St. Anthony School History
A BRIEF HISTORY OF ST. ANTHONY SCHOOL
Rich in History and Poised for the Future
Plans for the building of a parish in south Des Moines were formulated in 1898 when sixty Catholic families lived in the area. However, because of the influx of many Italian families, the petition for a new parish didn’t come to be until 1906, Father Victor Romanelli, from Italy, became the Pastor of the territory south of the Rock Island tracks extending midway between Lacona, St. Mary’s, Cumming, and Valley Junction.
Father Romanelli purchased a building, the old firehouse, on the corner of SE 1st and Columbus Avenue. The first mass in St. Anthony parish was celebrated there on August 19, 1906. A room in the rear of the old fire house served as the first rectory. In the same year, a piece of property was purchased at 18 Columbus Avenue and a brick church was erected there. A few years later a second floor was added to the building which provided space for four classrooms.
In September of 1912, St Anthony School opened with an enrollment of 130. The Sisters of Humility, whose motherhouse was in Ottumwa, IA, accepted Father Romanelli’s invitation to teach at St. Anthony’s and Sister Mary Cecilia, became the first superior. Over the many years, the Sisters of Humility served unselfishly to fill the hearts and minds of their students with knowledge and the love of God.
In 1912 Father Romanelli returned to Italy due to ill health where he died in 1915. During his pastorate, he organized the parish, built the combination of the church and school, and endeared himself to everyone in the city. Fathers John Noonan and John McGuiness, who toiled to remodel the church and rectory as well as the school, followed him as pastors. Many assisted Father McGuiness during his pastorate, including Fathers William Hegarty and Maurice Aspinwall.
In 1928, the Rev. Cornelius Lalley, who had served as an assistant under Father Noonan, became pastor. He came to St. Anthony as a strong, dynamic young man who worked both physically and spiritually to build the parish and school.
After the new church was built at SW 1st and Indianola, the old church was divided into classrooms. In 1940, the territory south of Watrous Avenue removed itself from St. Anthony’s and established Christ the King parish. Father Lalley became a Monsignor on September 8, 1954, and after a long illness, he died in 1955. He served the people for 27 years.
In 1956, several lots across from the convent were purchased for use as a playground and parking lot. Father Peter Schmitz became pastor in 1959 and it became imperative to build a new school as enrollment increased each year. The Community House and Grotto were taken down to make room for the new school. Father Schmitz broke ground to set the wheels of progress forward and the cornerstone was laid for a 16 classroom grade school in 1961.
In 1963, the Parochial schools united at the old Dowling High School to take part in the first parochial relays. In 1964, the Parochial Football League was established. St. Anthony and St. John Schools united to form the Southeast Packers team which became a dominate force in the league for many years.
Sister Joanne Mauro came to SAS as the first counselor, and part time 5th grade teacher in 1983, becoming a full time counselor in 1991. In 1987, Sister Peggy became the last nun to live in the convent and in that same year, the school remodeled to house a library, computer lab, offices, and faculty lounge.
In the fall of 1988, Dr. Joe Cordaro was hired as the new principal of St. Anthony School. Dr. Cordaro is still the principal of the school at the time of this writing. He has been the principal of St. Anthony School for the last 25 years.
In 1989, St. Anthony hired our first full time physical education teacher and athletic director. That same year the SAS Latchkey (before and after school care) Program was opened and has grown consistently throughout the years taking care of 90 students each day before and after school.
In 1990, the Des Moines Public Schools purchased a silver mobile home, called the Silver Bullet, for the SAS Title I Reading Program. Students with special needs in reading were able to attend reading classes on campus instead of being bused. In 1991, St. Anthony School’s middle school students won the state Mock Trial Championship against hundreds of schools, most with a larger numbers of students. In 1993, Des Moines Schools replaced it with the Little Brown School House on the playground area, and in 1999, removed from the campus as state legislation allowed public teachers to work in the school.
Thanks to the work of the Technology Committee and money from the Home and School Association, SAS purchased a starter set of used computers for each classroom. Thus began the Computer Age for the students. From the beginning St. Anthony’s School has been a leader in technology for schools in the Des Moines area.
In 1999, the Parish Hall was completed. The students are able to use the parish hall for PE classes, sports practices and games, as well as school programs. The new kindergarten, library, and computer lab were also open in the same year. When the kindergarten moved out of the convent, St. Anthony School remodeled the convent and opened a new Pre-School program in the first floor of the convent. Two years later, our PPK (Three-year Program) began in the adjoining room.
At the beginning of 2002, St. Anthony School celebrated their 90th year as a Catholic School in the Des Moines Diocese. Over 450 graduates and guests were present at the special dinner and program in the Parish Hall.
The old firehouse, built in 1906 and rich in the memories of the parish beginnings, was demolished to make room for the new Indianola Road intersection around the school. This project and landscaping was completed in 2002 and became a part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Beltway.
In 2003, St. Anthony Parish built a new storage facility for the school’s buses. The facility is also being used for storage of the church pickup and other items. Time marches on, as does the progress of St. Anthony School and Parish.
Thanks to a Legacy Grant from Prairie Meadows, St. Anthony School was presented with $300,000 to remodel our school. This would be the first remodeling of our “new” building since it was built in 1962. Much was done the summer of 2009: Air Conditioning throughout the building, new flooring, new up-to-date lighting, new grid ceiling tile and insulation, new Mimio (Smart) Boards in all classrooms, and new concrete steps in the front of the school including a statue of St. Anthony.
In the fall of 2010, St. Anthony School became only the second school in Iowa to include a Language Immersion Program in our building. We initiated the San Antonio de Padua Spanish Immersion kindergarten in the Fall and will be starting our first second grade Spanish Immersion class this coming fall. By the time these students finish fifth grade, they will be fluent in two languages, English and Spanish.
Also initiated in the fall of 2010, St. Anthony School Middle School program added block scheduling to our program and houses. Block scheduling gave teachers and students more consistent time to work on content during the week. Houses replace grade level homerooms by including all three grades, 6-8, into a “House” that is lead by each house’s eighth graders that will compete for points throughout the school year.
This summer, 2012, the completion of our 2009 renovation is taking place with the remodeling of the school’s foyer. Through a memorial contribution from the George Paletta Family, the Judge Louis Anania Family, special gifts from other Des Moines residence and the help of Mr. John Mauro, our foyer roof will be replaced and the inside will be updated with new lighting and a mural dedicated to the 100 Years of Education at St. Anthony School.
Also this summer, St. Anthony School and all the Catholic Schools in Polk County received a $400,000 technology grant from the Education for the 21st Century Committee. St. Anthony School used our $43,000 of grant money to replace some wiring infrastructure and wireless ports, replace laptops for teachers, build up our mobile computer lab, put IPads in the hands of each teacher for classroom use, and to replace all the computers in the computer lab with a virtual lab which is a huge upgrade to our technology in the building.
As we can see, St. Anthony School is rich in history and poised for the future. Even though we still have much to accomplish and our needs are still great, we can be proud of our storied past and excited about our school for the next 100 years!