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Bishop Machebeuf: Celebrating a 60-year history of Alumni

This is the eighth article of a 10-part series that seeks to shed light on the tremendous things happening at Bishop Machebeuf High School. Links to previous stories are provided at the end of the article. For more information about Bishop Machebeuf High School or if you are interested in applying, please visit machebeuf.org.

Previous Machebeuf articles:

Part 1: Honoring the Past. Celebrating the Present. Engaging the Future. 

Part 2: Forming Disciples of Christ

Part 3: A transformative education through Catholic Liberal Arts

Part 4: Dr. Bonta announces departure from Bishop Machebeuf High School; new president named 

Part 5: Creating Vibrant Student Life

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Part 6: Continuing a Legacy of Athletic Excellence

Part 7: Discerning life after high school and discovering God’s call to be extraordinary

Bishop Machebeuf High School has a rich and storied group of alumni. Its first graduating class was sixty years ago, in 1962. Found throughout the Denver area and beyond, graduates of Bishop Machebeuf enjoy successful careers in business, law, education, public service, numerous medical professions, service to the Catholic Church and our country. They further the lasting legacy of community, faith, and excellence first established by generations before them.

“What has not changed over the past 60 years are the qualities of Bishop Machebeuf alumni and the school’s commitment to holistic Catholic education for a wide range of families, something that has remained true since 1958,” said President-Principal of Bishop Machebeuf, Dr. Tony Bonta. Ms. Hannah Young, Bishop Machebeuf’s Advancement Coordinator, often receives updates about what’s going on in the lives of our alumni. “We strive to keep the Machebeuf alumni up-to-date with what is happening on campus and highlight the lives of our alumni.”

Over the last 60 years, a number of events, such as Pack the House, Homecoming, the Pat Panek Golf Outing, Buffalo Ball and Class Reunions have been held to help bring alumni back together, celebrate Machebeuf and support the school community.

Bishop Machebeuf alumni hold fond memories of their school

The Machebeuf community has become an integral part of the greater Denver community. The early generation of alumni retains an affinity for the former campus at Blessed Sacrament, which didn’t have a gym, track or football field.

John Norris graduated from Bishop Machebeuf’s Class of 1963. “Back then, it was a three-story building,” he recalled. “I remember Sister Juanita’s office very clearly.”

One of Norris’ fondest memories was racing with a friend to their off-campus football practice after school one day when the practice field was at Colorado College near Montview Boulevard and Quebec Street. “I must have been talking one day about the long run we had to make to the practice field, and Anthony said, ‘Oh, that’s nothing.’ He went and ran it with me down from Fairfax down to Quebec — he thought nothing of it!”

Annie (Schmitz) McBournie graduated from Bishop Machebeuf, Class of 1983.  Her family lived about eight blocks from the school in Park Hill and walked to school. “When we went to Machebeuf, there was no gym or fields. We just had one building. We used the old Lutheran High School football field on Federal Boulevard and the gym at a YMCA. We had practices in parks around town. There was a small strip of grass in front of the building, and the big treat was when you were a senior, you could eat on the grass. I treasure the friendships I made there as I am still close with so many of my classmates. It’s amazing how many people from my class are still best friends and still keep in touch.”

The Hegartys in 2018. (Photo provided)

Jennifer (Hegarty) Pipp graduated from the original Park Hill location in 1993. She noted that Bishop Machebeuf was “quite different” in those years. “Choir was big, and we had a fantastic gospel choir! Maybe once a month, Mass was celebrated at Blessed Sacrament. I remember having many different friend groups, and that was exciting. My friend groups included students from Manual, East and Aurora Central high schools. Prom was fun, and the After Prom was always held at a place called Celebrity Sports Center, which is now gone but used to be at Cherry and Leetsdale. Homecoming was always so fun, too, because each class made a float [for the parade].”

The floats are one of McBournie’s favorite memories, too. “Every class made a float for the homecoming parade, and we would go to people’s houses and make tissue paper flowers at night and on the weekends.” She also loved the Friday night football games, park parties, and the girls’ basketball team, which held the state record for consecutive wins for many, many years.

Bishop Machebeuf graduates share alumni status with generations of past family members

Bishop Machebeuf has a history of legacy families. Many current students’ parents, aunts, uncles and even grandparents attended Bishop Machebeuf.

Jennifer Pipp is part of an extended family of Bishop Machebeuf graduates, and she currently has a daughter who attends the high school. Pipp said, “My mom is the oldest of eight in the Hegarty family. She and all of her siblings graduated from Bishop Machebeuf. I am the oldest of six, and my siblings and I all graduated from Bishop Machebeuf as well.”

Maria Fleming, a current Bishop Machebeuf senior, Class of 2022, is a Hegarty grandchild. She reflected on her family’s history at the school, saying, “Having a strong family legacy at Bishop Machebeuf has made the school feel like home for the past four years, and it makes me want to fight for the school and its future all the more.”

Bishop Machebeuf alumni continue a legacy of vocations to the priesthood and religious life

Many vocations to the priesthood and religious life have come from Bishop Machebeuf. Perhaps one of the most famous is Shelly Pennefather. Pennefather led the Bishop Machebeuf High School girls’ basketball team to victory in every game she played, including three State Championships. Pennefather went on to play college basketball for Villanova and, eventually, played professionally in Japan. Amid all this success, and to the shock of her friends and family, Pennefather left it all in 1991 and drove to Alexandria, Va., where she entered the Monastery of the Poor Clare and became a cloistered nun, taking the name Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. Pennefather’s story was featured in a short documentary on ESPN, which reported how she gave up the opportunity to be the highest-paid women’s basketball player to live instead a radical, solitary life of prayer in service to the Lord and the Church in her religious vocation. A truly beautiful witness to her faith, especially in our world today.

Shelly Pennefather (right) is one of BMHS’ most storied alumni, having been an all-star basketball player before becoming a cloistered nun later in life. (File photo)

Numerous other Bishop Machebeuf graduates have discovered vocations to the priesthood and religious life, including Monsignor Bernard “Bernie” Schmitz, Class of 1966. He attributes his vocation to the priesthood, in part, to his time at Bishop Machebeuf on the old campus. “We had Mass daily across the street at Blessed Sacrament. We had priests who were teaching us and also sisters. The sisters of Loreto were there at that time. I think my vocation was born in grade school, but certainly there at Bishop Machebeuf, it was enhanced.”

Bishop Machebeuf’s lasting legacy continues

McBournie currently runs the Schmitz Family Foundation, which provides scholarships in over 50 Colorado Catholic schools. It has been her joy to continue to support the school she loves and the students who attend there. “We have many students at Bishop Machebeuf and are so proud to be part of watching these students graduate and move on to do amazing things! It is a great pleasure to hear the stories of Bishop Machebeuf’s grads. It is amazing to see how education and faith can center students to have the drive and ability to go out into this world, change lives and make the world a better place.”

Thomas McCarty is Bishop Machebeuf’s Athletic Director and a graduate of the class of 2015. He is inspired by the “Buffalo spirit of resilience,” dating back to the school’s earliest days. “I remember hearing stories from my dad how at the old Machebeuf campus they did not have sports facilities. That meant students would have to wake up early or stay late to take the bus to practice at neighboring Catholic schools. Even when I attended as a student, many families and students would travel hours to get to and from school, stay late to play sports or participate in activities. Today, I see this same Buffalo spirit of resilience in the current student body through the program changes and challenges dealing with COVID-19.”

The “old” Bishop Machebeuf High School building. (File photo)

Norris’s blessed life has led him on a journey through years spent studying in the seminary, serving our nation in the Air Force both in Washington, D.C. and overseas, and two and a half decades in the oil industry. He is married with six children and fifteen grandchildren and manages the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry in his home parish outside Houston. Looking back on the impact Bishop Machebeuf played in his life and what it meant to him, Norris cherishes the relationships he made there and is most grateful for his connection to the Bishop Machebeuf community — a connection to a community he holds dear even today, nearly 60 years later. “I loved my classmates. But that connection means not only my classmates but also my teachers. I realize that I have grown on their shoulders. The Sisters like Thomasine, Angela and Elise were role models for a young man looking toward the priesthood. Next to them are the men, family men of high moral standards and commitment to the ideal of training boys in the art of becoming a man. They upheld and supported the values with which my father had raised me and challenged me to be all I could be. Even today, I remember the likes of Lankenau, Raclowski, Keene, Jaster, Alberry. Unsung heroes, all, but much loved by so many of us who knew them.”

Allen Dreher graduated in 1963 and is still close friends with Norris. The two maintain and value each other’s friendship despite the years and geographic distance. At home in Denver, Dreher meets with many of his Bishop Machebeuf classmates for lunch, usually once a month. “I have a core group that I am in contact with regularly and others with whom I get together and play golf. The first three alumni classes try to stay connected. These are some of the best people you would ever have the honor to know. We try to be there for each other.”

Like most high school students at the time, Dreher said he “just wanted to graduate and get out of there.” But now? “As the years passed and the further I got away from Bishop Machebeuf, the more I realized the school’s tremendous impact on my life. More than academics, but my friendships. My network. My comfort. I came away with much more than I could have ever imagined, and I am grateful for all that it gave me.”

Despite having 60 different graduation years after their names, generations of Bishop Machebeuf alumni share a unique story of faith, tradition, community and Catholic education. The current Bishop Machebeuf community is enriched by all those who walked its halls before them, both at Lowry and the Blessed Sacrament campuses.

John Wojtasek
John Wojtasek
John loves walking alongside brands and causes he believes in. Using proven storytelling and marketing frameworks, he develops clear messaging and communication that helps them serve more people with their life-changing solutions. A lifelong Catholic, John has served as a FOCUS Missionary from 2013-2016 and is passionate about building up the Kingdom and Family of God. John is a freelance contributor to the Denver Catholic.

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