed 9/21/2019, http://www.map-france.com/Dommartin-sous-Amance-54770/.

[2] _____, “Populations légales 2016: Commune de Dommartin-sous-Amance (54168),” Insee (Institut national de la statistique et des études économique), Accessed 9/21/2019,  https://www.insee.fr/fr/statistiques/3681328?geo=COM-54168.

[3] Heinrich Gustav Euler,“Napoleon III: Emperor of France,” Encylopaedia Britannica, Accessed 9/17/2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Napoleon-III-emperor-of-France.

[4] Matthew Zarzecny, “Religion in Napoleonic France, Part II: Napoleon III and Religion,” The Napoleon Series, Accessed 9/17/2019, https://www.napoleon-series.org/research/napoleon/c_religion2.html.

[5] Georges Goyau, "Napoleon III," The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10 (New York: Robert Appleton Company), 1911, Accessed 9/17/2019. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10699a.htm.

[6] Matthew Zarzecny, “Religion in Napoleonic France, Part II: Napoleon III and Religion,” The Napoleon Series, Accessed 9/17/2019, https://www.napoleon-series.org/research/napoleon/c_religion2.html.

[7] Where not specifically noted, information throughout this section is drawn from A Dream Fulfilled: The Story of the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary, Mother Anna Tabouret, and the “History of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary” found in the Magnificat: 2018-2019 Faculty/Staff Handbook.

[8] _____, “History of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary,” Magnificat: 2018-2019 Faculty/Staff Handbook (Rocky River: Magnificat High School), March 2019, page 59.

[9] _____, “History of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary,” Magnificat: 2018-2019 Faculty/Staff Handbook (Rocky River: Magnificat High School), March 2019, page 59.

[10] _____, “Catholics, Roman,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University), Accessed 9/17/2019, https://case.edu/ech/articles/c/catholics-roman.

[11] John F Marszalek, “Who was Stephen Badin?” Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 1994, https://magazine.nd.edu/stories/who-was-stephen-badin/.

[12] _____, “About: Our History,” Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, Accessed 9/17/2019, https://www.dioceseofcleveland.org/about/our-history.

[13] _____, “Rocky River,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University), Accessed 9/27/2019, https://case.edu/ech/articles/r/rocky-river.

[14] _____, “Parish History,” St. Christopher Parish, Accessed 9/28/2019, https://www.stchrisparish.com/history.

[15]Where not specifically noted, information throughout this section is drawn from A Dream Fulfilled: The Story of the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary, Mother Anna Tabouret, and the “History of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary” found in the Magnificat: 2018-2019 Faculty/Staff Handbook.

[16] _____, “History of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary,” Magnificat High School: 2018-2019 Faculty/Staff Handbook (Rocky River: Magnificat High School), March 2019, 60.

[17] Sister Mary Kenneth, HHM, Mother Anna Tabouret, Reprint from Review for Religious, Vol 18, No 5. 1959, 6.

[18] _____, A Dream Fulfilled: The Story of the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary (Villa Maria: Villa Maria Convent), 1963, 14-16.

[19] Sister Mary Kenneth, HHM, Mother Anna Tabouret, Reprint from Review for Religious, Vol 18, No 5. 1959, 8.

[20] Ibid., 8.

[21] _____, A Dream Fulfilled: The Story of the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary (Villa Maria: Villa Maria Convent), 1963, 19.

[22] Sister Mary Kenneth, HHM, Mother Anna Tabouret, Reprint from Review for Religious, Vol 18, No 5. 1959, 8.

[23] Ibid., 9.

[24] _____, “History of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary,” Magnificat High School: 2018-2019 Faculty/Staff Handbook (Rocky River: Magnificat High School), March 2019, 61.

[25] _____, “History of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary,” Magnificat High School: 2018-2019 Faculty/Staff Handbook (Rocky River: Magnificat High School), March 2019, 60.

[26] Guy Gugliotta, “New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll,” The New York Times, April 2, 2012  https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/science/civil-war-toll-up-by-20-percent-in-new-estimate.html.


[27] Brian Mockenhaupt,“The Battle of Gettysburg: A Time When Americans Saw War Firsthand,” The Atlantic,July 3, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/the-battle-of-gettysburg-a-time-when-american-civilians-saw-war-firsthand/277499/.

[28] _____, “Gettysburg” American Battlefield Trust, Accessed 9/27/2019, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/gettysburg.

[29] Brian Mockenhaupt,“The Battle of Gettysburg: A Time When Americans Saw War Firsthand,” The Atlantic,July 3, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/the-battle-of-gettysburg-a-time-when-american-civilians-saw-war-firsthand/277499/.

[30] _____,“Historical Events in 1864,” On This Day, Accessed 9/17/2019, https://www.onthisday.com/events/date/1864?p=2.  

[31] _____, “Books that Shaped America: 1850-1900,”  The Library of Congress: Exhibitions, Accessed 9/17/2019, https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/books-that-shaped-america/1850-to-1900.html.

[32] _____, “The History of Photography,” Photography School Spéos ("Maisons des illustres"), Accessed 9/25/2019, http://www.photo-museum.org/photography-history/.

[33] _____, “Original Kodak Camera, Serial Number 540,” National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institute, Accessed 9/25/2019, https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_760118.

[34] _____, “The Transcontinental Railroad,” The Library of Congress, Accessed 9/25/2019, https://www.loc.gov/collections/railroad-maps-1828-to-1900/articles-and-essays/history-of-railroads-and-maps/the-transcontinental-railroad/.

[35] _____, “Railroads,” Ohio History Central, Accessed 9/26/2019, https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Railroads.

[36] _____, “History of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary,” Magnificat High School: 2018-2019 Faculty/Staff Handbook (Rocky River: Magnificat High School), March 2019, 60.

September 2019 - Buried Treasure at Magnificat Part II: The Yearbook Cache

Buried Treasure at Magnificat Part I: The Yearbook Cache

By Mary Cay Doherty

Please click here to view the digital poster.

There’s something exciting about unearthing a buried treasure. So when Maxine Kantor from Magnificat’s Counseling Office tipped me off that the third floor might be home to some “Archives-worthy treasures,” I jumped at the chance to join her on a visit to this part of the building. Of course, we aren’t talking about buried pirate treasure here, but treasures from Magnificat’s past. Let’s dig in and explore together.

Stepping Back in Time -- Architecturally

Visiting the third floor is a journey back in time to the days when the west wing of the building was a convent for the Sisters of the Humility of Mary who taught at Magnificat. The first and second floors that were once the Chaplain’s residence and Sisters’ convent are now home to offices and classroom spaces for the Art and Math academic departments as well as Finance, Marketing, and Mission. These spaces were converted as part of the 1985 capital campaign.

But the third floor was not part of these renovations. Separate, single rooms for each of the Sisters who taught and worked at Magnificat High School still line the halls. Since Sisters of the Humility of Mary are no longer in residence at Magnificat, these rooms have been appropriated by different departments for storage.

Unearthing the Treasure

And so on a sunny June morning, Mrs. Kantor and I trekked up to Room 308 in search of treasure.

Guidance shares this space with Student Life so almost every square inch of floor space was covered with stacks of boxes. The long wall adjacent to the doorway was lined with shelves holding more boxes. And on the opposite wall, I saw the closet – our treasure hunt destination.

So what did we find? Scrapbooks, a few artifacts, and yearbooks. But not just a few yearbooks -- it was a yearbook cache! Multiple years, multiple copies stacked 3, 4, or 5 high. The books were not organized. We would come across a pile with a few yearbooks from the 1960s, then another pile from the 1970s. Some years had several copies; others, only a couple of copies.

At this point, Mrs. Kantor and I did not evaluate the whole collection. I grabbed many items that I thought were not already fully represented in our collection, and we transported them via a cart back to the first floor and ultimately over the Archives. Once I fully evaluated this first load, I could return to the third floor to better assess the closet’s contents.

But for our purposes here, let’s dig into the yearbooks from the initial sweep. We will look at the history of yearbooks and their historical significance overall. Then we will evaluate some of the newly found yearbooks and their place in our collection and in our institutional history.

Yearbook History

The earliest yearbooks date to the 1600s and were more like scrapbooks than yearbooks as we know them. Students would write or draw in the books, or even place mementos like flowers or locks of hair between the pages. The invention of the daguerreotype in the late 1830s and later film photography in 1888 brought yearbooks to life with pictures of students, faculty, and staff.

The first college yearbook was published by Yale University in 1806. The first high school yearbook, The Evergreen, was published in 1845 by Waterville High School in Waterville, New York. Improvements in printing and photography made yearbooks more popular by the 1880s, and the yearbook tradition was commonplace by the 1920s.

Magnificat’s Yearbook Collection and Reference Library

In the Archives, we attempt to obtain three copies of each yearbook. Copies two and three are insurance policies that allow us to confidently loan out one copy for educational use. If the first copy becomes damaged, we know that we have additional copies for the historic record.

Before our treasure hunt, the Archives yearbook collection was sizable, but not complete. From 1979-2018, we were in good shape with three copies for each yearbook. From 1959-1971, we had at least one copy for each year. And for most of those years, we were lucky enough to have a second copy, or maybe even a third. But the period from 1972-1978, our collection needed some help.

Yearbooks from 1972-1977 were issued in two softcover volumes rather than as a single hardcover edition. This presents us with three challenges. First, we must track down two yearbook volumes for each year. Second, softcover books are more fragile than hardcover books. This is not an ideal spot to be in: To need more of something that is less likely to survive the rough and tumble ravages of time. The yearbook cache was particularly helpful in addressing these first two challenges as we will discuss in the next section.

The third challenge is more technical. Two-volume yearbooks represent a six year anomaly nestled amid single edition spans from 1959-1971 (13 yearbooks) and 1978-2019 (41 yearbooks). Our yearbook catalogue code was initially designed for single editions so we needed to expand the codes in order to account for two unique volumes, rather than one, within a single academic year.

We use DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard) as the organizing guide for cataloguing our collections. So for example, our first copy of the 2019 yearbook is coded SL.06/03.2019-13#1. A second copy would be coded SL.06/03.2019-13#2. But in 1972, we have two distinct issues of the yearbook, and ideally, three copies of each volume. To code both volumes as SL.06/03.1972-13#_ does not allow us to differentiate between the two volumes. Nor can we rely on the item number (#_) to differentiate the volumes because a researcher would have no way of knowing the SL.06/03.1972-13#1 was a completely different work than SL.06/03.1972-13#4. In fact, a researcher would assume the exact opposite. Item numbers indicate multiple copies of the same work. To solve this dilemma, we created a sub subseries under the year. So our first copy of volume 1 of the 1972 yearbook is SL.06/03.1972.01-13#1. Meanwhile, our first copy of volume II of the 1972 yearbook is SL.06/03.1972.02-13#1. The beauty of the DACS system is that it can easily expand to be more inclusive and that expansion can take place at any time.

In addition to our archival yearbook collection, we are also building a yearbook reference library on the first floor of the Founders House of Hospitality for the enjoyment of visitors. Once we have procured three copies of a yearbook for the Archives, the fourth copy is allocated for the reference library. Before our treasure hunt, our reference library was complete from 1980 to 2018, but we had only two volumes from the 1960s and only one from the 1970s. This means that our reference library lacked the inaugural 1959 volume, eight volumes from the 1960s and 15 volumes from the 1970s (three hardcover yearbooks for 1970, 1971, and 1978, and 12 soft cover yearbooks for the 2-volume editions issued from 1972-1977).

Evaluating the Treasure: What Have We Gained?

Let’s return to the closet in the tiny room on the third floor with yearbooks aplenty. Like a kid in a candy store, I was giddy as I loaded volume after volume onto my cart to take back to the Archives. In the Archives, I checked my new finds against our inventory to determine which volumes we needed. Ultimately, seven volumes from the 1970s and five volumes from the 1960s were added to our collection. Additionally, we added eleven volumes to our yearbook reference library: Nine 1970s volumes and two 1960s volumes. Finally, we also unearthed two additional copies of Magnificat’s very first yearbook published in 1959. It was an exciting morning! And subsequent visits to the closet may yield more additions.

Yearbooks are valuable for a high school archives for the very same reason that students treasure them. They document the students, faculty, and events of a school for a particular year and often include information about the world at large as well.

Additionally, for Magnificat, the 1972-1977 yearbooks mark a distinctive, yet temporary, shift that has not yet been fully explored. These yearbooks changed in title and content in addition to splitting the volumes and adopting a soft cover. Prior to 1972, the yearbook was known as The Magnifier. From 1972 on, the yearbook has been called Dawning. According to the February 19, 1974 Magnificat school paper, prior to 1972, Dawning was a school literary paper. Thus, the period 1972-1977 marked a merging of the yearbook and literary paper.

The February 1974 article then explained content changes in the yearbook that resulted from this merger. The yearbook was split into 2 volumes. The first issue each year showcased literary contributions made by students and faculty and the second issue featured school pictures and candid shots of the students. Notably, this article quoted our very own Sister Helen Jean Novy who, in 1974, was the faculty advisor for the Dawning’s editorial board.

Then four and half years later, the December 14, 1978 Magnificat noted on page one that the 1979 Dawning would be published as a single volume hardbound edition. The article announced that student surveys indicated a preference for this as well as the inclusion of more candid photos.

At this time, we do not fully understand all the factors that led to yearbook changes from 1972-1977. And regrettably, we do not have the issues of the school newspaper for 1971 or 1972 that may have introduced the alterations. But the answers may be elsewhere in our collection, or we may one day be able to acquire the information from alumnae or from other institutions that may have adopted similar changes during those years. Just as our third floor buried treasure surprised and delighted this summer, more “treasures” and information are sure to surface.

In the Archives, we accrue items to preserve our history and educate students. But yearbooks (and archival collections) are also valuable for broader research. We can mine yearbooks for information about hair and clothing styles, trends in courses and co-curriculars, and even socio-cultural patterns. This work is often done by archivists and historians, but is also undertaken by those in other disciplines as well.

In 2015, University of California Berkeley Ph.D. student Shiry Ginosar and a team of researchers studied senior pictures from high school yearbooks in 27 states from 1905-2013. These researchers used computers and composites to identify trends and variances across thousands of photographs. For example, they analyzed lip curvature to identify trends in smiles. Their findings confirmed Christina Kotchemidova’s 2005 research that smiling in portraits increased from 1900-1950. In fact, Kotchemidova reports that for portraits and early photographs, smiling was not the norm. As noted above, one London studio instructed people to say “prunes, “not “cheese.” Kotchemidova acknowledges in her research that quick snapping shutters, the influence of movie stars, and dental advances all contributed to Americans’ adopting broader smiles when having their pictures taken. But her study also focuses on the effect of Kodak’s marketing strategies that encourage picture taking as fun celebrations and reasons to smile.

Thus we see that our buried treasure yearbooks are not just “cool finds,” but also invaluable resources. They chronicle the history for individual students, institutions, and cultures at large.


We began this journey with a trip to the third floor of the Sisters’ Residences and buried yearbook treasure in a closet. In the process of adding new volumes to our collection, we add to our institutional knowledge. We find answers to some questions: When did the 2 volume yearbook split begin and end? But new questions arise. Why did this shift occur when it did? And was it part of a larger cultural pattern at other high schools in Cleveland or nationally, or something unique to Magnificat? We keep our eyes and ears open, knowing this information will come our way.

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey. We will leave yearbooks for now, but please check back in next month for Part II of our Buried Treasure series: The Package.

Please click here to view the digital poster


_____. Dawning I. Rocky River: Magnificat High School. 1972.

_____. Dawning II. Rocky River: Magnificat High School. 1972.

_____. “’Dawning’ Shines Again.” The Magnificat, Vol 15, No 2. Rocky River: Magnificat High School. February 19, 1974.

_____. “Dawning Bound in Overwhelming Vote.” The Magnificat, Vol 20, No 2. Rocky River: Magnificat High School. December 14, 1978.

_____. Describing Archives: A Content Standard. Society of American Archivists. Chicago. 2013. http://files.archivists.org/pubs/DACS2E-2013_v0315.pdf.

_____. “The History of Yearbooks.” Balfour Ohio Yearbooks. October 8, 2013. https://balfourohioyearbooks.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/the-history-of-yearbooks/.

_____. “Yearbooks: A lifetime of memories.” Sherburne History Center. Becker, Minnesota. http://www.sherburnehistorycenter.org/yearbooksexhibit.pdf.

Billock, Jennifer. “Why do People Sign Yearbooks?” The Atlantic. June 3, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/06/why-do-people-sign-yearbooks/561851/.

Conroy, Pat. “A Yearbook Is…” HJ Yearbook. May 6, 2015. Video (3:23). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLqjMHVjd68.

Fessenden, Marissa. “ Yearbook Photos Show How Smiles Have Widened Over the Decades.” Smithsonian.com. December 2015. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/yearbook-photos-show-how-smiles-have-widened-over-decades-180957437/.

Ginosar, Shiry et al. “A Century of Portraits: A Visual Historical Record of American High School Yearbooks.” University of California Berkeley. 2015. https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~shiry/publications/Ginosar15_Yearbooks.pdf.

Kotchemidova, Christina. “Why We Say ‘Cheese’: Producing the Smile in Snapshot Photography.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, Vol. 22, No. 1. March 2005. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f0c3/c3109bef1b3c5a9a6936b6783bb8f8e492dc.pdf.

Onion, Rebecca and Ismail, Aymann. “Watch American Yearbook Photos Evolve Over 108 Years.” Slate. December 7, 2015. Article and Video (1:11). https://slate.com/human-interest/2015/12/history-of-the-american-yearbook-photo.html.

Perich, Shannon Thomas. “For All You Graduates: A History of Yearbooks.” NPR. June 3, 2010. https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2010/06/03/127412786/yearbooks.

June 2019 - Pomp and Circumstance: Graduation Programs Reflect Magnificat History & U.S. Cultural Trends

Pomp and Circumstance: Graduation Programs Reflect Magnificat History & U.S. Cultural Trends

By Mary Cay Doherty

Please click here to view the digital poster.

Recently, the Communications department asked me for examples of Magnificat’s past logos. A moment of panic set in—especially when I realized that no research had ever been done on this topic. I was starting from scratch. Fortunately, I stumbled into the perfect “logo” resource – graduation programs. Beginning at the beginning with our 1959 graduation, I moved forward in 10 year increments to follow changes in our logos as depicted on five subsequent graduation programs in 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999, and 2009.

I scanned the graduation program covers and sent them to the Communications department via email. Mission accomplished.

But then I wondered… When did these logos change? What else might we be able to learn about Magnificat and U.S. history using these six specific programs as our guide? So let’s cue the march, don our graduation garb, dust off the programs, and settle in for another Magnificat time travel adventure.

Logos: Signs of the Times

In practice, humans have relied on pictorial representations since the days of hieroglyphics. In the Middle Ages, family crests were akin to logos (click here for the history). The word logo, however, dates to the 1930s and is short for “logogram” or “logotype” – literally “word symbol.”

The figure below gives a side by side comparison of Magnificat’s logos as depicted in the 1959, 1989, and 2009 graduation programs. In analyzing the six graduation programs in question, logos on the 1959, 1969, and 1979 programs were relatively consistent. Similarly, logos on the cover of the 1999 and 2009 programs were almost identical. But the 1989 graduation program logo was decidedly different. Further research indicated that this particularly logo was in use for only 13 years from 1982 until 1995. So while our first logo endured for 22 years, and the current iteration has been in place for 23 years, the “M” over triangle logo had a significantly shorter lifespan. Perhaps a future article will delve into the history of this particular logo and how it came and went so quickly…

Tassels & Mortar Boards; Brick & Mortar

These six graduation programs also provide information about Magnificat’s facilities. According to the 1959 program, commencement was held in the Magnificat Auditorium. In the 1969 program, however, the location had shifted to the Music Hall of Cleveland Public Auditorium. Further research in our Archives shows that Commencement Exercises for Magnificat were held at Cleveland Public Auditorium from 1960-1973 which means that only one graduation was held in the Magnificat Auditorium. The 1979, 1989, and 1999 programs document that graduation was held at the Lakewood Civic Auditorium, and deeper analysis confirms that this location was used for Magnificat graduations from 1974-2004. By 2009, however, the graduation ceremony had returned to Magnificat. Our Performing Arts Center, which was dedicated in October 2004, has served as the location for Magnificat’s commencement exercises since 2005.

While further research may be warranted, we can deduce that Magnificat’s graduating classes and attendant family and friends quickly outgrew our auditorium’s capacity, and so alternate locations were selected. And while many factors contributed to need for the Performing Arts Center, the draw of holding commencement exercises on campus must surely have played a role.

Shifting Cultural Gender Norms

Today, women are not only at the helm of Magnificat High School, but at the center and heart of all we do. In this, we model for our students what it means “to learn, lead, and serve in the spirit of Mary’s Magnificat.” In today’s world, this is intuitive: Women should be a dominant presence at an all-girls school. But our graduation programs reveal that in Magnificat’s early years, men, not women, filled the graduation ceremonial roles. As time progressed, however, our graduation programs reflected changes in cultural norms that allow women and men to share these ceremonial roles.

For Magnificat’s first Commencement on June 1, 1959, men – more specifically ordained men – dominated the ceremony. Magnificat’s Chaplain Reverend Richard E. McHale presented the graduates, while Cleveland Auxiliary Bishop Floyd L. Begin awarded diplomas with assistance from the Reverend Edmund J. Ahern (Pastor of St. Christopher Catholic Church) and Reverend William N. Novicky, (the Assistant Superintendent of Schools). The “Address to Graduates” was delivered by Reverend Clarence E. Elwell, Superintendent of Schools for the Cleveland Diocese.

At the 1979 Magnificat Commencement, men and women shared the ceremonial duties. Sister Bernadette Vetter presented the graduates. Under her religious name Sister Mary of Lourdes, Sister Bernadette had served as Magnificat’s founding principal from 1955-1961. She returned to Magnificat from 1973-1986 as a teacher. Principal Sister Rose Schafer (1974-1981) conferred the diplomas. Meanwhile, Magnificat’s chaplain, the Reverend Peter J. Lenahan was the Master of Ceremonies, and the Reverend Henry F. Birkenhauer gave the Commencement Address.

Fast forward 20 years to the 1999 Commencement. At this particular graduation, women filled all of ceremonial posts. Magnificat’s Assistant Principal Mrs. Jodi Campbell presented the graduates, and Principal Sister Mary Pat Cook, H.M. awarded the diplomas. The Master of Ceremonies was Kathleen LaPorte, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and the Donna Kelly Rego (Class of 1961) gave the Commencement Address. Quite a “flip” in the ceremonial leadership compared to the 1959 graduation!

In the span of these 40 years (1959-1999), increasing prominence for women in the ceremonial roles reflects broader cultural shifts in the United States for women’s equality. In particular, the greater inclusion of women in the 1979 Commencement may be a result of the Second Wave Feminist Movement which began in the early 1960s and ended in the 1980s.

Leadership Changes at Magnificat

The 1999 Commencement program noted two important leadership changes for Magnificat High School: Governance by a Board of Directors and adoption of the President-Principal leadership model.

As the 1999 Master of Ceremonies, Kathleen LaPorte represented Magnificat’s Board of Trustees which was formed in 1986 when Magnificat was incorporated. Today, this body is known as the Board of Directors. The Board is comprised primarily of lay members within the Magnificat family—alumnae, parents, friends—but also includes representatives from the Sisters of the Humility of Mary.

The 1999 program also bears witness to the newly adopted President-Principal leadership model. In 1997, Sister Carolyn Marshall, Principal from 1988-1997, became Magnificat’s first President, and Sister Mary Pat Cook stepped into the role of Principal. In this change, Magnificat positioned herself at the fore of a Catholic secondary education trend. According to Bob Regan of Carney, Sandoe & Associates, only 20% of Catholic secondary schools operated under this model in 1992, but by 2015 about 56% of the 1200 Catholic high schools in the US had adopted it.

Increasing Post-Secondary Education Opportunities for Women

Our graduation programs also allow us to glimpse changes in the educational opportunities of women from the late 1950s through the first decade of the 21st century.

Although today’s statistics track students’ post-secondary education plans, we don’t have this data for most of our graduating classes. But using graduation program scholarship data and US census data, we can infer that scholarships, and by extension educational opportunities, for women expanded during this time period.

In 1959, eight of the 82 students (10%) in the graduating class were identified as scholarship recipients. Of those six were four-year scholarships and two scholarships were for two years of study.

The 1969 graduation program identified 32 student scholarship recipients among the 241 graduates (13%). The scholarship range from one to four years and include schools such as Notre Dame College, John Carroll University, Oberlin College, and Kent State University. Out-of-state schools included the University of Kentucky, Northwestern University and the University of Detroit.

In the 1999 graduation program, 37 of the 185 graduating seniors are listed as scholarship recipients (20%). Scholarships were awarded by schools such as Princeton University, the University of Notre Dame, and The Catholic University of America.

In these three graduation programs, the percentage of students who received scholarships climbed from 10% in 1959 to 13% in 1969, and by 1999, 20% of the graduating seniors earned college scholarships. Of course, scholarships alone do not reflect the number of college bound students (certainly many students without scholarships attend college). And we are assuming that the financial assistance provided by a scholarship increases the likelihood that the recipient will attend college. Additionally, we know that the rising tide of Second (and Third) Wave Feminism in America broadened many horizons for women. So within these parameters, we can infer that the increased number of scholarships awarded to Magnificat graduates from 1959-1999 also reflects expanded education opportunities for our young women.

Magnificat’s counseling department keeps more comprehensive data on our later graduating classes. In 1999, for example, 95% of the 185 graduates planned to attend a four-year college after graduation and 2% planned to attend a two-year college. And of the 201 young women in the 2009 class, 96% planned to attend a four year-college and another 3.5% planned to attend a two-year college. In the 2019 graduating class, 97% planned to attend a four-year college and 2% planned to attend a two-year college.

Magnificat can be proud of these statistics, especially in light of U.S. national statistics. According 2016 U.S. Census Report on Educational Attainment, in 1967 only 8% of U.S. women over age 25 held a Bachelor’s degree or higher. By 2015, that percentage rose to 33%. Statistics like these reaffirm our graduation program scholarship data that more women than ever attending college and earning.

But these national statistics also highlight the importance of Magnificat and her alumnae in the world. When 97% of the 2019 Magnificat graduating class plans to attend a four-year college, it is easy to imagine that “everyone” has a college degree. National statistics are a sobering reminder that a college degrees are rarer than we realize, and more importantly, that those who do earn them bear the mantle of leadership responsibility in our society. We can take pride in knowing that our graduates will carry Magnificat’s core values into the world as they work to better society.


Our journey began with six graduation programs intended to show changes in Magnificat’s logo over time. And where exactly have we ended? Let’s recap information gleaned about Magnificat and U.S. culture from graduation programs in 10 year increments beginning with 1959 and ending with 2009.

  • - Magnificat High School has had 3 distinct logos. The first and third each endured for 22 and 23 years, respectively, and the 2nd logo was used for only 13 years from 1982-1995.
  • - The Magnificat Auditorium was home to only the first Commencement. From 1960-2004, Commencements were held at the Cleveland Public Auditorium or the Lakewood Civic Auditorium. Upon completion of the Performing Arts Center, Commencement returned to Magnificat High School in 2005. The PAC has been home to Magnificat Commencements since 2005.
  • - In comparing the 1959, 1979, and 1999 graduation programs, we see an increasing role for women in the Magnificat Commencement ceremonial duties.
    • - In the 1959 graduation, ordained priests fulfilled the ceremonial duties of presenting graduates, conferring degrees, and addressing the graduates.
    • - In 1979, the ceremonial duties were split between men and women. Women presented graduates and conferred diplomas, while men served as Master of Ceremonies and delivered the Commencement Address.
    • - In the 1999 graduation, women took center stage for all the ceremonial graduation roles.
  • - Using scholarship data from graduation programs, we hypothesize that post-secondary education opportunities expanded for Magnificat women from 1959-1999.
    • - 10% of the 1959 class received scholarships
    • - 13% of the class of 1969 received scholarships
    • - 20% of the class of 1999 received scholarships.
  • - U.S. Census data reinforces that in the U.S. overall, educational opportunities for women have indeed increased.
    • - Whereas only 8% of women over 25 held a Bachelor’s degree or higher in 1967, the percentage rose to 33% by 2015.
  • - In the past two decades, 95% or more of Magnificat’s graduates have planned to attend four-year colleges/universities. This means that our graduates are poised to take on leadership roles and shape the world using Magnificat’s Mission and Core Values as their guiding principles.

I hope you have enjoyed this historical look back at some of our Commencement programs. Please don’t forget to view the digital poster. Enjoy the summer, and I will be back next fall with more Archives Antics.


_____. “20: Civic Auditorium.” Lakewood History Files. Accessed 5/28/2019. http://lakewoodhistory.org/history%20files/civicauditorium.html#20:%20Civic%20Auditorium.

______. “logo (n.).” Online Etymology Dictionary. Accessed 5/28/2019. https://www.etymonline.com/word/logo.

______. “logogram (n.).” Online Etymology Dictionary. Accessed 5/28/2019. https://www.etymonline.com/word/logogram.

______. Magnificat High School First Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 1, 1959.

______. Magnificat High School Eleventh Annual Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 2, 1969.

______. Magnificat High School Twenty-first Annual Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 4, 1979.

______. Magnificat High School Thirty-first Annual Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 7, 1989.

______. Magnificat High School Forty-first Annual Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 3, 1999.

______. Magnificat High School Fifty-first Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 3, 2009.

______. “Public Auditorium and Conference Center.” City of Cleveland. Accessed 5/28/2019. http://www.city.cleveland.oh.us/CityofCleveland/Home/Government/CityAgencies/ParksRecreationandProperties/AuditoriumandConferenceCenter.

Drucker, Sally Ann. “Betty Friedan: The Three Waves of Feminism.” Ohio Humanities. April 27, 2018. http://www.ohiohumanities.org/betty-friedan-the-three-waves-of-feminism/.

Lant, Karla. “The history of logos.” 99designs. Accessed 5/28/2019. https://99designs.com/blog/design-history-movements/the-history-of-logos/.

Ryan, Camille L. and Bauman, Kurt. “Educational Attainment in the United States: 2015; Population Characteristics, Current Population Reports.” United States Census Bureau (March 2016): 1-12. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p20-578.pdf.

Regan, Bob. “Catholic School President/Principal Model, Pt 1.” The Puzzle: Blog, Carney, Sandoe & Associates, November 23, 2015. https://www.carneysandoe.com/blog-post/catholic-school-presidentprincipal-model-pt-1.

May 2019 - Rock 'n' Roll, Disco, and Stayin' Alive

Rock 'n' Roll, Disco, and Stayin' Alive

By Mary Cay Doherty

Please click here to view the digital poster

Hellooooo….it’s me, your friendly Magnificat Archivist. I’ve fallen down another fascinating historical rabbit hole. Jump in and join me!

As I considered a topic for this month’s Archives Antics, Magnificat was preparing for the Annual Gala which had a disco theme. And disco got me thinking about what was happening at Magnificat in the 1970s.

So I searched our database for documents and artifacts and discovered that the 1970s was an important decade for Magnificat. The Resource Center (1970), Genesis (1973), Key Club (1978), and Interscholastic Varsity and Junior Varsity teams (1977) were just a few significant additions to Magnificat’s building, curriculum, and co-curricular activities. Hmmm, maybe I could write about these important milestones…

Then my mind drifted to the yearbooks of the 1970s. For this decade, the yearbook came out in two soft-cover volumes each year. The first was devoted to poetry and short stories, and the second featured all the traditional yearbook trappings: photos, activities, events… Yes, I could write about how 1970s era yearbooks mirrored cultural changes in America…

But “disco” kept calling my name (figuratively, of course). I just had to know about disco. Why is it a hallmark of the 1970s? Surely Magnificat students of the 70s would have caught disco fever, wouldn’t they? And so, down the proverbial rabbit hole I jumped – back in time to music history in the 1970s and Magnificat history via the school newspaper.

Like a scientist with a hypothesis, I started combing issues of the Magnificat from the 1970s in search of articles related to disco. Regrettably, we only have 11 issues of the student newspaper from the 1970s (May 1970, February 1974, December 1975, March 1976, May 1976, October 1977, April 1978, May 1978, April 1979, June 1979, and October 1979). And I wasn’t exactly sure in what context these papers would discuss disco, but I was certain that I would find multiple references.

I was wrong. Well, not entirely. There was one article in the October 1978 issue that referenced disco.

What I did find, however, were 4 issues that had stories, not about disco, but about rock ‘n’ roll. Statistically, that means 36% of our newspaper collection from the 1970s had a story about rock ‘n’ roll (remembering, of course, that we only have 11 issues in our collection). But, equally important to note, is that these stories appeared in Oct. 1977, April 1978, Oct. 1978, and December 1978—a 15-month period near the end of the decade. We have to consider that the close date proximity of these articles and the authors. For example, Laura Martin (Class of 1981) who clearly had a keen interest in rock ‘n’ roll (vs disco) wrote the October and December 1978 articles. We cannot know whether or not her sentiments reflected those of the student body.

There was also one point of intersection for rock ‘n’ roll and disco in the Magnificat: page two of the October 1978 issue featured “Rock-n-roll Still No. 1 in Cleveland” and “Class of ’81 Catches Disco Fever; With New Skills They Teach You.” More on these a little later…

So deeper down the rabbit hole, I crawled. Rock ‘n’ roll and disco: what are the differences technically and in terms of popularity in the 1970s? More importantly, can these four articles in the Magnificat tell us anything about Magnificat students’ music preferences in the late 1970s?

History of Rock ‘n’ roll

Rock ‘n’ roll, a combination of country and rhythm & blues, came on the American music scene in the 1950s. But it wasn’t called “rock ‘n’ roll” right away. Alan Freed, a Cleveland disc jockey, gets credit for popularizing the term rock ‘n’ roll in reference to this new emerging music (the city of Cleveland used this as its basis for arguing that Cleveland should be home to the Rock Hall of Fame). Freed first used “rock ‘n’ roll” as an adjective describing the energy of his “Moondog” radio show, energy rooted in anew R&B records. Later, after moving to New York, he renamed the show as “The Rock and Roll Party.” Eventually, the term expanded to encompass the emerging genre of music that, while rooted in R&B, was distinctly different. Interestingly, “rock ‘n’ roll” has its roots in the African-American community as a slang word for sex. The provocative nature of performances by Elvis and other early rock ‘n’ rollers led to the usurpation of the term to describe the new musical genre. Although Elvis Presley is considered the “King,” Chuck Berry is often called the “Father of Rock ‘n’ roll.”

In the 1960s, as the genre continued to evolve, it became known simply as “Rock” music. “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ roll” became the rallying cry of the Counterculture Revolution, and rock music’s beat and lyrics carried the Counterculture’s message via now legendary performers like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and The Grateful Dead.

Cleveland Rocks

Cleveland has deep “rock” roots. Alan Freed certainly played a role. And rock probably appealed to our Midwestern, blue-collar cultural ethos while disco with its urban, elitist flair might have seemed less appealing, especially in the early 1970s. Additionally, our Midwest location would have insulated us from disco’s effects until later in the decade. The cultural changes that begin on the far Pacific and Atlantic coasts take time to reach the sunny shores of Lake Erie. These factors may explain why 4 of the 5 music references in the Magnificat from October 1977 until December 1978 refer to rock ‘n’ roll rather than disco.

Rock band Fleetwood Mac received a glowing review in the October 21, 1977 Magnificat included an article about a Fleetwood Mac concert in Cleveland on September 24/25. “Big Mac Attack Occurs; Fleetwood ‘Dreams’ On” reported that the September 24th and 25th Cleveland concerts were sold out. The article extols Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 awards for “Best Band,” “Best Album,” and “Best Producer.” For the Magnificat author of this article, Fleetwood Mac also earned accolades for donating a penguin to the Cleveland Zoo. The article explains that penguins were a mascot for the band. The penguin was named ‘Peter’ at the request of band leaders Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.

The World Series of Rock bore witness to Cleveland’s “rock” devotion in the 1970s. The October 19, 1978 Magnificat reported “Rock-n-Roll Still No. 1 in Cleveland.” Sophomore Laura Martin’s story covered all three of the World Series of Rock Concerts that were held during the summer of 1978 and highlighted upcoming fall rock concerts by the likes of Bob Dylan, Black Sabbath, Peter Gabriel, and Jethro Tull.

The World Series of Rock were daylong summer music events in Cleveland that featured multiple rock ‘n’ roll groups. The event was held from 1974 until 1980 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. During the summer of 1978, Cleveland hosted three World Series of Rock Concerts. The July 1st concert featured “The Rolling Stones,” “Kansas,” and Peter Tosh. The July 15th concert brought the “Electric Light Orchestra,” “Foreigner,” “Journey,” and “Trickster” to Cleveland. And the final concert on August 26th had fans rocking out to “Fleetwood Mac,” Bob Welch, “The Cars,” Todd Rundgren & Utopia, and Eddie Money.

In the December 14, 1978 Magnificat, Laura Martin again reported on Cleveland’s status as “High for Rock-n-Roll.” After opening the article with the assertion “we live up to our name of ‘Rock Capitol of the World,’” Martin’s second paragraph perhaps hints at the struggle between rock and disco for the hearts of Clevelanders. She says, “If any questions still linger about Cleveland’s status, take a look at who is in the forecast.” Martin then proceeds to list the many rock groups who have performed or will be performing soon in the city. She cites recent visits to Cleveland by Hall and Oats, Queen, and The Moody Blues, and upcoming performances expected from Styx, Bob Seger, and Bruce Springstein.

History of Disco:

Disco music gets its name from Discotheques, clubs that first popped up in WWII France as part of the Nazi resistance. (Disque is French for record; “theque” is taken from “bibliotheque” the French world for library.) Germans banned American swing music and jazz, discotheques were underground clubs where people went to listen and dance to these banned records. The first discotheques came to America from France in the 1960s, but “disco” music did not yet exist. Like their French counterparts, American discotheques featured dance music, but 3-minute long American rock ‘n’ roll songs were ending just as dancers found their “groove.” D.J.s and disco club goers were hungry for dance music. Enter Disco—a blend of jazz, funk, and soul that featured synthesizers and longer songs. At rock music venues, people sat and listened. At disco clubs, music existed to support dance, and records were much more common than live performances. In the disco world, African singer, Manu Dibango’s Soul Makossa (released in 1973) is considered the first disco song. The reliance on records over live performances was made disco especially advantageous for urban clubs that catered to the gay population. Many bands refused invitations to perform in gay clubs out of fear of public scrutiny or retribution.

The “Hustle,” by Van McCoy in 1975 was instrumental in bringing disco to a wider American audience. The song hit the top of the pop charts. Two years later, in December 1977, Saturday Night Fever was released. Overnight, disco was a sensation. For the next three years, disco dominated the popular music charts. Popular singers/bands included Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor and The BeeGees. In his 1999 American Heritage article, Peter Braunstein explains that after the release of Saturday Night Fever came the “discofication” of America: disco lunchboxes, disco belt buckles, disco proms, etc…

Magnificat at “The Car Wash”

Because “Saturday Night Fever” propelled disco mania in the U.S., it seems likely that Magnificat students awareness of, and interest in, disco would grow from December 1977 until 1980. Of the 11 issues from the 1970s in our collection, nine are dated after the release of the “Hustle” in the summer of 1975. Furthermore, of those nine, five are dated after the release of “Saturday Night Fever.” It is interesting then, that only one article in our, albeit small, collection even mentions disco.

The lone disco article is in the October 19, 1978 Magnificat: “Class of ’81 Catches Disco Fever; With New Skills They Teach You.” The article explains that four Magnificat sophomores, (Margaret Bucci, Brigid McCafferty, Jacque Meluch, and Robyn Mlodzik) had been taking disco lessons from Sherri Cox at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio. According to the article, Sherri Cox was a regular on Channel 3’s “Weekday Fever” program which ran from 4-5 p.m. The Magnificat students and others in the class learned disco line dances, group dances, techniques for disco free-style dancing, and “hand dancing,” which was new. The article closes with routine directions for a line dance called “The Car Wash.” This Rose Royce hit number 3 on the U.S. pop charts in February 1977.

Rock Rebels: Disco’s Stayin’ Alive Days are Numbered

By the late 1970s, disco music was the popular music for American youth, and the rock ‘n’ roll community began to rebel, especially as disco edged out rock in radio station play time. Some criticized disco’s reliance on synthesizers over musical instruments. Others argued that disco was elitist, while rock was populist—the music of everyday Americans.

Many of today’s cultural historians frame the backlash against disco in the late 1970s as a reactionary response of conservative middle America to gays and African Americans. Peter Braunstein in American Heritage magazine points out that the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, which coincides with the “death of disco,” marked a conservative turn in American political and cultural life. Braunstein further notes that the combination of disco’s affiliation with rampant drug use and sexual promiscuity, as well as the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the gay community in the early 1980s, hastened its demise.

But John Covach from the University of Rochester’s Institute for Popular Music posits a unique hypothesis. In his opinion, most of America didn’t identify disco with gay culture in the late 1970s. Similarly, viewing the backlash as a racial response is problematic in light of the many black rock groups such as Parliament Funkadelic. Instead, Covach suggests that the “hippie aesthetic” may have been the root of rock’s ill will toward disco. Covach argues that coming out of the 1960s counterculture, rock artists, D.J.s, and ardent fans saw rock as a vehicle for important cultural messaging. For them, disco music was the equivalent of cultural fluff. Disco tunes like “Dancing Queen” didn’t advance or push back against anything – it was culturally purposeless. According to Covach, this more than anything else made disco an anathema to rock.

Regardless of the source of their distaste for disco, rock actively hastened the disco’s decline. One Chicago disc jockey in particular, Steve Dahl, took matters into his own hands. He helped plan a “Disco Demolition” rally at Comiskey Park Stadium in Chicago on July 12, 1979. Fans were encouraged to bring their disco records to the stadium. At the break in the double header between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers, a disco record-filled crate would be blown up on the field. The situation turned ugly when fans swarmed the field as the second game was beginning. The White Sox had to forfeit. But the tide was turning against disco. Other “Disco Demolitions” followed as well as “Disco Sucks” bumper stickers. Although July 12, 1979 is considered the “day disco died,” the genre hung on until the early 1980s.

Ironically, although Rock won the war, disco remains an iconic feature of the 1970s. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Magnificat Gala this year as people came dressed in their best seventies attire and boogied the night away. [On a very solemn note, we grieve the loss of Dr. Terry Hunt, wife of Magnificat teacher Kelly Hunt, father of sophomore Cat Hunt and alumna Mackenzie Hunt. Dr. Hunt won an award for best costume that evening. He tragically passed away less than two weeks later, on April 4th. ]

Where Does Magnificat Fit In?

As 21st century citizens looking through a rear view mirror, we see disco as a cultural event of the entire 1970s decade. This is true in a macro view of American culture, but not in the micro. If we start with “Soul Makossa” and end with the Disco Demolition Rally, disco’s life-span in American culture was 1973-1979. But disco didn’t’ really break through the pop culture barrier until “The Hustle” in 1975, and it wasn’t mainstream until the release of Saturday Night Fever in December of 1977. This likely means that for Magnificat students, disco’s practical life span in their cultural world was about 1977-1980.

In and of themselves, our school newspapers don’t reveal the true nature of Magnificat students’ musical preferences in the 1970s. Specifically, there are four limitations. First, we have only 11 issues from the entire decade that presumably included many more issues. Second, the school newspaper staff and advisor chose the stories, and we have no way of knowing for certain whether or not their interests and preferences reflected those of a majority of the student body. Third, the school newspaper would primarily be a vehicle for sharing school news. Broader cultural, political, and economic news is often covered but only insofar as they affect Magnificat students and the coverage is ancillary to that of school events. Fourth, as we have already mentioned, all four of the rock ‘n’ roll articles fall in a 15-month timespan and at least two were written by a single student with a passion for rock. Fifth, I confined by research to the 1970s. If we were to look at all of the Magnificat newspapers in the 1980s, we may find more disco references, especially toward the earlier years of the decade.

But, if we choose to evaluate Magnificat student preferences within these four particular issues, rock ‘n roll has four articles to disco’s one. In my mind, this is still a noteworthy.


Although disco’s moment in the sun was short-lived, the genre left indelible marks on the music and culture scenes. First, disco rejuvenated the practice dancing to popular music. Additionally, synthesizers are used even more heavily in music production today than in disco’s heyday. Culturally, disco is sure to be on anyone’s short list of 1970s iconic fads. Disco IS the 1970s. But as we emerge from our journey down the 1970s music history rabbit hole, we understand how rock and disco (uncomfortably) shared the decade, and we can speculate that the tug-of-war must have been felt by Magnificat students living in the “Rock Capitol of the World.”

Please click here to view the digital poster.


______. “1979 Disco Demolition Night, Local News Coverage.” YouTube. Video. Running Time 8:48. February 3, 2008. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpQfCcsqQ0E.

______. “Big Mac Attack Occurs; Fleetwood ‘Dreams’ On.” Magnificat Vol 19, No 1 (Rocky River: Magnificat High School), October, 21, 1977.

______. “Class of ’81 Catches Disco Fever; With New Skills They Teach You.” Magnificat Vol 20, No 2 (Rocky River: Magnificat High School, October 19, 1978.

_____. “Cleveland Municipal Stadium hosts the World Series of Rock.” News 5 Cleveland. YouTube. Video. Running Time 1:52. August 27, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ5BrvxCLTA.

______. “Cleveland Stadium – Home of World Series of Rock.” Rock & Roll Roadmaps. Accessed on April 3, 2019. http://rockandrollroadmap.com/places/where-they-played/other-rock-music-venues/cleveland-stadium-home-of-world-series-of-rock/.

______. “Evolution of Dance.” Twist and Pulse. YouTube. Video. Running Time 3:26. August 23, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqHt2VeYJN4.

______. “Learn steps to Car Wash.” YouTube. Video. Running Time 2:11. February 20, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aSJldxHdIQ

______. “Quiz Challenges Rock Music IQ.” Magnificat Vol 19, No 4 (Rocky River: Magnificat High School), April 13, 1978.

______. “Soul Train Car Wash Rose Royce.” YouTube. Video. August 11, 2012. Running Time 3:38. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss0GT6x66ZQ.

______. “This Cleveland DJ Popularized Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Smithsonian. Video. Running time 2:01. Accessed April 2, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/category/smithsonian-channel/this-cleveland-dj-popularized-rock-n-roll/.

______. “World Series of Rock.” Cleveland Association of Broadcasters. Accessed April 4, 2019. http://www.cabcleveland.com/index.php?page=world-series-of-rock.

Akkerman, Gregg. “History of Rock: 1970s Mainstream.” YouTube. Video. Running Time 9:49. April 16, 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JpX3DvPD2s.

Braunstein, Peter. “Disco.” American Heritage Vol 50, Issue 7. Rockville: American Heritage Publishing Co. November 1999. https://www.americanheritage.com/disco.

Covach, John. “History of Rock Part Two.” Coursera (University of Rochester). Accessed April 4, 2019. https://www.coursera.org/lecture/history-of-rock-2/disco-LPXCU.

Covach, John. “The Hippie Aesthetic: Cultural Positioning and Musical Ambition in Early Progressive Rock.” Academia. Reprinted from Philomusica Online 2007. Accessed April 4, 2019. https://www.academia.edu/7634280/_The_Hippie_Aesthetic_Cultural_Positioning_and_Musical_Ambition_in_Early_Progressive_Rock_in_Composition_and_Experimentation_in_British_Rock_1966_1976_Philomusica_Online_2007_reprinted_in_The_Ashgate_Library_of_Essays_on_Popular_Music_Rock_ed._Mark_Spicer_Ashgate_publishing_2012_.

Fong-Torres, Ben. “Biography.” Alan Freed: The Official website of the disc jockey who coined the phrase, “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Accessed on April 4, 2019. http://www.alanfreed.com/wp/biography/.

Hoffmann, Frank. “Hybrid Children of Rock: Disco.” Survey of American Popular Music. Huntsville: Sam Houston State University. https://www.shsu.edu/lis_fwh/book/index.htm#hybrid.

Hollis, Liza. “Disco Facts.” Our Pastimes. September 15, 2017. https://ourpastimes.com/disco-facts-12146830.html.

Kivumbi. “Difference Between Rock and Disco.” DifferenceBetween.net. February 20, 2011. http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-rock-and-disco/.

Kot, Greg. “Rock and Roll.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. April 4, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/art/rock-and-roll-early-style-of-rock-music.

Martin, Laura. “Our Status: High for Rock-n-Roll.” Magnificat Vol 20, No 2 (Rocky River: Magnificat High School, December 14, 1978.

Martin, Laura. “Rock-n-Roll Still No. 1 in Cleveland.” Magnificat Vol 20, No 1 (Rocky River: Magnificat High School), October 19, 1978.

Powers, Richard. “The Disco Lifestyle.” Social Dance. Stanford: Stanford University. Accessed on April 4, 2019. https://socialdance.stanford.edu/Syllabi/disco_lifestyle.htm.

Rockwell, John. “Pop View; Rock vs. Disco: Who Really Won the War?” New York Times Archives. September 16, 1990. https://www.nytimes.com/1990/09/16/arts/pop-view-rock-vs-disco-who-really-won-the-war.html

April 2019 - Magnificat Athletics Part III

Magnificat Athletics Part 3: 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.

March 2019, "Magnificat Athletics" Part II

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

By Mary Cay Doherty

Please click here to view the digital poster

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

Please click here to visit the digital poster

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.

Please click here to visit the digital poster


_____. “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

Please click here to view the digital poster.

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.