Pius XI graduates from 1959 visit alma mater: 'Best years of my life'

More than 60 years after they left, a group of Pius XI High School graduates and a former teacher walked the halls of their alma mater. It was an adventure that brought back cherished memories.

From the moment the bus arrived at Pius XI, there was excitement surrounding the untraditional field trip.

"They were the best years of my life. I really enjoyed high school. I enjoyed Pius," said Coletta Zimmer Kopp.

Kopp and her husband, John, along with Kay Zimmer and Tom McElwee, graduated from the high school in 1959. That school year, Suzanne Diesness was a teacher. The alums all live at Three Pillars Senior Living Communities – and returned for a tour on Wednesday, Oct. 6.

"New memories mixed up with old memories," Kopp said.

From the chapel to the hallways, remembering the dress code in the gymnasium, everyone step into a classroom brought back a flood of fond memories.

"I learned a lot, I grew a lot, made some great friends," McElwee said.

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McElwee was a Pius Pope athlete more than six decades ago. 

"Basketball and track were the primary things I focused on," McElwee said.

McElwee focused as he flipped through his old yearbook – thinking of the faces from his youth.

"It’s wonderful. In some cases, it’s sad because some of the former students are no longer with us," McElwee said.

Since 1959, Pius XI has expanded. Computers and technology are all around. The floor where nuns used to live is now where art classes are held. Through all of this, one thing has not changed.

"It smells the same. It smells like you’re back at school 50 years ago. You’re back at school now. I should say 60 years ago," Kopp said.

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The fulfilling journey came to an end with a conversation with current students.

"Stay in school. Finish school and give it your best and enjoy it," Kopp said.

Decades separate the two groups. But their beloved school provides a lifelong connection.

"I’m proud of it. It’s a sense of pride," McElwee said.

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