On Graduation Day in May 1959, Mary Clare Lodahl resisted with vigor as she donned her ill-fitting white gown, clutched her bouquet of roses, shuffled her way in a parade of 160+ similarly decked out teens, grimaced for the cameras and gave a nod to her family. As the last chord of Pomp and Circumstances fell silent, MC, diploma in hand, left the hallowed halls of St. Joseph’s Academy.
Still known as “The Academy” SJA is history, closed in 1971 when Catholic girls’ schools were declared passé. The limestone Italianate structure that was the original SJA remains a commanding presence at the corner of Marshall and Western, in the shadow of the Cathedral. Constructed in 1863 the first SJA building is now on the National Register of Historic Places – and the Cathedral Hill neighbors still wonder about the stories the building could tell.
Meanwhile, MC has retired to Ajijic, Mexico, where she reads voraciously, hangs out with the snowbirds, and struggles with an ancient car, a yappy dog and the Spanish language. In recent days she has paused to reflect on the influence that her SJA teachers have had on her life over the past half century.
Igniting these thoughts of SJA is a unique event – the All Academy Appreciation Day, a walk through time initiated by grateful grads. On May 1 the SJA community will regroup so alumnae can say thank you to the teachers and staff who gave their all to “combat ignorance. ” Memory triggers abound – photos, yearbooks, memorabilia, including a replica of the original Academy circa 1851, scores of emailed memories from staff and alum alike. Helen Hedeen, class of 26 (which makes her 103 years old today) has reserved a spot – as have representatives of the Class of ’73, who didn’t actually graduate from SJA because the school closed at the end of their sophomore year.
Snippets of MC’s emailed reflections echo the thoughts of many:
I would like to remember and commend some of the teachers who made a difference in my life. In particular, I thank Vera Treacy, Mary Pabst, Sister Odile and Mary Jo Richardson. Each of these women was willing to extend her understanding and compassion to a girl who did not quite fit into the conventional mode.
Vera Treacy helped me get into a good college. She made sure that each student received a thorough grounding in grammar and punctuation. Though at the time, I groaned at yet ANOTHER lesson on the proper use of the subjunctive case or the semi-colon I have lived to be grateful for her meticulous teaching. Truth to tell I have become something of a snob regarding the use of grammar in the media. Case in point: A newish commercial features a woman who, seeking wealth, sends old gold and silver jewelry to the advertiser who will remove the gold and silver and send her money. “They are just things that happen to be laying around,” she preens. “NO! NO!” I shriek. “It’s “Lying around, lying around.”
If Keith Olbermann or Rachel, or anyone else, refers to one person having gone further than another, I cry “NO! NO!, it’s farther, not further.” Thank you, Mrs. Treacy.
Mary Pabst, no mean grammarian herself, introduced me to literature which I might have missed, such as Le Morte d’Arthur. She also recommended books which were not in the curriculum. She encouraged intellectual curiosity and thinking outside the box. Thank you, Mrs. Pabst.
Sister Odile made history come alive. She personalized it, and encouraged her students to imagine living in the historical periods they studied. I still remember her acting out conversations between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Felix Frankfurter. The New Deal became my favorite period in American history. Thank you, Sister Odile.
Mary Jo Richardson presented Catholic Social Teaching as something to practice in our daily lives. She taught that feeding and clothing the poor, helping the sick, abused and derelict, was a personal responsibility, not just a recommendation from the New Testament. I wish she could spend time with Sarah Palin and other advocates of the Prosperity Gospel. Thank you, Mrs. Richardson
I am deeply grateful to these women whose influence I will always treasure, and whose values, I have brought with me to Mexico.
For those in the 50+ demographic, memories of the lessons, indignities and transgressions of high school are often vague. Some rise above to consider how life has unfolded over the decades. These SJA women are taking the radical (as in “root”) next step by encountering head-on their youth and the adults who saw them through some tough days. In so doing they honor their teacher’s dictum that “the unexamined life is not worth living” which, that wise guide explained, was Socrates’ self-defense as he faced the death penalty for encouraging his students to challenge the accepted beliefs of the time and to think for themselves.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Vera Treacy (deceased in 1986) was a superb teacher – and my mom. Never did she cross the line between those two worlds! Mary Treacy