St. Joseph High School OmahaSt. Joseph High School Omaha

St. Joseph High School History

From the Ryan Eye Memorial Issue May 29, 1983.

History of the Ryan "Dream"

By John Bergin with Rich Callahan

What began as one man's dream provided an educational home for over 4,000 graduates.  Archbishop Ryan High School was the dream of Archbishop James A. Ryan of a Catholic high school in South Omaha.  At his death in 1947, ninety percent of his estate was left to fund the building of Ryan.  Ten years later, the Archdiocese asked the School Sisters of St. Francis to help build and operate Ryan.  The school opened on September 2, 1958 to 290 freshmen.  Sr. Rita Wermes was the first principal and Rev. Edward Schad was the first superintendent.

The $2,225,000 school was dedicated on March 1, 1959 by Archbishop Gerald Bergan.  With the addition of 300 students each year, the enrollment reached 1061 in 1961.  The first graduation was held on May 31, 1962 for 236 seniors.  The first years were very successful in establishing Ryan as the largest Catholic high school in the state of Nebraska.

In 1966 under the direction of Sr. Mary Pacis (Virginia Roth), Ryan became the first school in the state to adopt the modular system of education.  To get a "much better preparation for life" and a "more personal way of being educated" were two of the reasons for adopting the system.  Roth was quoted as saying that "Ryan is indicating the type of education that, eventually, might spread throughout the country."  Over the next three years, over four thousand people were to come and observe this method of educating youth.

In 1969 the first major threat to Ryan's existence occurred when the Archdiocese built Daniel Gross High School just two and one-half miles from Ryan, creating competition for the same group of students.

In June 1970 Ryan became the first non-public high school in Nebraska to receive AA accreditation from the State Board of Education, a rating it still holds today.  Ryan dropped its affiliation with the Archdiocese to gain citywide recruiting priveleges allowed to private schools.  Ryan moved beyond the modular system to a more progressive open schedule.  The following year, Ryan's enrollment dropped below the 1,000 mark for the first time since 1961.  Ryan's principal of nine years left to take a position in District 66.

Sister Patricia Lackowski became Ryan's third principal.  During her tenure Ryan's first board of Directors was formed.  The school organized a campaign for funding; the drive realized less than $75,000.  Church and community support for Ryan was almost non-existent.  The school's non-traditional program did not suit every student who came.  The presence of a large Catholic school nearby did not allow Ryan to be as selective as it was in earlier years.  And Ryan did not move quickly enough to provide the learning options needed for a broader selection of students.

Ryan's production of the rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, in 1975 became the first high school musical to be performed at the Orpheum Theater.

Jim Marx became Ryan's first lay principal in 1976.  A "back to basics" movement in education was sweeping across the country.  Ryan built in a more structured program for freshmen, and began developing learning experiences designed to meet needs of individual students.  Said Marx, "Ryan's program is not an experiment.  It is tried and proven learning theory."  Ryan's enrollment and financial difficulties were increasing, and time seemed to be running out.

Sister Elizabeth became Ryan's fifth principal in 1980.  She added still more structure to Ryan's schedule in an aggressive attempt to benefit each student Ryan accepted.  The development staff was expanded to step up fundraising and recruitment efforts.  With the debt nearing one million dollars, rumors of the school closing circulated in the spring of 1982.  Dousing of those rumors by the administration in a series of parent meetings was not enough to prevent a serious drop in enrollment.  Registration in teh fall of 1982 was 330.  Professionals were hired to launch a debt reduction drive of $250,000.

In December the School Sisters of Saint Francis met with Archdiocesan officials to discuss options about the future of Ryan.  The Archdiocese declined to help, so the SSSF Board of Directors decided on January 12, 1983 that Ryan would be closed.  The decision was made public on January 21.  Marches and fundraising by parents and students were not able to save Ryan.  The building was sold to the Archdiocese in March and renamed St. Joseph High School.

Archbishop Ryan's dream was a reality for twenty-five years.  Ryan was a school that tested educational theories in an effort to improve the learning environment.  In its final year, Ryan offered more than 300 courses, including video and computer.  It was still the only Catholic school in Omaha to hold AA accreditation.  Consistent with Ryan's commitment to individualized learning, Ryan's final graduation class included nine three year graduates.

The men and women who have received a Ryan Education know what they have; they are people who will carry a part of Archbishop Ryan's dream with them forever.

Final Ryan Staff 1982-1983

Ryan High School Staff 1982-1983
  • Standing Men - Brad Hansen, Ken Reischl, Gene Schoeman, John Green, Marc Williams, Al Spompinato, Tim Lackovic, Mark Mildebrath
  • Standing Women - Sr. Rita Johnsen, Sr. Jasmine, Sr. Helen Schulteis, Sr. Paulette Kiefer, Sr. Dignata Urzendowski, Sr. Marionita Gergen, Sr. Rita Gaul, Ida Castro, Cleve Kidder, Sr. Florence Neudecker, Sr. Darlene Hoch, Sr. Maureen Connolly, Sr. Kathy Trenda, Kate Welsh, Sr. Lee Agnes Hodapp, Sr. Elizabeth Heese, Sr. Lois Schulte. Mabel Folda, Stephanie Mendyk, Martha Gordon, Pearl Roecker, Jackie Gorup, Becky Peterson, Sr. Deicola Blona
  • Ground - Diane Miller, Marti Didamo, Sr. Kathryn Ann Reeff (top) Sr. Jesse Marie Mortimer (bottom), David McLeod, Aziza Mehirdel, Dan Oliverius, Mary Ann Krzemien, Mary K. Campbell (top), Darlene Poore (middle), John Busse, Judy Lloyd, Marcy Lackovic (top), Barbara Jarnecic (bottom), Ted Husar
  • Not Pictured - Sharon Coyle, Alan Klem, Lauren Kotulak, Fr. Frank Malensek, Helen Manning, Mike Martinez, George Mills, Sr. Christel Nolan, Joseph Ponsiego

The L Street Marquee