By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published May 7, 2009
Just a few months after parishioners at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church celebrated their 50th anniversary with a sparkling new church, alumni of IHM School came together to celebrate 50 years of Catholic education with a homecoming weekend.
The event, held from April 24-26, was both entertaining and spiritual, from the Friday night alumni reception to the Mass celebrated in honor of those alumni on Sunday.
IHM School, initially serving its own parishioners, evolved into a school that has educated members of more than 30 parishes of the archdiocese. Established in the late 1950s, IHM has educated thousands of students throughout its 50-year career, and the school successfully brought together former and current families to celebrate the impact it has had on the community.
Dennis Kelly, president and CEO of Zoo Atlanta, is one of the many alumni positively influenced by IHM School. Kelly served as an honorary chair for the anniversary, along with his former classmate, Mike Messner.
As a member of one of the first classes to go from first through eighth grade at IHM, Kelly reflected on his time there as well as the changes IHM has undergone over the past few decades.
“I was fortunate to be a student in one of the first classes that graduated from IHM after being together from the first grade,” Kelly said. “The lessons I learned during my eight years at IHM prepared me for the challenges and opportunities I would face in the years ahead.”
“I remember a terrific experience,” he added. “I particularly remember the dedication of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart.”
During Kelly’s time at IHM in the mid-60s, the Grey Nuns made up a significant part of the faculty. While the campus may have changed cosmetically, Kelly recognized the same passion and dedication in the teachers and administrators there today.
“(The anniversary weekend) showed me how dedicated the faculty at IHM is,” he said.
Kelly attended the Friday night adults-only alumni reception held at the school and said many former students and teachers showed up for a night of fun and networking. He felt it was a great way for former teachers to reconnect with their former students as well as for alumni to connect with their peers from years past.
The group was also treated to a skit performed by the current faculty of IHM. Marta Lane, a Spanish teacher at the school, and also a member of the class of ‘67, produced the show, in which the faculty sang and danced their way through the decades, from the ‘50s up to today.
“They put on a really creative and hilarious set of skits about the history of the school,” said Kelly. “It showed me how passionate and creative the faculty at IHM is.”
Kelly said the weekend also kicked off a campaign to build a new endowment fund for the school.
On Saturday afternoon, the athletic field at IHM was transformed into carnival grounds, where families enjoyed games, inflatable obstacle courses for children, live music, food and drinks.
“We think nearly two-thirds of the school community was able to come out for the carnival,” said Tricia DeWitt, IHM principal, who has received positive feedback from those who attended the weekend.
During the carnival, many smiling alumni pushed their children in strollers around the grounds, chatting with other families, as others thumbed through old photo albums on display.
Sunday wrapped up the weekend with a Mass celebrated by IHM pastor Father Jim Schillinger, who gave alumni a special blessing.
More than a year of preparation and planning went into making the homecoming weekend run so smoothly.
DeWitt said the planning process started in the fall of 2007, when they chose their honorary chairs. Since then it has been a whirlwind of activity, culminating with the celebration.
“Our anniversary committee has been meeting for well over a year, and besides the major events of the weekend of April 24-26, we have developed an alumni database, have developed an alumni Web site and an alumni newsletter, and have worked extensively with the archdiocesan development office in preparing a case statement and endowment documentation,” said Lisa Rhodes, administrative director for IHM.
The weekend was a success in the eyes of the IHM School staff. The weekend allowed old friends to reconnect and look forward to a bright future for IHM School.
“I see … good values and more being taught at IHM today by its dedicated faculty and staff,” said Kelly. “I think it is crucial that we support IHM for generations to come.”
“I was happy to be there because I believe so much in what IHM is trying to do, which is to … continue the Catholic tradition of education,” he added. “IHM represents the best of Catholic education.”