South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Former high school principal an inspiration to many

Sister Romana Hechenberger remembered fondly by former students
Sister Romana
Sister Romana

As Notre Dame High School celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, administrators, staff and former students remember Sister Romana Hechenberger, who served as the school’s principal from 1955 through 1967.

“If you asked the girls who attended Notre Dame High School who Sister Romana was, they would have said: ‘She is Notre Dame.’ They loved her,” said Sister Marie Ambrose Peters, a faculty member. “She was strict, but loving and kind as well.”

She recalled Sister Romana would tolerate no talking in the hallways at school.

“In those days, you made straight corners when you walked the halls and you walked in strict silence. That’s the way 500 girls went through that school.”

Notre Dame was so important to Sister Gail Guelker, current president of the high school, she changed buses 10 times and rode nearly three hours to attend.

“My mother went to work so we could afford to send me here,” she said. “She was always the sign of perfection for me. When we came in the morning, she would be in the doorway. There was a kindness about her.”

Sister Jan Berberich knits her brows together when she recalls her former principal.

“She had kind of a stern glare, her eyebrows — she’d kind of stare you down,” Berberich said. “I remember every morning over the PA … she’d blow on the thing to make sure it was on. Everybody knew to sit up and pay attention. You didn’t cross her path, I can tell you that.”

Yet, when Sister Jan felt the call to religious life, Sister Romana helped her gain her parents’ permission.

None of the women remember Sister Romana as a classroom teacher, but all regard her as an excellent educator.

“I consider her my mentor when it comes to administration,” said Sister Mary Ann Eckoff, former superintendent of schools in the St. Louis Archdiocese and representative to the Vatican. “I owe it to her for having gotten me started.

“As the years went along, she became very progressive in her thinking about education. We were the first high school which would meet once a week as a total group. It took us months, but that was the beginning of a very different look at education which many other schools adopted.”

Enrollment blossomed under Sister Romana’s leadership and when the decision was made to build a new high school, she challenged her students to contribute.

Within three months, students had collected a million pennies worth $10,000.

Today, Sister Gail has challenged her students to raise a million dimes to help renovate the science and arts building.

“We’re drawing on the school’s history,” she said.

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