Two schools become Divine Savior Holy Angels

Divine Savior Holy Angels. Two schools work toward becoming one at the start of a new decade. Divine Savior High School (DS) was run by Sisters of the Divine Savior, and Holy Angels Academy (HA) by Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM). For years, the two academic and athletic rivals mirrored each other in test scores and college admission rates. Both schools offered young woman in the Milwaukee area opportunities for a top-notch education, but by 1970 they also shared a challenge: both schools were facing a decline in sister-teachers, financial uncertainty and falling enrollment.

Holy Angels students in 1969

Divine Savior students in 1958

While competitive in academic rigor, HA was at a greater risk of closing its doors for good. Its downtown location at 12th Street and Kilbourn Avenue contributed to the BVM sisters’ decision to withdraw its sponsorship and teachers from the school in February 1970. Even without support of the BVM Sisters, the academy’s lay school board held on to hope that the school could survive ‒ with some kind of miracle.

Across town, Divine Savior High School (DS) was also struggling to make ends meet. Salvatorian Sisters were committed to remaining with the school, but they needed to find a way to boost enrollment and control costs. The 1969 closure of Francis Jordan High School sponsored by the Salvatorian Fathers and Brothers loomed in their collective memory. They did not want DS to meet the same fate.

It seemed as though the end was near for both schools. Until, the dire straits of Holy Angels Academy caught the attention of Vincent Shiely, a concerned DS parent. He voiced his concerns to his friend Joseph Tierney, Jr., who served on HA’s board. Neither man could accept the prospect of shuttering two strong, all-girls high schools serving Milwaukee families. So, they proposed a merger.

Pressured by a March 1st deadline, Shiely and Tierney approached the schools’ administrators and scrambled to finalize details. Response to the proposed merger was positive, and on March 13th the Salvatorian and BVM Sisters agreed to affiliate the two schools. As the end of the 1969-70 school year approached, DS hosted a special open house for still-stunned HA students and their parents (Photo at the top of the page: Sister Rosemary Seeley, SDS giving HA students and parents a tour of the sciences department). Planners hoped that an afternoon of meeting teachers and administrators in the new environment would quiet some of the intense emotions surrounding the sudden closure of their cherished, nearly 80-year-old high school.

Not wanting to prolong the heartache, BVM sisters cleaned out the school building and sold it to the neighboring Mount Sinai Hospital shortly after a commencement ceremony for the Class of 1970. Come fall, 197 Holy Angels students were set to transfer to the newly formed Divine Savior Holy Angels High School (DSHA).

Teachers, Sisters Carol Thresher and Grace Mary Croft, and Mary Mross, take a break in the school’s parking lot

From a present-day perspective, we know the affiliation worked out better than many expected, but it was not without many years of concerted effort. In Valiant Women, a history of DSHA published in 2017, author Frank Miller describes the nerves of former Holy Angels’ teacher Mary Mross on her first day at the new school.

“As she began to unpack classroom materials from her car, two women emerged from the building, smiling, laughing, and offering to help. They were her new social studies department colleagues, Salvatorian Sisters Grace Mary Croft, DS ’56, and Carol Thresher, DS ’59, and they welcomed Mross effusively. Their friendliness and enthusiasm put her immediately at ease. This could work, she thought.”

Sister-teacher, Sister Mary Lee Grady, in 1980

Former DSHA teachers, Sisters Grace Mary Croft and Mary Lee Grady, still take the time to get to know new students

Thanks to Mary Mross, Sisters Grace Mary and Carol, and many other teachers from both schools, longtime traditions were preserved alongside the new. Students, especially DSHA Student Council officers, were also eager to make the melding of two beloved institutions stick.

Today, the wings of Divine Savior Holy Angels High School spread out along 100th Street north of Capitol Drive on Milwaukee’s west side. More than 15,000 women proudly stay connected to DSHA, and our Salvatorian Sisters continue their religious sponsorship of the school.  Their commitment includes serving on the DSHA Board of Directors, imparting our Salvatorian Core Values through faculty/staff inservice programs, and taking part in school events. The all-sister faculty of the 1950s may be gone, but the legacy of valiant women religious endures. That legacy is a dedication “to develop students into capable young women of faith, heart and intellect who accept the Gospel call to live lives that will make a difference.”

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