To achieve excellence in education is a constant challenge demanding new effort. Already in 1896, during the first recorded conversation regarding St. Mary's School between Monsignor Michael Francis Cassidy and the Sisters of St. Francis, he expressed a basic condition for the school he envisioned in O'Neill: "That it be a good school."
The Sisters of St. Francis from Stella Niagara, New York (presently, the sisters of St. Francis from Marycrest, Denver, Colorado) came to O'Neill in 1900 to begin the school "with a cross upon it, and it began to thrive and grow." Inspired by faith, a traditon of excellence was established and continued, upheld by the parents who sent their children as well as by many generous benefactors and supporters.
Teachers and students came and went; times changed. In 1978 there were two modern school buildings in spite of two historic fires. Recognition of quality education came as early as 1908 from the Nebraska State Department of Education and in 1950 from the North Central Association for Accreditation of Schools. An IGE (Individually Guided Education) Program had been initiated, and the school was recognized by membership in IDEA (Institute for Development of Educational Activities). This endeavor to improve elementary and secondary education was commended by both the Nebraska State Department of Education and North Central Association. St. Mary's was awarded the national Exemplary Schools Award in 1988.
Each year the graduates have parents and grandparents who graduated from St. Mary's, perhaps an indication that an excellent Catholic education is the most prized to be handed on to the next generation in the succeeding 100 years.