Holy Name’s Sister Acts

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:

Sister Martin dePorres and Sister Agnes Eugene 1961

  • 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!!

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21 Responses to Holy Name’s Sister Acts

  1. Liz Heaps Shiner says:

    Ugh! Seeing those back door steps brought back such a rush of memories. I don’t remember what grade my brother Ron was in, but he was running-as I remember, it wasn’t allowed- and he fell and hit those steps. He cut his forehead open and Mr. Hartman, the Boy Scout leader, was taking care of him in one of the classrooms. For some reason, they came and got me and took me into the classroom with Ron. Mr. Hartman told Ron he was going to pick him up, and then they would go to McKeesport Hospital where my Mom would meet them. I remember Mr. Hartman telling him he didn’t need to do anything, just be still. When he lifted Ron, Ron decided that he needed to go stiff. Well that sent me into a panic! I thought he died!!! I remember the nun-I don’t remember which one- calling my Mom and telling her that perhaps I needed to go to the hospital as well. Boy was I mad at Ron for scaring me like that, and of course being the devil that Ron was, he had a good laugh on me.

  2. Ken Burkley says:

    I attended Holy Name from 1958-1961 ( grades 6 thru 8). I had Sister Agnes Eugene in 8th grade of course. I had Sister Joseph Catherine in 7th grade. Even though I was only there for 3 years I have very fond memories of Holy Name, the nuns & my classmates. I remember Fr. Hanlon & Fr. Shaughnessey.

  3. Amy Slavin Corbett says:

    I grew up on First Street, just a block away from the Rectory, Church, Convent and School. I loved that block!! We used to sled ride down the alley behind the church…we called it “The Big Alley”…I went to Holy Name School and Church and loved it. So many memories!! I loved Sister Clementine (although none of the boys did). We played chase and red rover in the “school yard” and played on the church steps. I don’t know what they did to their butter bread in the cafeteria but that along with the little cartons of milk was so good! I took piano lessons from the nuns and we didn’t have a piano for the longest time…so I had to practice at the convent every day after school while the nuns cooked dinner and set the table (yeah, they had chores just like us!) My Mom dressed me as a nun for Halloween one year…I got my own private tour of the rectory and the convent and extra candy!! What a wonderful place to grow up!

  4. Bob Chermonitz says:

    Jimmy do you remember November 22, 1963? We were in 7th grade sitting in Sister Mary Immaculate’s classroom just after lunch. Suddenly, Sister Mary Daniel came in, tears in her eyes, and whispered to Sister Immaculate. She too seemed upset and we all looked at each other, scared that something bad had happened! Soon we were ushered into the 8th grade room, the only one with a TV in it, doubled up with the 8th graders, and watched in horror as the Kennedy assassination story unfolded. Later we were dismissed early and, in semi-shock, walked to our homes. I entered mine to find my mom ironing and crying while watching the latest news on TV. Mom was 1st gereration Irish (Roman Catholic) and her world had just caved in. I believe her tears were enough to dampen those shirts she ironed. She insisted we’d need them for church in the coming days. We did!

    • Jim says:

      I remember it vividly Bob. My dad closed his garage as soon as we were out of school that afternoon. It think it was the first time I saw my father cry as he tried to comfort my mom.

  5. Paul Duffy says:

    Great to see a pic of Sr. Agnes Eugene. When I attended Holy Name (52-61), she was both the Principal for the entire school and my 8th grade teacher. It would be great if someone could post a pic of Sr. Esther; she was probably our favorite nun, at least among the guys.

    • I’m sure I have a photo of Sr. Esther, somewhere. I am going tot dig through everything until I find it. Then I’ll have to learn how to post it here.
      Frank Mullen

      • Jim says:

        We’ll be waiting Frank!

      • I found it, Jim, plus a couple others: Sr.Mary Ester; Sr. Joseph Catherine; Sr. Marie Ersla (sp?)However, they are not as clear as I remember them being. (How does that happen, I wonder!) They have too much glare; yet, I would be happy to go through the efforts necessary to share them w/ you. How do I post or send them to your good offices?

      • Jim says:

        Frank, if you are able to scan them, you can send them to me at duquesnehunky@gmail.com. I look forward to seeing them and posting them too! Hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

  6. Colleen Byrne Travis says:

    I remember Mrs. Mc Connell and Mrs. Cusick. My mother, Erna Byrne used to volunteer at the cafeteria. I remember going there with her before I was in school. I had two older brothers Thomas DHS’59 and Patrick WMN ’63. My brother, Pat was in Mrs. McConnell’ s son John’s class. I was in second grade when they graduated from Holy name. I went to a Funeral Home in Duquesne a few years ago. I drove up First Street and Holy Name School was being DEMOLISHED!!! I felt so sad. My father Jim would be 98 — he went to Holy Name when it was a high school. He had three cousins who were Sisters of Saint Joseph.

    • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

      On second thought (it was a long time ago) Mrs. McConnell’s son’s name is Larry not John.

    • Liz Heaps Shiner says:

      Colleen, I did see your message a while back about us going to school together, I wasn’t ignoring you, I just had a lot on my plate at that time. I still tell my kids and grandchildren stories about going to Catholic school. And when I see postings from Jim I read them and pass them along to my brother Gene. Then we compare notes. It’s nice to reminisce, but it reminds me how old I’m getting. Well, I guess it had to happen sooner or later.

  7. Clarence John,Jr. DHS '53, Edison '50 and Emerson '47 says:

    Thanks for the memories. I grew up in Campbell Circle plan above Bull Run, worked at Alexander’s in 1950 and 51, then delivered for Petraitis’ Beer Dist. on Grant Ave. across from the Moose Lodge until graduation.
    The description of Alexander’s is good. Bakery, run by “Midge” was between the entrance and the meat couter and to the right was the produce dept. run the “Toodie” and “Anka” Drotar. He later opened the Huckster Bar on Crawford Ave.

    The class of ’53 has been close, with a reunion regularly until 2003. The reunion committee still meet yearly for a Christmas dinner and gift swap. Our contact is Irene Stang at IStang@selarioagency.com.

    I think your dad’s garage might have been a Kaiser-Frazer car dealer ship in the very early ’50s.

  8. Debbie Carr Gavlik says:

    My brother Tommy and I went to Holy Name too. My favorite day at the cafeteria was Wednesday because my mom, Flo Carr, Mrs. Newmeyer and I think Mrs. Kanski always volunteered that day. I remember waiting all morning to see my mom! It was the best day of the week for me!
    And the stage was in the cafeteria too. We did all of our Christmas plays, Talent shows, etc. in the cafeteria.

  9. Sally Cusick Brown says:

    One of the cooks at Holy Name School was my mother, Mrs. Mary Cusick (misspelled in the notes above) and my dad was Mr. John Cusick that worked at Carnegie library ( a lot of the boys in Duquesne knew him). In addition to me, I have 3 sisters, Roseanne Cusick Marshall, Mary Elizabeth Cusick Hicks and Ethel Mae Cusick Parana plus one brother, John Charles Cusick. All of us are proud Holy Name and DHS graduates. Duquesne was a very special place to spend our childhood.
    Mrs. Helen McConnell, the other cook, had a son Larry.
    GO STEELERS!!!!!

    • Jim says:

      Sally! I remember your mother well. Although I didn’t realize it then, it was amazing how she and Mrs. McConnell were able to feed the masses so quickly and efficiently!! Sort of like the parable of the loaves and fishes. I am sure one has to have a very special talent to make food enjoyable for kids and your mom had it. My mother always had my brother and I eat at the cafeteria instead of brown bagging it. I assure you, we never complained! It was great to hear from you and thank you for letting me know the correct spelling of your last name. I have already corrected my post. Gotta keep me honest! All the best!

      • Sally Cusick Brown says:

        Hi Jim, Thank you for remembering my mom, Mary Cusick. She and Helen McConnell worked well together and made just about everything from “scratch”. They did get roast beef in huge cans from “the government” and of course the 5 lbs. blocks of cheese and the ever popular peanut butter. A lot of thought went into preparing the lunches and I felt especially blessed because I knew what a great cook my mother was.
        Do you remember First Friday breakfast in the school hall? I always got chocolate milk and a maple bar. It’s funny how the sight of a maple bar in donut shop still makes me think of First Fridays at Holy Name. Good times.
        Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my friends from Duquesne.

      • Jim says:

        Sally, your mom and Mrs. McConnell were like every student’s “other mothers.” The love and care they put into their lunches was fantastic. To be able to provide a healthy meal for that many students who actually enjoyed it was a feat! I must add however that no one on this earth, not even your mom, not even Chef Gordon Ramsay or even Julia Child could have made the occasional powdered eggs we were served, into anything palletable! A very Merry Christmas to you and yours as well. – Jim

  10. Lou A. says:

    WHAT a coincidence. In eighth grade, I attended art lessons at the Carnegie Library in Oakland along with students from throughout the area, two from eight Catholic grade school in the Diocese. Must have been sponsored by some well intentioned benefactor. Anyway, my ‘partner’ from St Joe’s dropped out quickly and I was left alone to ride the 61C from Duquesne to Oakland alone, or so I thought. It seems that two young ladies from Holy Name rode that same bus, to and from classes each Saturday. Yep, I developed a monster crush on Mary Petrozza. Don’t think she ever knew, as I was way too shy, and too short to do anything but pine away. Hadn’t really thought about her for, what, 45 years? I, too, hope she’s well.

    PS JIM- yes, there was kindergarten then. I attended half day sessions at the Crawford Elementary School right there at the top of CENTER Street. And FYI, we were in that BabyBoomerBubble, with over 70(!!) of us in 1st grade at St Joe’s: I cannot remember her name, but our teacher was a young nun, fresh from vows/college. She only lasted the first semester; after New Yrs., we had another teacher. Must be a message in there somewhere.

    • Lori Achtzehn says:

      I think my sister, Cheryl (Achtzehn) Dudash, was one of those girls. She went on the 61c every Saturday to art classes and also went to Holy Name School. She and another girl went every week. I’m not sure of the other girl’s name. I’ll have to ask her.

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