As BSM turns 40, alumni reflect on the past and the legacy


Taya Rettler

Band teacher Mr. Paul Keefe, alum from the first graduating class of Benilde-St. Margaret’s, and his son, sophomore Matt Keefe, carry on their family’s generations at BSM.

Forty-three years ago, Benilde High School was on the verge of closure when financial struggles overwhelmed the Christian Brothers running the school during that period. Thanks to students’ resilience and Benedictine priests, Benilde remained open and has been able to thrive as the co-ed school known today for its academic excellence and athletic prowess.

Helping keep Benilde open in 1970 was current BSM President Dr. Bob Tift. “In January of my junior year, the Christian Brothers announced that they were closing the school. A bunch of students and parents organized a big ‘Save Benilde’ rally in the Great Hall and invited the media. The Benedictine priests decided to come to Benilde and run the school. My senior year the brothers were gone and we had many of the priests from St. John’s come down from St. Cloud to work at the school,” Dr. Tift said.

BSM merged in 1974 when St. Margaret’s Academy and Benilde High School were having financial problems, and decided to combine, creating a graduating class of 190 students. Mrs. Mary Neraasen was one of those 190. Now Accounting Associate at BSM, Mrs. Neraasen finds the single year of co-education has had an impact on her life. “It was rocky at first, we had to get used to new rules, but over time, I ended up making some really good friends,” Mrs. Neraasen said.

Tension arose between the original boys and girls of BSM with the merging of the two schools as the girls still had to wear uniforms, and they were forced to relocate from their old building into a new one. “I do remember there was tension between the older kids in the grades ahead of us, but it wasn’t a big deal for my grade because we had been together 9-12,” Terri McCarthy, an alumni of BSM and parent of junior Maura Hanson, said.

Throughout the last 40 years, BSM has created a legacy of athletic and academic excellence. In that time the sports teams have accumulated multiple awards most recently back-to-back state championships in girls soccer.Athletics were as important to BSM in the past year as they are now, remaining a strong influence on the culture of the school through several decades.“The school spirit was incredible. We had a huge rivalry with DeLaSalle, and some of the other Catholic schools. We were not allowed to play games against public schools, so we were in the Central Catholic Conference. We even had separate playoffs and state tourneys for Catholic schools,” Dr.Tift said.

The 40th anniversary of BSM is a symbol of the school’s value to generations of students and families.”

— Ms. McCarthy

Not only does BSM maintain a strong athletic program, but it is also known for its high academic standards. In 1998, BSM was named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, an award given to both public and private schools where students perform at a high level from the US Department of Education, and to this day, BSM is recognized as one of the top college preparatory schools in Minnesota. “The 40th anniversary of BSM is a symbol of the school’s value to generations of students and families. The culture, quality education, community and commitment to Catholic precepts are a powerful base for the school to thrive in a competitive school market,” Ms. McCarthy said

Over its history, BSM has developed a powerful spirit of community involvement. Whether it’s school-wide prayers for a member of the community or simply a red -out at a fall football game, community members are always displaying their pride in BSM. “For someone who is a single person like me, this is a great place to be to have it be your family,” Director of Alumni and Community Events and past school librarian Ms. Mary Fran O’Keefe said.

The community shows its unity in celebration and spirit, but also through difficulty, most recently last spring’s staff cuts and Jack Jablonski’s accident in early 2012. “In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians he says, ‘When we are weak, is when we are strong.’ It is the difficult times here at BSM that we have truly felt God’s presence giving us the strength that we needed to deal with the situations that have occurred,” Campus Minister Mike Jeremiah said.

BSM has seen many construction changes throughout the legacy it has left behind. A new chapel, athletic complex, and library are among the modernizations. In 2000 a campaign called “Enriching our Legacy of Excellence” started, and as part of this a library, classroom wing, new chapel, performing arts center and a few other spaces were built. “We used to play hockey right outside of where my office is right now and the Great Hall had windows that folded open and you could climb out onto the roof,” Mr. Paul Keefe, 1975 alum and current band director, said.

To celebrate the 40 years of triumphs, tragedies, and renovations BSM has encountered, the Alumni Association is throwing a birthday spin on several annual events. “We are not hosting a specific 40th birthday alumni event, but instead we are adding a birthday twist to our annual events. Homecoming, the alumni family Christmas party, and alumni sport reunions all share the 40th birthday theme,” Associate Director of Alumni Relations Sandy Barry said.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s has had 40 years full of countless memories and academic excellence. This anniversary not only celebrates the history of BSM, but also the legacy of its parent schools. “The strength of our school is a tribute to the wonderful teachers and staff who work here. They are the ones that have to fulfill that mission and ministry each day,” said Dr. Tift.