It all started with five nuns, members of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, traveling from the Sacred Heart Convent in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to a small but flourishing town called Kalispell in the northwestern corner of Montana. It was the early 1900s and the sisters arrived to help establish a new hospital in the growing valley. It would become Kalispell’s first general hospital, which today is the Eastside Brick building on Fifth Avenue East.
Ready for another task, the women opened a Catholic school connected to St. Matthew’s Parish, established in 1910. The site became both a convent and a boarding school in the heart of the city, and the classrooms first filled with students in the fall of 1917.
A century later, St. Matthew’s School is brimming with students in preschool up to eighth grade. Located on Main Street, the private Catholic school is celebrating its centennial this year with school events and a gala this weekend. On Feb. 4, a dinner with live and silent auctions is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn. Tickets are available for $65 by calling 752-6303.
Over the last 100 years, the school has fluctuated in size and grades. Originally, St. Matt’s included a high school, but those grades were discontinued in 1941.
In the early years, up to 12 sisters lived upstairs in small quarters. Today, those same rooms have been converted into classrooms.
The adjacent parish purchased the school and property from the Sisters of Mercy in 1956 and built a new building at the current site. It was completed in 1958 and has undergone a few renovations since.
Students still attend Mass once a week, on Fridays. Other traditions have developed, including the most recent Holy Hoops basketball tournament, founded by Father Rod Ermatinger.
Today, only one religious sister remains at the school: Sister Judy Lund, who has taught at the school for 25 years. She is among the group of roughly 22 teachers who have devoted much of their lives to the school and its students and consider it a valuable calling.
“We’re like family,” Lund, who teaches religion classes for fifth and sixth graders, said recently.
“There is definitely a feeling of family when you walk the halls,” Mary Wagner, a second-grade teacher since 2000, added.
Sometimes, the relationships span generations.
“I’m teaching children of children I once taught,” Lund said.
For more information about St. Matthew’s School and the centennial gala, visit http://stmattsaints.org/.
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