By Dave VanderMeulen
The year was 1950. Harry S. Truman was President of the United States, the postwar Baby Boom had begun, the Korean War erupted, young Elvis Presley made teen-aged girls swoon, and a small school was started by the Order of St. Anne’s at the intersection of South University Boulevard and Yale Avenue. Prior to the inception of the school, the Sisters of St. Anne had provided much-needed care for children stricken by polio. This pernicious disease had swept the country, causing paralysis or death to thousands of children. The Sisters of St. Anne gave reassurance and healing to the young victims. They were true heroes of mercy during the polio pandemic, but there came a time when their ministry was no longer needed. Other care facilities were established, and the Sisters of St. Anne needed to reorient their mission to the community. Mother Noel took stock of the changing situation and the resources of St. Anne’s, declaring that their new mission would be to start a school. She entrusted this project to Sister Irene, who poured all her energy and knowledge into the creation of St. Anne’s Episcopal School.
Anyone who has visited St. Anne’s knows what a perfect inspiration this plan was. The setting is idyllic. Walking the grounds, one feels as though he or she were entering a secret garden replete with rose gardens, apple orchards, ancient grapevines, and towering, majestic trees. It strikes visitors that this is a place imbued with peace and beauty, a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city that surrounds it. The quaint old buildings, sheathed in wheat-colored stucco and surrounded by outcroppings of massive mountain rock, remind one of a Tuscan villa. Of course, new buildings have been erected, and some old ones torn down, but the hallowed ambience has remained.
The gardens were one rich legacy bequeathed by the Sisters of St. Anne. Perhaps more significant were the deep and abiding values that persisted in the school after the sisters had retired or passed away. Indeed, they were all about promoting the moral, physical, and emotional well-being of children. They fostered an educational environment characterized by compassion, kindness, excellence, enrichment, devotion, and integrity. Although St. Anne’s came into existence under the auspices of the Episcopalian church, the school embraced children from all faiths and ethnicities from the very beginning.
As the years passed, St. Anne’s Episcopal School grew, adding successive grades and many more students. The school transitioned into an independent institution in the late 1970’s. At the same time it added the seventh and eighth grades, making it more of a viable alternative for families seeking a private school for their children. During this exciting period of growth, several talented teachers joined the faculty, curricula were expanded and enhanced, and the overall quality of education improved greatly. St. Anne’s also became a member of the Association of Colorado Independent Schools, taking its place among the premier private institutions of the state. These changes came about due to the enlightened leadership of successive headmasters and the Board of Trustees. An energetic and supportive Parent Association complemented the efforts of administrators and teachers to provide quality education.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for St. Anne’s occurred earlier this year as the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the land. St. Anne’s achieved the dubious distinction of becoming the first Denver area school to close down when a parent tested positive for the coronavirus. Although the school hoped to reopen after a brief interval, that plan had to be scrapped when all schools were forced to close due to the extent of the pandemic. The teachers of St. Anne’s had to redesign their instructional models completely, adapting their methodology to distance learning for the balance of the school year. A summer of meticulous planning ensued in preparation for the current fall term.
Seventy years have come and gone since Mother Noel had her inspiration. Ironically, in the year that the founding of the school should be celebrated with commemoration and festivities, the St. Anne’s community finds itself contending with the threat of the current pandemic. Fortunately, the faculty and staff have manifested fortitude and ingenuity in meeting the challenge. Thankfully, the shouts and laughter of children have returned to grace the gardens of St. Anne’s. School is back in session. Mother Irene would be proud.