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What's changed at Mother of Mercy in 100 years

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Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-18 12:00:23-04

CINCINNATI -- Mother of Mercy High School in Westwood is marking 100 years of educating young women.

The all-girls high school will celebrate its centennial anniversary Sept. 24 with a mass and official proclamation from Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley. The day of the celebration is Mercy Day, the day the Sisters of Mercy were founded in Ireland in 1831 by Catherine McAuley.

Additional celebrations marking the milestone included a Sept. 17 ribbon-cutting ceremony unveiling the historically restored school façade, and a mass and party Saturday.

Circle Of Mercy

First opened in September 1915, Mother of Mercy Villa was originally located in a farmhouse at the corner of Werk Road and Epworth Avenue, and its first graduating class was just three young women.

“Not that many places last 100 years,” said Lisa Fluegeman, alumni relations coordinator and also a Mercy alumna. “We have 12,000 alumnae and a great student body, which means we will continue the tradition and legacy into the future.

“There’s an atmosphere of community, we call it the ‘circle of Mercy,’ which extends to our community, faculty, parents and alumnae,” Fluegeman added.

Construction on the main school building on Werk Road began in 1923 and an additional wing was built in 1928.

After requests of neighborhood families, the school was expanded to include a co-ed elementary school, which remained until the 1960s, alongside the girls’ secondary school. The name changed to Mother of Mercy Academy.

A Growing High School

A change to interparochial status in 1943 expanded the student population served, and the school became known as Mother of Mercy High School. A new gym and additional classrooms were constructed in the 1960s, and student population swelled to 875 young women in 1977.

In the 1990s, the chapel and science department were renovated, and computer rooms were added. Within the past 10 years, the school established a technology wing and invested in equipment and a library media center, as well as graphic arts classroom. The school also boasts a broadcast studio.

The main building underwent renovation to add classroom space, and the guidance offices were expanded to meet the needs of the college search process.

Enrollment for the 2015-16 school year stands at 525 students, an increase of about 50 students compared to two years ago.

Five core values remain at the heart of the school today: faith, compassion, service, leadership and excellence, said Dave Mueller, principal.

“What strikes me about the school is a kind of social entrepreneurial spirit,” Mueller said. “Both students and faculty have the habit of trying to see how they can make the world a little bit better and how can they learn and teach a little better. That translates into a warm, caring, but also ambitious, environment.”

'An Attention To The Whole Person'

In recent years, students’ digital learning has become a focus, Mueller said. All students have an iPad and access to graphing calculators and laptops. Some online instruction was implemented to offer variety. Advanced Placement classes and courses available for college credit have expanded.

“At the heart of what we do is a focus on student’s individual excellence,” Mueller said. “We help them to focus on their talents and self-assess how they are growing in many different ways, not only academically, but also in terms of service, compassion to others and their religious faith. It’s an attention to the whole person.”

To broaden students’ experiential learning, Mercy has plans to better partner with other organizations and people in the community that share a Sisters of Mercy connection, such as Mercy West Hospital and social services agencies Downtown, Mueller said.

Two years ago, the Mercy Education Collaborative of Cincinnati was formed through the Sisters of Mercy, which united Mother of Mercy High School and McAuley High School under a single president and board of trustees while maintaining the two schools as separate and distinct educational institutions.

Mueller said the partnership should strengthen both schools by combining some business operations and allowing for some opportunities for the faculties and students to work collaboratively.

The Sept. 24 centennial celebration also will include an unveiling of artwork by artist and alumna Holly Schapker; it will portray the Mercy story. The main hallway in the school has been transformed into a display of heritage, Fluegeman said. Items donated from alumnae or pulled from archives flank the walls of the school, including class rings, uniforms through the years, diplomas and photographs.

“This allows people to stay connected to their past, as well as our traditions,” Fluegeman said. “At the end of the hallway, there are pictures of each graduating class. Whether they graduated in 1920 or 2015, it’s our people that are the most important.”