St. Ferdinand School Class of 1953 reunites for 70th anniversary

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2023

St. Ferdinand School Class of 1953 reunites for 70th anniversary

Former classmates of St Ferdinand Class of 1953 met for a luncheon reunion to celebrate their 70th anniversary at Colletti's Restaurant 5707 N. Central Ave., on June 4, 2023. They were honored at a Mass at the church before the luncheon. Eighty students are still alive from the original class of 120. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Howard Pettinger takes table shots of his classmates before lunch. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
John O’Connor talks with classmate Robert Miller before lunch. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Right, Ron Mroz shares a photo with classmates Joan Klukley, Joseph Giuliano and Carol Tylutki. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
James Marturano looks over class photos on display. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Jeanne Summers and Angela Stella visit during the luncheon. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Family, spouses and friends joined the classmates for the celebration. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Classmates pose for a photo. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Class photo from 1953. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

About two dozen members of St. Ferdinand School’s class of 1953 gathered in front of the church at Barry and Mason avenues in Chicago on June 4 to celebrate 70 years since they graduated.

“The neighborhood has changed so much,” said Patricia Tierney Barch. “All the little houses on Belmont are gone, with the businesses and three-flats now. But this block looks just the same.”

The classmates, most of whom are now 83 years old, reminisced about the BVM sisters crossing Mason Avenue in single file in their habits as they walked from the convent to the school, the pastor flooding the parking lot at Belmont and Mason so they could skate in the winter and catching garter snakes in the empty lot on the other side of Belmont Avenue, now part of the campus of St. Patrick High School.

“My big thank-you is to the sisters,” said Jeanne Summers Karabin. “They had 60 to 65 kids in a class.”

The class was welcomed at Mass by St. Ferdinand pastor Father Peter Gnoinski, who noted that they were sitting in the same pews that St. Ferdinand’s 2023 graduates had occupied at their commencement the day before.

Barch and Carol Holz Ideler, best friends since kindergarten who attended St. Ferdinand School and Notre Dame High School for Girls together, both attended the reunion.

“We really just enjoy each other’s company,” Barch said, explaining why the class has had several reunions, in addition to gathering for lunch in the spring and fall in recent years. “We look at ourselves and say, ‘How did we get this old?’”

The driving force behind the reunions, several alumni said, is their classmate Howard Pettinger. Pettinger keeps in touch with everyone he can find — he believes about 80 of the 128 class of 1953 graduates are still living, and more than 60 are connected by email.

He’s the one who sends out a group email when someone has something good to announce, and to share an obituary when someone dies.

“If it weren’t for Howard, it wouldn’t happen,” said Eleanor Baran Berge.

Berge and Ed McAuliffe have stayed friends over the years; McAuliffe used to fish with Berge’s husband before he passed away. Now Berge lives in Niles and McAuliffe has moved to Wood Dale.

“I think life was just simpler then,” Berge said, recalling her elementary school days in the 1940s and 1950s. “It was easier.”

Everyone was dismissed from school and walked home for lunch, although it could be a quick turnaround for those who lived further away.

Pettinger said the class of 1953 grew up at “the exact right time.”

They were babies and young children during World War II, and graduated from high school between the end of the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War. Some members of the class were drafted, and at least a couple of the boys were still in the military when the Vietnam War heated up, but none were killed there, he said.

Children were generally allowed to roam freely when they were growing up, he said, so members of the class could get together on their own, walking or riding their bikes to friends’ houses.

“We could get on a bike and ride away for the whole day and everybody knew they had to be home for dinner,” Pettinger said.

There were basement parties with snacks and dancing by the time they were in eighth grade.

“I had like 500 45s,” he said. “I would bring the records.”

Now there’s more talking than dancing, mostly about the old times, Pettinger said. While most people who attended the reunion still live in the Chicago area, he was expecting guests from neighboring states like Wisconsin and from as far away as Arizona and Hawaii.

Organizers made name tags for the luncheon that followed Mass with each person’s eighth grade picture, just in case they were hard to recognize after all these years, and Pettinger was building a file of photos and other memorabilia to send to classmates who couldn’t make it.

“The 60th reunion was supposed to be our last,” he said. “But now? Who knows?”


  • catholic schools

Related Articles