Duchesne Academy passes torch to lay leadership

This fall, for the first time in its 135-year history, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha is without the presence of sisters from its founding order, the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ).

The school’s last two sisters retired last spring, and to pass the torch, lay teachers and administrators at the all-girls high school were commissioned by the order’s superior general and provincial team to carry on their mission at an Aug. 29 Mass at St. Cecilia Cathedral, celebrated by Archbishop George J. Lucas.

The retirees, Sacred Heart Sisters Lucy Hayes and JoEllen Sumpter, also were honored at a reception after the Mass.

Although a sad day, many good memories remain, said Laura Hickman, school principal.

"I attended Duchesne, so it’s been part of my life for the past 35 years, and I have always loved every interaction I’ve been blessed to have with the RSCJ.

"They are the most loving, compassionate, peaceful human beings I’ve ever been blessed to meet," she said.

The order has been planning for this day since the late-1970s and early-1980s, Hickman said, putting in place a process to ensure that its mission of education continues, including regular communication and an assessment and accreditation process.

Both retired sisters have deep ties to Duchesne, with a combined 55 years of service to the school.

Sister Hayes, a native of Denison, Iowa, attended then-Duchesne College from 1949 to 1951. She entered the RSCJ in 1951, professing final vows in 1960. After 25 years working in California, she returned to work at Duchesne in 1984.

Sister Sumpter grew up in Omaha and graduated from Duchesne Academy in 1958 and the former college in 1962. She entered the order in 1963 and professed final vows in 1972. After 26 years at a school in Illinois, she returned to Duchesne in 1993.

Both have moved to the order’s retirement community in Atherton, Calif.

The order was founded by St. Madeleine Sophie Barat in France in 1800 as educators and was brought to the United States by St. Rose Philippine Duchesne in 1818. The Omaha school was founded by Mother Margaret Dunne and other sisters in 1881.


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