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History

History

Historical image of Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel, arial view

On Sept. 6, 1955, Marian welcomed 42 freshmen from 10 parishes throughout Omaha. Each year a new class was added until the first class graduated in 1959. Sr. Marian Sitzmann, OSM, known in 1955 as Sister Mary Marcella, was Marian’s first principal with a staff of six other Servite sisters.

When the high school opened, the majority of the staff were nuns and the sisters poured everything into the school.  So deep was the sisters’ dedication that no sacrifice was too great.  A limited budget made them very frugal. In the early years, there was no funding for custodial service, so the sisters, including the principal, cleaned the building after hours.   

Led by Sr. Marcella, the sisters promoted and indoctrinated “Espirit de Corps,” the Spirit of Marian, through song, creed and example. They built a legacy of timeless values. Now we refer to these as Marian’s Core Values: Spirituality, Community, Empowerment, Compassion, Service and Marian Identity.

The Early Years 

At a school named Marian, it is not surprising that there was a strong influence on Marian ideals.  In the 1950s, Mary was the model of all Christian womanhood, but particularly of all Marianites, as students were often called. Expectations of a Marian girl were high, in school and in public. 

As outlined in the Student Handbook, girls were expected to be quiet in the halls and “avoid ill-mannered and unseemly things in public.”  Sr. Marcella would frequently remind the girls of these virtues. 

At Marian, the 60s were relatively simple times, rooted in Marian spirituality and traditions. It was a time of great growth in enrollment, facilities and programs.  The name and reputation of Marian came to connote excellence and Marian’s graduates were poised for success. 

Marian students gathered outside- historical

At a school named Marian, it is not surprising that there was a strong influence on Marian ideals.  In the 1950s, Mary was the model of all Christian womanhood, but particularly of all Marianites, as students were often called. Expectations of a Marian girl were high, in school and in public. 

As outlined in the Student Handbook, girls were expected to be quiet in the halls and “avoid ill-mannered and unseemly things in public.”  Sr. Marcella would frequently remind the girls of these virtues. 

At Marian, the 60s were relatively simple times, rooted in Marian spirituality and traditions. It was a time of great growth in enrollment, facilities and programs.  The name and reputation of Marian came to connote excellence and Marian’s graduates were poised for success.  “The nuns who taught me influenced me and fostered a love of education. … Today Marian has that same strong sense of community and importance of education.”  Sr. Mary Gehringer '66

The firm foundation established in those early years would set the course for times to come.   

Building a Legacy

At Marian, the focus was always on women, and athletics continued to become more visible. In 1970, Marian’s basketball team made a sweep; they were the champs in CYO, AAU, City Parks and Recreation League, and AAU Junior Olympic Tourney in Kansas City. In 1972 golf and tennis were added to Marian’s athletic program and a drill team was formed. That same year the Nebraska School Activities Association voted to legalize girls’ basketball.  Marian would soon have its own varsity basketball team. 

Developing an athletics program involves more than simply having a team.  Marian did have a gym, but in 1971, there were no bleachers or scoreboards.  A Booster Club was formed under the leadership of Howard Rudloff  (father of six Marian girls); the initial goal was to raise money for bleachers.  A full-sized scoreboard was secured from Pepsi Cola in exchange for two Pepsi machines in the cafeteria. 

“We had a difficult time getting started because the nuns wanted Marian to be known for scholastics and not athletics. … Few schools have accomplished what Marian has – a scholastic and athletic heritage.”  Howard Rudloff

Celebrating Milestones

After a quarter century and 3,000 graduates, the original philosophy of Marian is still alive. An all-girl environment provides every student with the opportunity for personal growth in knowledge, faith, leadership and service. A comprehensive curriculum included a college preparatory course, a vocational arts course and a combination of both programs. The challenge of this type of education brought with it financial demands. The Servants of Mary always tried to offer this education at a cost most parents could afford, desiring to keep the school available to all girls regardless of financial background. 

By the late 1980s, student interest in business and home economics courses was dwindling, and in the 1990s these courses were phased out in favor of a strictly college prep curriculum.

A Confident Future

Nationally recognized programs, successful capital campaigns, and renovation and building projects propelled Marian forward. By 1992, 100% of Marian graduates were attending college. In 1993, Marian earned its first Department of Education National Blue Ribbon award in recognition of outstanding excellence in school leadership, instruction, student achievement and parental involvement. A back-to-back Blue Ribbon followed in 1998.

Marian expanded its facilities in 1997 to provide an elevator, quad space, new gym, a weight room and locker rooms. In 2000, a three-story addition between the school and convent was built to house a science center, student services center and library.

In the early 2000s, Marian began to look for ways to honor and promote its Servite identity. With so few sisters actively serving in the classroom, Servite traditions and history were intentionally incorporated throughout the school year to remind students to be like Mary, a compassionate presence in the world. Not long after, the six Core Values were established and placed within the context of the curriculum. When a young woman graduates from Marian, she should reflect these values in her knowledge, decision-making and philosophy of life.

Technology has infiltrated every aspect of education at Marian. In 2013, Marian began integrating the use of iPads into its classrooms to support students' growth as communicators, thinkers and problem solvers. By 2019, the entire building had been renovated - the result of a $12 million capital campaign. The crown jewel of this initiative was the Haddix Academic Center, located in the center of the building and modeled after university libraries and featuring multiple work and study zones and integrated technology. A $7 million campaign followed to update the outdoor athletic facilities complete with a FIFA-regulation turf soccer field, a six-lane track, and the Marian Athletic Center, an indoor training center for wrestling, golf and softball.

Since its founding in 1955, Marian has advanced from a small, convent school to a full campus dedicated to the optimal educational experience for girls. Despite all that has changed, Marian's mission, values and hope for its students remain the same.

Digitally rendered art of Sr Marcella in her Habit
Sr. Marcella Sitzmann, founding principal

1918

The Servants of Mary are called to Omaha to establish a school in the newly-formed Holy Name Parish.

1920

The sisters purchased 20 acres of land outside of Benson, Nebraska, and construction began on Our Lady of Sorrows Convent.

1954

On March 25 of a Holy Marian year, ground was broken on the high school and an addition to the convent.

1955

September 6, Marian High School welcomed 42 freshmen from 10 parishes throughout Omaha. A class was added each year, and the first class graduated in 1959.

1956-1962

Marian operated a kindergarten providing the school with its only male graduates. 

1964

A new addition that provided more classrooms, science labs, administrative offices, a chapel, a larger library and a reception foyer was completed.

1966

The gym and cafeteria are completed.

1967

Marian’s enrollment peaked at 836 students.

1972

The passing of Title IX of the Educational Amendments. Since then, Marian has accumulated 64 state athletic titles.

1993

Marian receives the Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Award; one of only three schools to receive special recognition in math.

1994

Students spent the summer wiring the school for the Internet.

1997

The first construction project in 30 years provides a student center (quad) and new gym and locker rooms.

1998

Marian receives a back-to-back Blue Ribbon award.

2000

A campaign is initiated to support a science center, student services center and new library.

2003-2004

The six Core Values are identified and incorporated across the curriculum: compassion, spirituality, community, Marian identity, service and empowerment.

2013

The Mary Joy and Tal Anderson Performing Arts Center and STEM Classroom provide state-of-the-art facilities. iPads are issued to all students as part of a one-to-one learning initiative.

2015

The BLUEtique, Marian's in-house spirit shop, opened in the quad.

2016

Chemistry labs are renovated.

2019 

A capital campaign supports the construction of the  Haddix Academic Center, main entrance and lobby, renovated chapel, updated halls and classrooms, and cafeteria and kitchen renovations.

2020

Marian earns it third U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School Award. Marian has been identified as an “Exemplary High Performing School,” which means that the achievement of the students placed Marian in the top 15% in the nation in reading and mathematics. 

2023

Outdoor athletic facilities are updated to include a FIFA-regulation turfed soccer field, six-lane track and turfed infield, new press boxes for soccer and softball, an improved fan plaza, and the MAC, an indoor training facility for golf, softball and wrestling.


Continuing the Mission

As an all-girls Catholic college preparatory school, Marian prides itself on preparing young women to be leaders and lifelong learners who bring hope to the world. 

These women have not only embodied and perpetuated the Marian mission but were also outstanding examples of female Christian leadership. 

Leadership Timeline

1955 – 1966

Sr. Marcella Sitzmann, O.S.M. | Principal

Marian's first principal, Sr. Marcella is universally remembered for her graciousness, loyalty, friendliness and devotion to her girls. She is credited as the personification of the Spirit of Marian. She modeled and promoted "Esprit de Corps" so that all students could meet the high ideals of Marian.

1966 – 1969

Sr. Eleanor Galt, O.S.M. | Principal

During Sr. Eleanor’s tenure as principal, Marian experienced growth in many ways. She dedicated a new gym and cafeteria, initiated Marian’s first lay board and led Marian to record student enrollment. She continued the legacy of graduating competent and confident women of faith. 

1969 – 1975

Sr. Adolorata Watson, O.S.M. | Principal

Sr. Adolorata faced changing times as principal. Her leadership encouraged improving all-girls education in a Christian community and empowering young women to develop intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, physically and socially. 

1975 – 1979

Sr. Imelda Kirkey, O.S.M. | Principal

Marian students continued experiencing the benefits of an all-girls education. As Sr. Imelda said, “To be Marian is to live well, laugh often, love much, to change as time changes and to hold on to all that is timeless.” 

1979 – 1984

Sr. Carolyn Foley, O.S.M. | Principal 

Sr. Carolyn knew the legacy she would inherit. “By far Marian’s greatest accomplishment is the teaching of young women to be independent thinkers,” she said. “You see that self-confidence as our graduates walk out into the world with the belief that they can accomplish anything.” Her leadership perpetuated this ideal. 

1984 – 1988 

Sr. Jeanne Malick, O.S.M. | Principal

Sr. Jeanne encouraged a total learning experience both inside and outside the classroom. Her concern for the total character of each student introduced new counseling programs and encouraged outreach programs. Sadly, Sr. Jeanne’s term as principal was cut short by her battle with cancer. 

1989 – 2009 

Elizabeth Kish | Principal

“Excellence is not an elective” became the motto under Elizabeth Kish’s leadership. She guided Marian to a strictly college-prep curriculum, many facility enhancements and two Blue Ribbon Awards for Academic Excellence. 

2009 – 2014 

Dr. Susan Russell Toohey ’82 | Head of School

Dr. Toohey was the first Marian alumna to serve as head of school. Under her leadership, enrollment increased, Marian’s endowment doubled, the one-to-one iPad program was implemented, a STEM lab was created and significant funds were raised to open the Mary Joy and Tal Anderson Performing Arts Center. 

2014-2015

Rochelle Rohlfs & Kathy Tompkins | Co-Principals

Marian adopted a president-principal leadership model, and once the president was hired, the search began for a principal. During this time of transition, Marian’s assistant principals, Rochelle Rohlfs and Kathy Tompkins, stepped forth serving as interim co-principals until the new model was fully implemented

2015-2022

Mary Higgins '69 | President

Mary Higgins became the first alumna in the school’s history to be named president. A veteran of the school’s alumnae board and its board of directors, as president she oversaw fundraising for several major projects, including the Haddix Academic Center and upgrade of the athletic complex.

2015-Present

Susie Spethman Sullivan '80 | Principal

Susie Sullivan returned to Marian as principal after 11 years as a classroom teacher. She led Marian through school renovations and the pandemic, ensuring that students continued to receive excellent academic preparation. During her tenure, Marian acquired its third Blue Ribbon Schools Award, more than any other school in Nebraska.

2022-Present

Michele Romero Ernst '81 | President

Michele Ernst returned to Marian after a corporate career with several Omaha companies. Her development and executive experience will help to propel Marian’s mission.