Brothers Mark and Dan Schulte attended over six different schools during their primary and secondary education days, ranging from Baltimore, D.C., Japan, and Belleville, Illinois. Their Dad, Master Sergeant Raymond Schulte served in the United States Air Force, so their family moved a lot. Few teachers stick out in their memories. But Sisters Josephine Iffert and Mary Baird do. So much so that the brothers did a little sleuthing in order to find the women, who taught them at St. John School in Belleville when their Dad was stationed at Scott AFB, and pay them a visit during the holidays.
Mark, an aerospace engineer from Dayton, Ohio, and Dan, a software engineer from St. Louis, spent several years at St. John’s, from 1968-1972. During that time, both men said that the PHJC Sisters taught them values like a love of God and service to humanity that have stuck with them for life. The Sisters, apparently, also created a pair of persistent detectives as well.
The brothers had been trying to find Sisters Mary and Josie for years, but never had any luck. Last summer, they decided to try once more. This time, their top hit on a Google search was a story about Sister Josie’s 70th Jubilee from the summer issue of Word Gathering. The brothers called her and reconnected after forty-four years. They also discovered that Sister Mary Baird was here on the same campus with her. “We were thrilled to find them both,” said an ebullient Mark.
On December 28 and 29, the men journeyed from their homes to Donaldson to reunite with the Sisters. The stories, memories, and laughter flowed like no time had passed. “When we entered the gates (of St. John School) it felt like a sanctuary,” Dan recalled. He described a school where the city kids, military base kids, and kids from St. John Orphanage all came together to learn, play, and create a sense of community. Both brothers remember rigorous academics as well as a lot of fun. “You taught us both the Illinois and the U.S. Constitutions,” Mark told Sister Josie. An avid baseball fan, Dan laughed that the Sisters allowed the students to watch the 1968 World Series, St. Louis versus Detroit, during the school day. He was devastated when his beloved Cardinals lost, and remembers crying on the bus ride home. “It’s so interesting when people come back here; to see what they remember when they visit,” Sister Josie said. “Everyone remembers something different,” Mark added.
The brothers said their St. John’s days, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, came at a formative time in their lives. Dan recalled seeing the Sisters dressed in full habit at the start of his St. John days, and then seeing them relax their style of dress post Vatican II. “That was a good change,” he said. “We were shocked. We thought, ‘Oh, you have hair, just like us,’” he laughed. Mark also remembers music classes with Sister Mary featuring songs by stars of the day, like Donovan, and her belting them out on an electric guitar. “You can’t get more cool than playing electric guitar,” Mark said. Dan recalled sports and recess as being the most fun, especially playing baseball on their uneven, makeshift diamond. “The third base line was on such a slope that a hit down that line almost guaranteed a home run,” he laughed.
St. John was special to Sister Mary, too. “It was a Camelot,” she said. “Everything seemed harmonious and blessed. We worked together, prayed together, studied together, and argued together. We had a sense of family and community,” she added. St. John School at that time was supported solely by tuition and fundraising, without any help from the diocese or a parish. “We got a moral compass,” said Dan. “They taught by example and expectation that we do right and serve others. It was spiritually grounding.” Both men considered their St. John experience excellent preparation for high school, college and life.