Many people wonder why our parish is St. John the Baptist but our school is St. John Notre Dame. The story dates back fifty years. In 1859 Archbishop Alemany appointed Fr. Joseph Gallagher as the founding pastor of St. John the Baptist parish. Parish children learned their Catechism first from home then later from the Sisters of Mercy in Auburn. As the nuns did not drive, parishioners would transport the nuns to and from Auburn and Folsom since Catechism could only be taught by the religious. While grateful for the nuns’ instruction, the commute took its toll on the volunteer drivers of the parish.
In the early sixties, Fr. Albrecht was determined to build a school for the parish. His first task was to find a religious order to teach here. The two orders closest to Folsom were the Sisters of Mercy located in Auburn and the Sister of Notre Dame in Marysville. Wanting to ensure one of the orders would teach at the still being built school, parishioners put their best foot and dishes forward. Fr. Albrecht invited the orders separately down to a meal and the parishioners “wined and dined” the nuns with their best china, cooking in a building which used to sit behind the middle church. The Sisters of Mercy enjoyed the parish but its members were fully committed elsewhere. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur however, appreciated the rural atmosphere and agreed to send two sisters to lead and teach at the yet to be completed school.
With an order to teach at the school secure, the parish worked in earnest to finish building the school. There were not presentations for loans to banks, business and organizations. Rather, as recalled by Mrs. Betty Dolan, Fr. Albrecht told the parish groups such as the Zita’s Guild (a strong women’s group of the parish) that money was needed, and the parish raised it. How? Well, the traditional way with parishioner donations, bake sales, etc. But more creatively was the Thanksgiving Feast, held a few days before Thanksgiving Day. The parish sold tickets and set up for the huge event under a canopy of oaks where the present day City Hall sits. Approximately two thousand people came to the event, which at that time, was much of the Folsom community. And it wasn’t a “cold meat platter” affair. No, the parishioners “bussed” hot turkeys in from Roseville restaurants, which had larger ovens to cook the big birds. When turkey ran low, a call (remember no cell phones!) went out to Roseville to send more hot turkeys. Potatoes, vegetables and even pie for dessert were included. Mrs. Dolan remembers trying to coordinate 300 pies coming in from all over the parish with some deliciously baked and others needing a bit more time in the oven. Once over, parishioners hauled chairs, tables, cooking utensils, etc. back to where they belonged. One of the biggest headaches was trying to find the rightful owners of all the pans, cooking utensils and pots. The events were financial and social successes and soon the parish had money to buy the material needed to build the school.
But what professional contractor and company did the work? None! It was done by the parishioners, led by Fred Zanetta, after the men got off work in the evenings and on Saturdays. On any given weekend about 20 men pounded nails, stacked concrete and placed windows. Finally in the fall of 1962, St John Notre Dame School’s first two classrooms for 3rd and 4th graders along with a convent (we now call it the “old rectory”) opened for students and nuns. The classrooms were simple, with windows on both sides to let in natural light. And as the students moved up the grades, the men of the parish added a new classroom until we had what is now the lower and upper levels, minus the present 5th grade classroom which was added later.
With classrooms in place, the students and teachers soon realized they needed somewhere for the children to play without being covered in dust and mud. Even the sisters had to balance on wooden planks to get from the convent to the school when the rains made sucking mud of the dirt, so Fr. Albrecht sold some of the land behind the convent to put in a black top. As this project needed special training, especially to meet code on drainage and grading, the parish hired a company to install the black top. The kids loved their new play area, but so did some of the local animals. A few times the ranch behind the second level forgot to repair some of their fence and the bulls would wander down to the black top. The principal, always one of the sisters, would call the ranch owner and ask him to kindly get his bulls. He responded that he would send over some of his cowboys, which is exactly what they were, complete with lassos, hats, horses and the call of “giddy up!” Needless to say, little teaching was done as the kids followed the round up right outside their classrooms.
With Aerojet families joining the parish and student population increasing, the school needed more space for large group meetings. Mr. Jim Kuntz came to the rescue by leveling an area behind the second level and “bringing in a building” from elsewhere which could be used by larger groups. Soon it was the place teachers went to use the latest teaching technology - movies. We could call it our first “Tech lab.”
But what about our sports teams? Before the parish hall was built in 1978, the students had to practice their sports in Orangevale. Mrs. Betty Dolan recalls driving the older boys down to practice at Carnegie Middle School on Illinois Ave. They were thankful to the public school for even letting them use the gym as Carnegie also had their own sports teams. SJNDS even played their “home games” there. Our own parish hall/gym made practicing so much easier, plus it included a stage for performances and a large kitchen.
And what happened to the Sister of Notre Dame de Namur? For many years a sister was principal and four or five nuns taught. They hired the four or five lay teachers needed to fill the final teaching positions at the school. As many orders, the nuns were strict and expected the teachers to be as well. They set the curriculum and standards for teachers and students. In June 1997 an era ended as, principal, Sr. Anne Maria Ryan, finished her school year, and was the last nun to teach and lead SJNDS.
However the dedication of the St John parishioners and the parents of SJNDS continue. In order to meet the needs of an increasing Religious Education student population and the SJNDS’ students’ needs for technology and space, the school proudly opened an entire new wing which includes a Kindergarten classroom, library, teachers’ lounge, technology lab, Religious Education office, student and staff restrooms, an art kiln, and the large multi-use room. In the spring of 2005 the center was dedicated as the Betty Dolan Center, in honor and appreciation to Betty Dolan, who retired after forty plus years of teaching and leading SJNDS.
Finally if you are fond of the SJNDS uniforms, thank the Sisters of Notre Dame. They chose the style in 1962 and little has changed. The boys wore white collared button down shirts, salt and pepper pants and black shoes. The girls wore white blouses with a red “tie,” the Windsor plaid skirts, and black shoes. In 2012 the only difference is that now the students can wear white polo shirts, navy blue pants and tennis shoes. Oh, and no more red tie! To this day the Sisters of Notre Dame leave an indelible mark on every student who walks the hallways of St John Notre Dame School.