The Founding of St. Pius X High School

It may seem that only recently Jefferson County has taken significant steps forward in growth and progress. However, over fifty years ago, there were progressive people who envisioned a Catholic secondary high school to serve county students. As the county continues to prosper, St. Pius X High School, established in its tradition as a school offering excellence in all areas of education, enters a new century.

 There were nine members of the original core group who conducted the capital campaign which made the dream of St. Pius X High School a reality: Fr. Ira Bell, Mr. Herb Besand, Mr. Amos Govero, Mr. Fred Isenman, Mr. Francis Kist, Msgr. Edward Meier, Msgr. Charles Mottin, Mr. William J. Pagano Sr. and Mr. John Peterein. In 1998, these men were the first members inducted into the St. Pius X Hall of Fame. 

 In 1996, Mr. Herb Besand and Mr. Francis Kist agreed to an interview to recall the history of how the school was planned and built. A photo essay book, “Planned Progress for Catholic Secondary Education,” was published at the time of the capital campaign. As it details the construction of the school, its title certainly seems a fitting description of our story…

Mr. Besand and Mr. Kist recalled it was the idea of Msgr. Charles Mottin (then Fr. Mottin) to build a Catholic high school in Jefferson County. In the mid-1950’s, the parishes of the county were undergoing their own construction projects as grade school populations quickly grew. Even then, Arnold was a rapidly growing city. By 1956, Our Lady parish was founded to serve part of Festus.  As Msgr. Mottin looked ahead, he recognized the need for a Catholic high school.

Clearly, the generous support of all Catholics in the area was needed to complete this educational facility. This was to be a regional project, enlisting support from each of the seven parishes in the county. The projected cost of the school campus was $1,300,000. An initial capital campaign would raise $300,00 (actual amount received was closer to $450,000). The Archdiocesan Expansion Fund would contribute $500,000. The balance of $500,000 was a debt to be assumed by the parishes according to each student population.

Shirtsleeves were rolled up and pencils were sharpened. Mr. Amos Govero received a lot of credit from Mr. Besand and Mr. Kist for being a true community-spirited gentleman of vision for our area. Mr. Kist added, “Amos would get you to do things you didn’t know you could do.” Mr. Govero was the general chairman of the campaign and spent many hours attending meetings throughout the county, explaining the project and establishing parish support. When Msgr. Meier, then pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, recruited Mr. Besand to join the executive committee, Mr. Besand asked Mr. Kist to help.

Meeting in the Guethle Building, adjacent to Sacred Heart property’s north side, Mr. Besand and Mr. Kist smiled to recall how this so-called building was barely large enough to hold the committee members, a table, and chairs. Meeting three times a week for four months, this group organized every detail of the campaign. 

Mr. Besand reflected for a moment to share his experience of first being asked to contribute to the capital campaign to build Sacred Heart School. Pete Gettinger was the church member who called on him and he surprised Mr. Besand with his suggestion to take a loan against his life insurance policy for $100. Mr. Besand agreed to do this and explained why: “Every time a little child folds his or her hands to pray in that school, I feel I benefit because I ‘own’ a few of the bricks in that building.” When it came time to build St. Pius X, Mr. Besand felt it was his turn to be “Pete Gettinger” for the next generation.

Mr. & Mrs. Kist also made a gift to the campaign. Mr. Kist recalls thinking “what you give will come back to you many, many times.” He convinced his brother to contribute, as well, and in succeeding years, the brother’s dairy business nearly doubled.

Mr. Besand and Mr. Kist credited Mr. Peterein with being the “mastermind” behind the Sacred Heart Parish portion of the St. Pius X campaign. There was little resistance to suggested pledges due to Mr. Peterein’s impeccable research so parishioners were asked for reasonable gifts. “When we decided to do something, we put our heart and soul into it.” Mr. Besand stated.

The photo essay book refers to the “expanse of brick and mortar that comprises the new St. Pius X High School as a jewel.” Mr. Besand and Mr. Kist recalled how exciting it was when the new building and campus opened in 1959. Their memories of the day-to-day labors of so many give a warm human touch to what is now St. Pius X history. First, there was an idea, then plans on paper, a capital campaign and after four years, a Catholic high school campus—it was a united effort of prayer and perspiration.

As St. Pius X High School thrives in its sixth decade of operation, the student population includes more and more children of alumni. In 2000, the first third-generation St. Pius X student arrived. United efforts of administration, staff, parents, and alumni maintain a high standard of Catholic secondary education, originating from gifts faithfully given for many generations of students to come.