When I started this blog, I thought that I would eventually run out of ideas about what to write. I was convinced that I had a finite supply of stories and once I exhausted them, I’d have to shift to a new subject. Little did I know how many memories would come rushing back to me once I began blogging. Add to that the countless comments from everyone who is sharing these memories with me and WOW, I am here for quite a while!! Thank you so much for your enthusiastic response and all of the wonderful memories that you’re sharing with all of us! As they say in Duquesne and in the Burg, “Yunz are fantastic!”
As I recall that wonderful idiom, I can still see the grimace on the faces of the good Sisters of St. Joseph whenever we dared to utter a “yunz.” I was fortunate to have attended both a Catholic elementary school and high school. I have such fond memories of Holy Name Grade School on First Street. It was 1957 when I first entered the seagreen halls of Holy Name. The preponderance of green throughout the school was an obvious clue at to why Holy Name Parish was considered the Irish Parish. In spite of the fact that I was a hunky through and through, we were members of the Holy Name Parish. I believe the main reason my brother and I attended Holy Name Grade School was that my father’s business was right across the street from Holy Name’s Rectory. Fr. Shaughnessy and my dad were pals and my parents were reassured that their boys would be taken care of.
The cost of attending Holy Name was not a bank breaker. Families were responsible to pay an annual “Book Bill” of $5.00 for a year of education. $5.00!!!!! I found a website that calculates the value of a dollar today versus past years. Based on an annual inflation rate of 3.96%, a buck back then is worth $7.82 today. Based on that number, it would cost a family $39.10 a year to send a child to Holy Name and $9.78 cents a week to feed him a school lunch. If anyone finds a parish that will allow me to enroll my future grandkids at $39.10 a year, let me know!!
I still remember all of the teachers that helped to set my moral compass as I attended for those eight years. If I recall correctly, there were:
- First Grade – Sister Incarnata
- Second Grade – Sister Martin de Porres
- Third Grade – Sister Emily
- Fourth Grade – Mrs. Mary Smith
- Fifth Grade – Mrs. Geraldine Juliana
- Sixth Grade – Sister Clementine
- Seventh Grade – Sister Mary Immaculate
- Eight Grade – Sister Mary Daniel
- Principal for Grades 1-4 – Sister Agnes Eugene
- Principle for Grades 5-8 – Sister Mary Daniel
- Music Teach – Sister Delores
- Cafeteria Cooks – Mrs. Cusick and Mrs. McConnell
I don’t intend to write a grade by grade recap of my grade school years. I couldn’t if I tried, but what I hope to share are those memories that come to mind and bring a smile to my face when thinking about them. I’ll be skipping all around the eight years that I attended Holy Name. As is always the case, recalling one memory will usually open the door for additional images, so hang tight and prepare for a bumpy ride.
Aside from the “hallowed green halls of Holy Name, I remember that there were four grades on each of the two floors that were used. Each classroom occupied one corner of the two occupied floors. During the years that I attended, 1957 through 1965, the first floor had grades 1, 2, 3, and 6. Grades 4, 5, 7 and 8 were on the second floor. A large bathroom was located between each room on either side of the first floor. On the second floor the NIC* office was between the 5th and 8th grades. (*NIC is the NUN IN CHARGE a.k.a. the Principal!) I don’t recall what was between the 4th and 7th grade classrooms on the 2nd floor, but it might have been a girl’s bathroom.
There was a stairwell at the front and the back of the building. The stairwell located at the front of the building off of First Street had two sets of stairs, one on either side. The steps were metal and were painted a glossy green. The stairs led to the same type of stairwell area on the second floor. The stairwell at the rear of the building differed from the front. The staircase going from the first floor to the second floor was a double wide staircase, but only to a landing that was halfway between the two floors. The stairs then reversed and were then two sets of stairs on either side of the stairwell. If you were to continue up to the third floor, which by the way was SO AGAINST THE RULES, repeated the same pattern as the stairs between the first and second floor. The school contained grades 1 through 8, but at one time in years prior to my attendance, Holy Name also contained grades 9 thru 12. Each classroom had the standard half glass doors leading into them. There were double hung windows that surrounded the two outside walls and would let in an amazing amount of light. The between lower sash was easy for the teachers to reach, but the upper panes took a bit more dexterity. Each room had a long wooden pole with a hook-type attachment on one end. The end of the hook would be inserted into a hole at the very top of the upper pane and then be used to open or close the upper portion of the window. The two interior walls of each classroom were lined with slate blackboards. I recall how at Christmas vacation and at the end of each school year, the slate was “oiled” by the nuns in order to have them fresh and looking like new when students returned.
Behind the blackboards at the front of the class were long and narrow “cloak rooms.” Not COAT rooms, but CLOAK rooms. Never understood that as a child either. There was usually a utility sink at one end and a wooden shelf that ran the length of each side of the room. Underneath the shelf were double hooks that held our coats and hats. We never had backpacks or even heard of them, but some of the kids used to carry “bookbags.” The shelves usually held our lunch boxes or brown bags. I wasn’t a lunch carrier normally, but would get my lunch from the cafeteria at 25¢ each day (more on that later).
Our desks were lined up in a row facing the from of the room. They were attached to wooden runners, so once you were in your seat, you didn’t move. You were pretty much stuck with your neighbors at that point. Seats were rarely reassigned, but on occasion, a serious breech of conduct MIGHT place a student at a desk a bit closer to the front. Those kinks were pretty much ironed out before the start of the year. I am sure the nuns would share student horror stories back at the convent, perhaps while sipping some alter wine?? It was always a crap shoot as to where you’d sit, but somehow, the more “active” or “favored” students would end up at more visible desks.
I remember very few things about first grade, after all, that was WAY back in 1957:
- What I do remember is how comforting Sister Incarnata was. I never attended kindergarten, and to tell you the truth, I’m not sure if it existed back then. The job of weaning a roomful of 5 and 6 year olds away from their doting moms must have been a daunting task.
- I also remember a little glossy black cardboard box that contained individual letters on what was a manila folder type cardboard. Usually, each student had a box to work from. This was not something we did on an everyday basis. I recall having to spell out words with the letters and then the good sister would walk around the classroom and review our work. I will admit, I really needed spellcheck in those days!!
- The other little item I recall is that it was in first grade that I had my first crush, Mary Petrozza! Of course, I wasn’t alone in my admiration. There were several other little guys who’s hearts were aflutter around Mary. I remember that Mary had this rocking habit when she sat at her desk. It was very similar to what one does when holding an infant and gently swaying in order to comfort the wee one. Mary, if you are reading this, find comfort in the fact that I got over it and have moved on.
I can’t wait to tell you more about Holy Name. It really holds fond memories for me. I would love to hear some of your experiences, so don’t forget to comment. Most importantly, don’t forget to check back for more stories. If you would like, you can click the subscribe button in the right hand column of this page towards the top. Doing so will alert you to new postings so you won’t miss any. Just a thought, not a necessity. In the meantime, Mary, I hope you are happy and doing well…..rock on baby!!