Remembering the 50’s at McNicholas through the eyes of Sister Judi Keehnen

Archbishop McNicholas High School has been educating students since St. Joseph’s Academy first opened its doors in 1915 as an all-female boarding school, run by the St. Joseph Sisters of Medaille. In 1951 the name changed to McNicholas High School and became co-ed when boys were now allowed to attend. Over the 109 years of educating future generations, there have been many alumni that have returned to teach and work at their alma mater. One notable figure who is still a common presence at McNick is Sister Judi Keehnen, who graduated in 1959.

Sister Judi entered McNicholas her freshmen year in 1955. Keehnen said McNick has changed a considerable amount since the 50’s. At the time, Alter Hall (freshman hall) was not yet complete so freshman homerooms were on the third floor of the convent where the boarders also lived. Sister Judi remembers the completion of Alter Hall in 1956. “On move in day we had to carry our desks from homeroom and carry them all the way down the stairs to room 7 in Alter Hall,” she said. “I had homeroom with Sister Marcella in room 7, which we nicknamed ‘cell block 7’.”

The celebration after sports events was a bit different as well. Dances or “sock hops” were held after almost every sporting event like football or basketball. “We didn’t have the protective mat to put down on the gym floor, so we just danced in our socks. We decorated them, and I still have them,” Keehnen said.

For Mardi Gras, the students dressed up, but not in fancy dresses or suits; they were full head to toe costumes to capture the true spirit of New Orleans and Mardi Gras. The freshmen received a very different welcome to McNick than today’s freshmen. The upperclassmen had the freshmen do menial tasks like scrubbing the stairs to freshmen hall with a tooth brush or cleaning the gym floor using a hand brush.

After McNick, Keehnen earned her Master’s Degree in Industrial Arts, and Curriculum and Instruction. While teaching at the University of Dayton, she also earned her Master’s Degree in Public History and worked at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum on an exhibit called “On Time” in the clock hall. In 2006, she took over archives for The Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille. For years she has been coming to McNick every Thursday to help out with whatever is needed regarding alumni.

Today she helps Manager of Alumni Relations and Special Events Shawn Young with archives consisting of pictures, news articles, and other documents from past classes. Keehnen’s job is to organize the hundreds of pictures and put names to the faces.

“Her work in archives means a lot” Young said. “When I was a student here she was my teacher. It is nice to still have the Sisters of St. Joseph still present here.”

After graduating from McNicholas in 1959, Sister Judi Keehnen entered the convent and joined the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, who started St. Joseph’s Academy that later became McNicholas. Keehnen also returned to McNicholas to teach industrial arts in the 70’s and 80’s.
Sister Judi Keehnen, Class of 1959, (bottom, center) and her fellow volleyball teammates traveled to New Orleans in 1959. Volleyball was the only team girls could be a part of.

6 thoughts on “Remembering the 50’s at McNicholas through the eyes of Sister Judi Keehnen

  1. Remember that trip so much! Rembering the classmates in the picture who are no longer with us. McNicholas was a special place!
    Thank you for your special story❤️❤️

  2. I lived through the great transition from all girls academy until my junior year when the first freshmen boys joined McNicholas, we were changed from St. Joseph Academy to McNicholas and in our senior year we actually accepted boys in each class. In my senior year we had four boys join our class. Very nice experience, nice guys. There was Tom, Bill, Dick & Fred. We all got along so well.

  3. What a great article. Thank you Sister Judi for sharing your memories and also for being such a great teacher. I doubt you remember me Amy Cunningham “75”. Myself and one other girl Becky Busam, were in your Woodworking and Mechanical Drawing classes. To this day (I turn 60 this summer) I still love the smell of fresh cut wood, and I can take on any carpentry project that comes my way. I also still love listening to the Moody Blues (we sure wore some deep grooves in that vinyl). : ) You gave me a lot of confidence and taught me talents that have carried with me for decades. Thank you!! Love, Amy

  4. One thing missing from this article about Sister Judy Keehnen is the name she took when she first entered the convent. Many of us older alumni know the sisters best by that name (e.g. Sister Marcella, mentioned in the article), rather than by their baptismal name.

  5. We are McNicholas too, a construction company in the UK. Our corporate colour is green! and we were founded by Patrick McNicholas in 1949, an Irish man from County Mayo, Ireland. His descendants still run the company today. Do you think somewhere far far back in time there could be a connection?

    1. WE are named after Archbishop John T. McNicholas in the Cincinnati, OH Archdiocese. I do not know where his beginnings starts. If you find out I would like to know.

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