College Days --I Discover English

By the time I graduated from high school, I was going in many directions, with many yearnings -- boys and parties, books and study, art and music, solitude and silence. How could I fulfill all my contradictory longings? I would have to decide soon.

For another year I hung around Kansas City, at St. Teresa's College, letting life decide for me what I wanted to do. I was trying to prolong my senior year, with all my boyfriends, some of whom were still in town at Rockhurst College while others had gone away to college. I had trouble focusing on college subjects in an all girl school. In September I sat in the sun, still trying to get a suntan and make sense of a world history textbook for my humanities course. My mind stubbornly resisted focusing on abstractions. I was waiting for the phone to ring. Between doing assignments and waiting for the phone, I continued my pastime of reading. Books had always been my chief refuge and solace. Gradually I came to find college interesting and when I read Newman's Idea of a University, I was converted to the ideal, and wanted to study liberal arts untainted by any practical consideration.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet who taught at St. Teresa's College (now called Avila College ) were approachable and friendly and took a personal interest in me when I went there my freshman year of college. My French teacher, Sr. Jeanne Marie was a dear woman who made me love French.


Sr. Marcella Marie

My English teacher, Sr. Marcella Marie, taught me to analyze poetry and fiction through close textual readings. I remember the joy of watching her taking apart Browning's Prospice . I felt I wanted to do what she was doing. She was my model. Through her I became acquainted with the Catholic writers then writing in Europe. I was surprised to discover that something had been going on in Europe besides the war. Writers had been exploring the soul's yearnings! First rate novelists were also spiritual! Thomas Merton was my favorite Catholic writer. Now I added Leon Blois, Francois Mauriac, Charles de Foucauld, Graham Greene, Georges Bernanos, Charles Peguy, Paul Claudel, Jacques Maritain, Sigrid Undset. Indeed, without realizing it, I was coming of age in the renaissance of Catholic writers. Our laments about the "materialism in modern society"--a cliche in our Catholic Action cells, was echoed and anwered in modern Catholic writers. Suddenly my love of literature fused with my spiritual bent. Thomas Merton-- at once writer, scholar and monk-- was my inspiration. In his Seven Storey Mountain I had learned that he was an English major and a writer before he became a monk; I wished to follow in his footsteps.

I widened my horizons to include many other writers--Russian and French at first, until eventually I could find spiritual longings in many writers, and so decided to major in English (although English writers per se weren't noted for their spiritual depths) so I could devote myself to the study of the soul as expressed through literature.
I learned that the French had also begun the movement known as "Catholic Action," that there was a "priest workers" movement in France. At St. Teresa's I met older English majors like Geraldine Carrigan who knew all that was going on in the church abroad and who were active in a Catholic Action cell in Kansas City. The Little Brothers of the Poor, founded by Charles de Foucauld, became our inspiration. Geraldine was living like a little sister of the poor, tutoring the illiterate . When I asked her what the most important requirement was for such a venture, expecting her to say, "Love" or "Compassion," she replied "Get a good grip on your grammar."

 

How I discovered St. Mary's College

My life has been guided by inspiration. I look back on high school and see my inspiration in "discovering" Norman Shetler. "Readiness is all." A door opens at just the right moment in my life, when I am ready, and I rush in; I act on inspiration and gut feeling and sometimes these leaps end up changing my life. During my second semester at St. Teresa's my sister Kathleen was gathering information on colleges and had gotten literature on St. Mary's College in South Bend. She decided to go to Fontbonne in St. Louis, but I took a look at St. Mary's. There was a riding stable, spacious grounds set in a rural landscape, Tudor buildings, the prospect of living away from home with girls like myself from all over the country, and to top it off-Notre Dame University right across the highway! I decided immediately that I would go there, applied, was admitted, and was on my way.

Perhaps it was just as well that I hadn't gone right off to St. Mary's my freshman year. Judging from a letter I wrote to Kathleen during the summer of '49, I was still the same ninny I had been in high school. I was working in my dad's architectural office, while Kathleen had gone to Paola (run by the Ursulines) to be a camp counselor. She loved the camp, where Sister Roberta was her favorite. I monitored the social scene in Kansas City and embroided letters with references to her "boy friend" in KC. A letter from that summer turned up in her scrapbook, so I have a picture of myself as a boy-crazed eighteen year-old.

July 5, Tuesday, 1949
Dear Kate,
Heard about your gay weekend from Bob, Ashens that is. He said that after they left you Sunday evening, they were almost going to have to stay all night till some crazy family gave them a ride home--to Olathe, I mean, while they threw firecrackers at passing cars. Then the next day they drove down and came in about three yawning, and saying they'd camped all night--and Bobby Arnold had the beard to prove it. Honey, you're having a much better time down there than I'm having here. I bet you're the belle of Ursuline--n'est pas? Are the little campers still paying nickels to hold your hand? Save it and we can go down to see Red Shoes again.

Well, here's what's been happening to me of late. Thurs. night the boys were over as you know. Friday night I stayed home and read. Saturday morning I took Dode and Barby Rau out to the club. Barbara was having that bar-b-q Sat night and wanted me to ask someone, so I called John Burke from the Club, although Barb didn't know it and was practically having nervous prostration waiting for me to ask someone. I don't think I ever did tell her I asked him.
Anyway, we went, and I was as red as a lobster. Oooh-that Johnny Burke--ooh-la-la! I could go for heem een a beeg way--no? He gave me his pipe--which I will show you when you get home. It's dahling. He's leaving in two weeks for the Marine Reserves cruise to Quantico, Virginia. He asked me to play tennis with him sometime before he leaves--although I don't imagine it will ever materialize. I'm going to write him again this summer. He's been going around with Jimmy and Al lately--they were together Friday night and Sunday night. Oh! I fogot to tell you that Don Scheier came over Sat. afternoon. I read him some of your letters, one I was reading at the time. He's been going around with Mannis & P. Rhode, etc.--but Jimmy never calls him anymore.
That Jimmy--wait till I tell you about him--Honestly--all he does is chase from one girl's house to another. Every night a different girl. . . .Sunday I took (Pat) McIlvain out to the Club. Sunday evening we went to the Band Concert--Riley & Chiarelli & Beuder and some others you don't know. Don Scheier & Vince Canning were there with dates. Don came over and talked to me for a while, then when I looked back at the orchestra, some boy jumped down beside me and put his arms around me. I was so surprised I just stared--It was Vince and he was so close to me I couldn't recognize him. I could also like him--he's so strong and good looking and best of all, intelligent. Coming home about 11 we saw Al's convertible drive up 65th and down Cherry. He was by himself, but earlier in the evening he had been with Jimmy and John Burke--no date, I guess. . . .
Last night we went out to the Club to see the display, which was quite beautiful after it finally began an hour and a half late. While we were waiting for the show to begin, Mother and Daddy and I went up to the Club and had some beer. It tasted good. It was so bitter. Don't you think I'm getting hard and experienced? I've suffered so, you know. . . .
Well--goodbye. I might not write again unless something exciting happens.
Love, Rose

A hasty note--
1. I got a darling two-piece pink bathing suit--called "pink frosting"--uhmm!
2. Did you know! --At St. Mary's the girls have to wear unifoms. Pastel "golfers" (tailored dress) for summer and black wool suits (cartigan jacket) for winter. It sounds like an English boarding school.
3. Roger is back.

I must have been ready to say goodbye to all that, for when I went away, I never thought of them again.

LeMans Hall

How I went away to school and never looked back.

In the fall, my parents drove me to St. Mary's in South Bend. As we drove up the avenue, I was thrilled. St. Mary's campus had a wonderful appeal. Its spacious grounds looked like something out of 19th century England. It was set in the countryside, and the main building, Le Mans Hall was set off by a reflecting pool. Holy Cross Hall, dating back to the 19th century as the Freshman hall. The dining hall, chapel, reception hall, lounge, offices along with the rooms where upperclassman lived, were in the newer Le Mans Hall, named after the home town in France of the founder of the order of Holy Cross. I loved the idea of beauty--beautiful buildings on a lovely campus, dedicated to the education of women.
After touring the campus, checking me in, taking me into South Bend to Robertsons to buy a bedspread and bulletin board, unloading my trunk, helping me register, and paying for everything, they had to say goodbye. As I saw them get into the car at the East Entrance of Le Mans Hall, I noticed my father weeping-the first time I had ever seen him weep. But I didn't weep; I was on my way to a new life.


My stern Graduation picture
I knew no one, but, as one of the few new sophomores, I evoked a certain amount of notice and people introduced themselves to me. Another transfer was Barbara Jenkins, with whom I became friends. Within a small class of 100 who saw each other daily, I gradually got to know everyone, but some stood out. The Southerners stood out by their accents-Rosemary ("Alabam") Mundi from Birmingham, Ann McCoy from North Carolina, Thelma Hausman and Sherry Palmer from Louisville; the Easterners-Elise Curry from Hartford and Peggy Donahue from Boston, Eleanor Fails from Akron, Nancy Powers from Pennsylvania, Kathy Smith from Texas; the Westerners-Gloria Gazzara from Fresno, Betty Foley from Portland, Oregon; and many from the Midwest, including some of my best friends-Dorothy Murnane, JoAnne Hickey, and Marie Galoney from Chicago, Cynthia Kelley from Grand Rapids, Celeste ("Lettie") Miller from Waterloo. From abroad was Gertrude Fujita from Japan, an English major who was both artist and poet. In classes, in the dining hall, at convocations, at dances, and above all in the Rec, I gradually got to know my classmates and teachers.

Sr. Madeleva,

How impressive were the faculty at St. Mary's!

Presiding over the college and faculty was Sr. Mary Madeleva, a poet with an international literary reputation. She brought many of her literary friends to lecture to us, including Jacques Maritain, Baroness von Trapp, Maisie Ward Sheed and Clare Booth Luce. Further, she had established on campus a graduate school of theology with white clad Dominicans who had "Licenciates in Sacred Theology" teaching Thomistic theology in the solemn classrooms. It was all so wonderfully medieval!
Under Sr. Madeleva was Sr. Verda Clare, the vice-president, a French specialist, and Sr. Kathryn Marie, the Dean of Women. "Katie Mae," as we called her, gave us convocations on most Thursday mornings-attendance required. She basically upheld the ideal of the "whole woman" that we were being made into. She told us the rules and brought any infractions before the entire student body. I used to bring my knitting to convocation and sit somewhere she couldn't see me knitting.


Sr. Katherine Marie,
imposing Dean of Students

Sr. Marie Rosaire, beloved art professor, Bruno Schlesinger, beloved history professor, and Sr. Mary Immaculate, beloved English professor.

Entering as a transfer student meant that I had to catch up with the sophomore class, who had already had a course called the Trivium, that included grammar, rhetoric (aka literature) and logic, so I had to make up the Logic portion. (Later, in the convent, I would teach the Trivium's literature component to the novices.) I also had to take History of Art from Bruno Schlesinger, one of the best teachers I ever had. Fortunately I already had some background in architecture and sculpture and art from Kansas City and so did well in the course. His course was to be a foundation for me for the rest of my life. (Later in the scholasticate, I took Christian archaeology from him, and was exposed to the early catacombs and churches in Rome, the mosaics of Ravenna. At the time I had no expectation of ever seeing them.)
Other teachers who made an impression on me and were devoted to their subject matter were Sr. Miriam Joseph, who taught Shakespeare, Renaissance Lit., Tudor Drama and the Trivium; Sr. Mary Immaculate, another poet, who taught Old English, Chaucer, and poetry writing; Sr. Marie Rosaire, the artist, who became an inspiration to my artistic side; Sr. Pieta, who taught Church history; Sr. Charles Borremeo, theology; Sr. Sophia, sociology (although I didn't take it, she was popular with all of us); Stella Lange (Greek).

 

 

I identify with The Idea of a University

During those years before television and stereos there wasn't much to distract us from our studies, so I became very focused and intent about my education. I wasn't the least interested in education classes (which many in our class seemed to be taking) or in business (another large number) or Home Economics or sociology or political science or nursing. Why take those when St. Mary's offered a really wonderful, almost Renaissance liberal arts curriculum, of the kind Newman wrote about in The Idea of a University-Greek, theology, philosophy, literature. Where else could one find such a curriculum, harkening back to the medieval universities? (Even if I had not thought in the back of my mind that I might later enter the convent, I would still have taken whatever classes interested me, without any practical consideration.) I didn't even take anything so practical as art; I wanted to totally immerse myself in a Renaissance education, focused on learning for its own sake.

I had found my freshman year that I loved to analyze poetry, to do close textual analyses, and was glad to be able to devote myself to this pursuit and get credit for it in English courses. The English curriculum at St. Mary's was ideal; I have not found so well articulated a sequence of courses in all my later years of studying and teaching. We began with a course in Old English, using a text I still have: Word Hoard. I came to appreciate Anglo-Saxon, its concreteness and descriptive power. The Wanderer, Beowulf, and various other texts in Old English still have a power over me. Second semester we concentrated on Middle English, reading Chaucer-not only the Canterbury Tales but also Troilus and Criseyde and works by other writers: Piers Plowman, The Pearl. For a time I thought of specializing in Medieval literature; I did a lot of research for a paper on William Langland's Piers. We had three courses in Renaissance literature: Renaissance Literature (including Sidney, Spencer, and Thomas More , who became my hero, after I read the Dialogue of Comfort and the biography by RW Chambers), Tudor and Jacobean Drama, and Shakespeare. Then there was 17th Century Metaphysical Poetry; Eighteenth Century Literature (including Restoration Drama) from Miss Rosenfeld who adored Dr. Johnson and caught the satire and wit of the period; English Romantic Literature; Victorian Literature; Modern Catholic Writers. There was no American Literature, but I focused on that later when I went to graduate school. I also took a Poetry writing course. I loved to go to the library to do the assignments, reading the reserve material and taking careful notes, which I still have and which I built upon in graduate school.


Fr. O'Beirne and
Father Arnault

Besides the English classes, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take theology classes from the Dominicans on the faculty. Many students were doing double majors-in unlikely combinations like Business and Theology or Home Ec and Theology. St. Thomas was our idol. I took a wonderful Spiritual Theology class from Fr. O'Beirne. During the class, as he discussed the intellectual virtues, for example, I felt my soul fill with delight.

I took whatever else interested me: Greek--Miss Lange had us reading outloud, translating and even memorizing passages from the Odyssey; French, as a "modern" language; so many math courses I ended up with a double major in English and Math; and anything by Dr. Schlesinger (English History, Contemporary Events) . In one of those classes, when I was fudging an answer by embroidering it, he asked me whether I hadn't become too "imaginative" after taking so many literature classes.

How we became "whole women" --culturally, spiritually, socially, intellectually.

Life wasn't all classes; they were only a part of our education. St. Mary's educated "the whole woman," as Sr. Kathryn Marie never tired of telling us in her convocations. Our cultural life was not to be neglected. We were expected to attend frequent lectures and concerts on campus, even plays and occasionally an opera. The chalk board on the way into the dining room carried constant announcements reminders of assemblies and speakers. Often the talks or concerts were after dinner, so we just walked to the lecture hall from the dining hall. Although we split up for our classes, we attended these extra-curricular events en masse, with those "ditching" the exceptions. Doing everything together developed a family feeling. As seniors we went to Washington, where Dr. Schlesinger introduced us to the houses of government, Mount Vernon, the great museums, the Chesapeake. Truman was president and we did get into the White House where Mrs. Truman met us.

Our spiritual good was also taken care of. Daily mass at 6:30 a.m. in the Holy Spirit Chapel found many of us awake and dressed in our golfers and veils, rising as Father Schumacher came into the altar, intoning Introibo ad altare Dei. (The Mass was still in Latin). Much attention was given to Mary and the Rosary. At 5:30 p.m. every evening we assembled in the Great Hall outside Stapleton Lounge, in front of the huge painting of the Assumption, where we stood in a circle and prayed the rosary with Sr. Madeleva before going in to dinner. There was an annual retreat. The May procession in honor of Mary was always a big event, with girls dressed in formals, wearing wreathes, carrying banners, processing to the Church of Loreto where the May Queen, the Sodality prefect, crowned a statue of Mary. Sr. Sophia also ran an ongoing campaign to make us "courteous" in her inspirational daily blackboard quotes. I wish I had copied them down, as many did, to include some here.

YCS-Young Christian Students, an offshoot of the Catholic Action that I'd been in as a freshman in Kansas City, was big at St. Mary's and Notre Dame in those years. . This movement was part of the awakening of the laity-- Catholic Action meant that we the laity were to be part of the church. We were not to just sit back and let the clergy run everything. Father Louis Putz CSC at ND was the driving force, and Sr. Agnes Cecile at St. Mary's mentored us. We met and discussed topics such as our student vocation. One friend I made through YCS was Cynthia Kelley, who eventually became my roommate. Cy was very funny and wise, and always questioned the status quo. Our discussions led me to a lifetime posture of questioning the status quo. In the Rec (she was a smoker) Cy was always surrounded by friends; she managed to inject humor into everything, even her reform agendas. An education major, she received frequent visits from Sr. Agnes Cecile, who sought her advice. She died in 2001.

The crowd I was in-Cynthia, Joanne Hickey, Dorothy Murnane, Grace Shonk tended to be very pious. We were not the popular girls; we were the religious girls. Many of us went to Mass every morning, and we decided as seniors that we wanted to participate in the liturgy more fully by saying the Divine Office, at least a tiny part of it. I volunteered to ask Sr. Madeleva if it was all right for us to gather in the chapel in the evening for Compline. I remember going into her office, sitting down before her desk, looking up at her, and launching into a speech praising the wisdom of the church in spreading the psalms out throughout the day, with a prayer for each part of the day, and asking if it wouldn't be just perfect if we could join in "the night prayer of the Church" at St. Mary's, at around 9:45, just before we retired. Instead of the indulgent "Yes, dear, that would be nice," I expected, she cut me off with "Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs!" This from the great poet, who I later learned came from a Wisconsin farm where she probably got the saying. That was my first close encounter with renown .

Communal life was not always easy. The faculty, who resided with us and ate with us, tried to make us good conversationalists. We had opportunities to practice our conversational skills at mealtimes. We had to "dress for dinner" at 6 p.m. We stood and said grace together, until whoever was presiding (usually Sr. Madeleva or Sr. Kathryn Marie) sat. I liked to be with and talk to my friends or with one of the nuns I liked. Sitting at tables with the sisters forced us to think of "general conversation topics" as we served ourselves out of family style platters. My conversations never seemed to rise to the level of my classroom performance. We had to keep a conversation going till the end of the meal, when whoever presided signalled that we should stand. Breakfast and lunch were the same, except that we could leave when finished. I got my first taste of "community life" at those meals. Looking back, I could have been forewarned. On Saturdays we might sleep in and eat breakfast in the Oriole, the small basement fountain and grill where cinnamon toast and apricot juice were my favorites.

How we spent our free time and our social life

The outside activities I liked most were literary. I tried my hand at poetry, essays, stories. I was the student chairman of the Blue Pencil, the writing club. As editor of Chimes, the literary journal, I could tap people's creativity for stories and articles and poems my senior year. I wrote and illustrated an article "The St. Mary's Girl in Western Art" which I still think is pretty funny. Perhaps if I hadn't entered the convent, I would have gone on to become an editor.

Having a social life at St. Mary's was not easy. Just getting in touch with us was difficult. We did not have phones in our rooms, needless to say. We received phone messages at the "student entrance" near our mailboxes. We monitored these daily. . There was a phone booth nearby to return a call, but these were usually occupied. On each floor there was one phone for each wing. Those receiving calls could tie up the phone for an hour, it seemed. Many resorted to exchanging letters to arrange dates. Letter writing was a typical Sunday afternoon passtime.


Notre Dame our Mother

The fall was enlivened for us by the memorable Notre Dame football weekends. The weekeend would start with a Friday night pep rally, build up through the game, and end with a Saturday night victory dance. St. Mary's students could purchase season passes if we wished . The trees were beautiful as we walked in groups, down the avenue at St. Mary's, across the Dixie Highway to Notre Dame, past the Lourdes shrine, past the old buildings, across campus to the stadium, where the band playing the Fight Song rallied our spirits. Cheering through the game from the end zone, where our seats were, we felt part of something national. In those years Notre Dame was still winning. Coming back on the buses after the Victory Dance, we got out with our dates in front of LeMans, where there was a lot of furtive kissing in the bushes before we had to be in for our 10 p.m. check-in. Those who hadn't gone out could enjoy the show from their windows around the front entrance.

 


Strolling with ?

On Fridays when there was no pep rally we went to Rosie's in town for spaghetti dinner. Whenever we went to town, we had to dress up, and wear "hats and heels." We had to have special permission to be home later than ten o'clock. If we broke any rule like coming back late or not wearing stockings, we received "demerits" which added up. After a certain number we were "campused" for a few days. I don't believe I was ever campused. Going out on a date involved signing out and in. Needless to say, we were not ever allowed to go to bars or to drink (we could be expelled). On dance weekends, we paid a quarter for the wear and tear on the rug in the Great Hall, where our dates waited for us. Where could we go with dates? To activities at Notre Dame (movies, games, dances, etc.) Into South Bend for a movie occasionally or to a restaurant for dinner. A girl from our class who was found in a Notre Dame student's room was expelled our senior year.


At a Tea dance with ?

There were many dances, formal or semi-formal. During my time the famous Sunday afternoon tea dances were still being held, occasions when we appeared in the Social Hall before the assembled Notre Dame boys who had come over hoping to meet someone beautiful, like me. Later after we'd had our fill of dancing, we might stroll together around the campus, over to Lake Marion, touring the campus as if it were an "open house." I went to some of those when I was a sophomore and met people. Eventually, however, these dances were replaced by the less successful and probably short-lived "Sunday socials," where we could play cards, listen to music, or just talk in the reception rooms in East LeMans. Without the guarantee of dancing, I believe I stopped going.

Each class had its own annual big dance. There was a Freshman Formal in May, a Sophomore Cotillion in October, a Junior Prom in February, and the Senior Ball in late May. There were also all-school dances. The annual Charity Ball "festively opened the Yuletide Season" and was often themed around one of the countries (e.g. India) supported by the Mission Club which sponsored the dance. The Sodality sponsored a Spring Formal in April, and NFCCS (National Federation of Catholic College Students) sponsored a Masquerade Ball in February. These formal dances were held either in the Social Hall (aka the Lous XIV Ballroom) or in the Stapleton Lounge. In our yearbook pictures we look elegant in lovely gowns at the balls and in gorgeous dresses for the semi-formals. Oh, where has style gone?

The Juniors sponsored an annual Christmas party, which involved a huge decorated tree in the Stapleton Lounge, a formal dinner, followed by a skit and gifts in the Lounge. After that the carollers went around the halls singing traditional Christmas carols in harmony. What could compare with Christmas the way we celebrated it at St. Mary's? In early January, the Sophomores sponsored an informal Winter Carnival which began outdoors-e.g., we skated on Lake Marion, and wound up in the Basement amidst the steam pipes, all disguised to look like a Swiss chalet, where we had hot drinks and hamburgers, talked and danced.
There were also various variety shows, plays and the many dances at Notre Dame-The Sophomore Cotillion, the Barn Dance, Mardi Gras, Junior Prom and Senior Ball.
And there was a memorable senior trip to Washington, with Dr. Schlesinger, to introduce us to the houses of government, Mount Vernon, the great museums, the Chesapeake. Truman was president and we did get into the White House where Mrs. Truman met us.

What we did for fun:

Dorothy Murnane's family had a farm in St. Charles, Illinois, outside Chicago, where she used to invite us for the weekend. I remember our marching around the house singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and we might have had a beer.

Parents who trusted that we were being made into well-behaved, well-dressed young ladies would have had a shock if they stopped by the Rec (Rectangle). The women who went to tea dances in elegant dresses were a far cry from the girls who sat in the "Rec" wearing runny hose, smelly uniforms in need of a cleaning and pressing, with distracted hairdoes, puffing desperately on cigarettes before the next class. Neglect of our appearance was our daily reality. Throughout the day, in breaks short and long between classes and until 10 o'clock lights out, our chief, albeit humble, excitement was popping down to the "Rec" for a cigarette, there to hang out and socialize until it was closed during meals or after-dinner study hours. There we smoked (my father complained that he sent me away to college to learn to smoke) , laughed, played the piano and sang, played bridge, told stories of the weekends or classes and generally acted more like underprivileged high school students than privileged private college girls. At first eschewing the gab fests as a waste of time, I found someone to play chess with me. Later, I succumbed and let my standards down along with the rest.


I was involved in a memorable escapade that many in that class still remember. A rather large number of us were celebrating someone's birthday in one of the corner rooms on the 4th floor of LeMans. Since we had to study until about 9:45 we were trying to have a birthday party in the 15 minutes of playtime before 10 p.m. lights out. We got carried away, forgot the time and were loudly singing "Happy Birthday" and perhaps other songs, when suddenly the door opened and in came Sr. Kathryn Marie, who told us all to meet her down in the Assembly Room. Sobered and silent, we made our way there in our robes and slippers. Once there, she made us sit down on the stiff wooden chairs while she lectured us for about fifteen minutes on respect for the rules and the common life. Then she asked if we had any response. Barbara Jenkins, who happened to be a recent convert to Catholicism, stood up and in a voice filled with remorse, said, "I now realize that I have committed my first mortal sin." Sr. Kathryn Marie hastened to tell her that this was NOT a mortal sin, not even a sin at all. We were all glad that Barbara had made her realize she'd gone overboard.

 

How I developed a taste for monasticism


Old Church of Loreto

Although the social life was varied and rich, and although I went to dances, I was tending in another direction. I did not live for the weekends or the games; in fact I stopped going to the ND games my senior year and enjoyed being on a different track, spending more time in the library. Gradually as I got more deeply into my studies, I found my imagination more stimulated by classes and books, and by all the religious activities that we participated in. Amidst this richness at St. Mary's, I was gradually developing the temperament of a medievalist, and a monk at that.
Only able to travel to Kansas City for Christmas, I remained at school over Thanksgiving. A snowfall brought silence and stillness; the halls were empty. I could go to the library and read, or to the chapel and pray, or to the sewing lab and design clothes. I enjoyed the life of silence. I felt snug and self-contained; I had the world and the emptiness to myself. I had all I needed: books, chapel, an art department and sewing room for my crafts. I didn't mind that there were only a few students there. I could see that a life dedicated to working and praying would suit me. I enjoyed the "stability" that Benedict advocated for his monks.


Old Library

And I loved the scholarly life. The Tudor halls of LeMans induced in me a feeling of living in another time and place, combining the Medieval and the Renaissance, my favorite periods, times of spiritual and intellectual aspiration and awakening. In the library, I lost myself in the oversized art books picturing Medieval cloisters; I thought of the generations of holy monks who had worn away those stone stairs, ascending to their solitary cells where they prayed in silence. I imagined their peaceful lives as they kept silence, worked in the fields, read Scripture and St. Thomas in the Scriptorium, ate in the stone refectory, fasted and prayed in stone cells. The life I led at St. Mary's had many of the same elements, (with the addition of a social life and a cultural life). I could live that life forever, I thought.


Taking Comps

As English majors we had been given a reading list when we were sophomores-books from across genres, cultures and ages. I had been reading through the list and taking notes during the summers, while riding buses to and from work (when I didn't go with my Dad), or sitting on the back porch or in the basement. I always had one of the novels-Don Quixote, Candide, Gulliver's Travels, Pilgrim's Progress, Tom Jones, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Madame Bovary, Pere Goriot, Buddenbrooks--or intellectual texts--The Advancement of Learning, Utopia, The Courtier, The Prince--in my bag, ready to lose myself in. I loved organizing, loved having to fit all this reading into two years, before the end of my senior year, when I would sit down, in my cap and gown, for two 3 hr. sessions in one day, and disclose all I knew about these books. The great day came at last, after classes were finished in May. I remember the questions were far-reaching enough to make me glad I'd devoted my summers to the list. It was a peak college experience and one I always wished we could have replicated at Chicago State when I taught there later.

How an ending became a beginning

English Majors' Reading List covered in Comprehensive (plus some added later when I was teaching)

With the comprehensives over, we began packing up for graduation and our futures. I had by then decided that I would enter the Holy Cross order. To my delight I discovered that a number of my classmates were planning the same step-Dorothy Murnane, Grace Shonk, Lettie Miller, Goldie Habig, Eleanor Fails-eventually eight from St. Mary's would enter that August. When I told Sr. Miriam Joseph that I was joining up, she told me that her vocation came to her in the clearest way possible. Following Augustine's "tolle, lege" method, she had opened the Imitation of Christ to the words: "There is no higher way above nor safer way below than the way of the holy cross." She took that as confirmation that Holy Cross was for her. I had no such revelation; indeed, I was doing nothing extraordinary that needed such verification. In those days, vocations to religious life were not unusual. I had loved the life we led at St. Mary's, with regular hours for studying, socializing, eating, praying, all lived in the midst of beauty. I imagined that the full life that I had begun at St. Mary's would carry over into the convent life, where I would be able to continue to study and pray and eventually to teach.

In the final days, I was inducted into Kappa Gamma Pi, the national Catholic women's honor society and graduated, cum laude, and returned to Kansas City with my family, knowing that I would come back to beautiful St. Mary's in August.

How I graduated--

And my entire family came for graduation!

Memoirs

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