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'Like a bad penny’: Sister Stephanie, '55, looks back on her years at RES from student to teacher, principal, and president

'Like a bad penny’: Sister Stephanie, '55, looks back on her years at RES from student to teacher, principal, and president

“I am kind of like a bad penny that keeps coming back and forth to RES,” said Sister Stephanie Blaszczynski, C.R., Class of 1955. “That expression probably doesn’t mean anything to people these days, but when I was a kid, you’d find this penny and then all of a sudden you’d find it [again] later, and it would be like returning to something. But, it was always a joyful thing for me to return to RES.”

Sister Stephanie Blaszczynski, C.R. came to Resurrection High School as a freshman in the fall of 1951, “and frankly it was kind of a fearful time for me, because I had graduated from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview; so I knew no one at Resurrection,” she said.

Sister Stephanie said she remembers walking down Harlem Avenue and coming up Peterson, to the old school building, and thinking ‘I don’t know about this place,’ but then she saidshe “fell in love with the place, obviously, to make it a whole life commitment from then on.”

In high school, Sister Stephanie enjoyed sports including volleyball and softball. She was also involved in student council and became student council president her senior year, and met regularly with the principal at the time to address any concerns students had about the school.

During her sophomore year of high school, Sister Stephanie’s mother passed away and she recalls her entire class being at the cemetery. She said the Class of 1955 was a very close knit group and have remained close throughout the years.

“We used to more often call ourselves the Fabulous Females of ’55. We were a very, very close knit class of just two homerooms of students. I think 52 of us graduated in 1955,” she said.

A young Sister Stephanie

While in high school, Sister Stephanie entered the convent, and from high school went on to graduate college from Fordham University in New York with fellow sisters that were a part of the New York and Chicago provinces. Following graduation from college, Sister Stephanie came back to Chicago to join the Sisters of the Resurrection.

As part of her first year of teaching, Sister Stephanie taught at St. Mary of the Angels. A year later, she became a teacher at RES. At the time, classes were still being taught in the original Resurrection High School building, located at Talcott and Peterson. During that same time, Sister Stephanie was shown plans for the new school building that was in the process of being built, which opened its doors in 1962 at the corner of Talcott and Oriole. In the same year, Sister Stephanie started teaching Physics, and continued through 1969. Throughout her teaching career, Sister Stephanie taught Algebra, Chemistry, Physics, Religion, and Physical Science; but her love was science, particularly Physics and Astronomy.

“It was pretty much the influence of my science teachers at Resurrection that got me into the sciences. Sister Marie Claire was a science teacher that I really, really appreciated. I just find it fascinating...the whole thing with science is that in answering questions, it should be bringing up new questions,” she said.

Throughout her time at RES, Sister Stephanie was chair of the science department and was the moderator of Science Club. She said one time they shot off a rocket from the field, and had to notify O’Hare that they were doing so, but after launching, they never found the rocket.

In 1970, she taught at Bishop McNamara in Kankakee for  two years, which was her only experience teaching in a co-ed high school.

“I pretty much had the whole football team in my Physics class, and they were great, but it gave me the sense of, many times, that although the girls could be involved in many things in the high school, they shied away from the sciences,” Sister Stephanie said, which really upset her.

Sister Stephanie returned to RES in 1972, and taught there until 1978. She then became principal in 1979.

“And the school was big! Our enrollment, I remember, at one point was 1,547 – way too big for that building; so then, we started using the old building. Nothing had been changed the whole Social Studies [department] came over to the other building, and you may have heard some alumnae speak of that famous tunnel. That is when the tunnel started [being used]. They changed classes through the tunnel, between the two buildings, and we had all the Social Studies [classes] in the older building, as well as some art classes, dance classes,” Sister Stephanie said.

She said having so many students made her time as principal tough, but the Class of 1980 was a “class that I’ll always remember, in a sense that they would not let me fail...They were just a great class.”

Sister Stephanie was not principal very long, though, because at the end of the 1979-80 school year, she became the provincial, and worked in that position until 1989. In 1990, Sister Stephanie returned to RES “like a bad penny” to teach again through 1992, when she was then elected to go to the international meeting in Rome and was elected to stay as part of the administration.

From 1992 to 1998, Sister Stephanie served as part of the administration team in Rome, as well as treasurer for the whole congregation. When she got back to Chicago at the end of 1998, she thought it would be too difficult to get updated again in science, even though she loved science and loved teaching.

“My happiest times in life were teaching. I just loved teaching,” Sister Stephanie said. “I think high school aged girls are the best population in the world. They are enthusiastic. They are full of life. They have the whole world before them. You just see the whole world opening up to them. I just think that that is the greatest thing.”

Instead of teaching, Sister Stephanie was asked by the Sisters to explore the idea of RES going into a president-principal model. Then in 2000, Sister Stephanie was asked to be the president of RES, “so I was back at RES like a bad penny.”

Around 2005, 2006, she said there were fewer and fewer Sisters and many places were looking into something called “Mission Effectiveness,” to make sure the spirit of Resurrection and its mission statement was lived throughout. The school started searching for a new president, and Sister Stephanie would move into the role of “Mission Effectiveness.” But, right in the midst of that search, Sister Stephanie was asked to go to Africa and start a school there.

Sister Stephanie in Africa with students

“That then became the end of my wonderful Resurrection College Prep experience when I went to Africa,” she said.

According to Sister Stephanie, in the area of Tanzania where the new school was built, only about two percent of eligible students could get into any secondary school. So any time a missionary group opened up a school, it meant that more students could go.

“We only had about a couple classrooms at the time, we had no dormitory, so that was a whole new experience for me, in the sense of a boarding school, 24/7, not being away from students on Saturdays and Sundays – it was just a whole different experience for me,” Sister Stephanie said.

Sister Stephanie said there was a wonderful relationship between the school in Tanzania, Chief Wanzagi Secondary School, and Resurrection College Prep. They had pen pals between the two schools, and the girls in Tanzania even wanted plaid skirts, because the girls at RES had plaid skirts.

“Interestingly, because one of the alum’s sons was working for his Eagle Scout award, he did a whole thing of helping us in Tanzania to get sports equipment, like basketballs, volleyball, things like that and old RES sports uniforms. Our girls there [in Tanzania] wore some Bandit t-shirts and things,” she said.

When building the school, she said, the plan was only to take 80 students, because they only had two classrooms to use for teaching to “start with the first level, which would be equivalent to 8th grade, the first year of secondary school,” but 628 girls applied, and they decided to take 110 and
taught with 55 in a classroom.

By 2012, the Secondary School was a functioning four-year school and Sister Stephanie returned to Chicago. She was back ‘like a bad penny’ as a member of the board of directors through the transition of ownership to the Christian Brothers.

“RES has always been a part of my life for 70-some years, and it’s been a very, very important part of my life,” she said.