Schoolyard Memories

First of all, many thanks to Frank Mullen for gracious sharing the pictures from Holy Name contained in this post. They were taken in June of 1958 which places most of the 8th graders shown in the last picture in Duquesne High School’s Class of 1962. When I looked at these pictures when Frank first shared them with me, I felt a HUGE rush of nostalgia. I recognized every little detail; the steps behind Sister Richard that where we used to clean blackboard erasers, the blackboards, our desks, the huge windows with transoms above them, etc. The first picture is Sister Incarnata, my first grade teacher. What memories!If anyone has more pictures to share, dig it out send them along. Frank scanned these images to share with us and I am eternally grateful!!

Sister Incarnata entering her First Grade classroom

As a student at Holy Name Grade School for eight years, I became very used to the daily routine after so many years. Very little changed from day to day; we started at the same time each day, ate lunch at the same time and went home at the same time.

The part of our day that wasn’t set in stone was what they were serving in the cafeteria and what adventures recess would hold for us. After our morning routine in the classroom, we would normally break for lunch around noon. The entire school would eat lunch at the same time. The concept of staggering the times to avoid backups wasn’t embraced; however the nuns and teachers had their own strategy for sending us to lunch.

Sister Marie Ersla, 1958

I recall marching to the cafeteria as a child and trying to guess what was being served for lunch. The guessing game among my pals and me was simplified to an extent, by intensifying our sense of smell before we entered the school hall. The cafeteria had these immense exhaust fans, measuring at least 4 feet wide, which would belch out the smell of what was cooking into the space between the school and building occupied by Gerry Reed’s Insurance Company. For some reason, the aroma was event stronger during the dead of winter. Some meals were easy to figure out; fish, spaghetti and even stew were pretty obvious. The harder ones to guess would be things like chicken, hot dogs and other foods that did not have an obvious identifiable odor.

I remember standing in line for my lunch and being told to keep quiet by the “good sisters.” Students in first through third grade were served in pastel colored divided trays. The volunteer moms behind the counter would fill the trays and pass them to us as we moved down the cafeteria line. The thought process behind this strategy was that if we were given a tray to carry that contained plates, silverware and loose items; we would probably spill something or tip the tray. Somehow, by the time we began our 4th year at Holy Name, it was assumed that we had somehow gained a fantastic sense of balance over the summer are would be well equipped to carry “big people” food trays for ourselves. Based on my first day in the 4th grade when I managed to dump a bowl of Mrs. McCormick’s stew on the floor while carrying my grown-up tray, they might have been a bit off on their strategy!

Sister Joseph Catherine 1958

We were permitted to leave the cafeteria after we had finished our lunch and cleaned off our trays. We would automatically head to our designated spot in the area surrounding the school to begin recess. In the winter months, our activities were somewhat limited due to icy conditions. Running and slick surfaces made for a precarious situation at times and for some dangerous play.

Hunkys however, are very adaptable. Whenever a snowfall had created icy surfaces surrounding the school or on Muir Alley, the alley that ran between South First and South Second Streets immediately behind the school, we had a field day! Much to the nun’s chagrin, we would make the best of the situation and create some great ice tracks to slide on. The fact that the temperature stayed cold for so long, the tracks would remain for weeks at a time.

Sister Richard 1958

The imagination and inventiveness that we all possessed as a child growing up in Duquesne was truly amazing. When I think about the fact, that for 8 years, we were able to entertain ourselves day after day in a schoolyard that could be easily described as barren is pretty remarkable. Without the aid of any equipment, very little supervision and only an asphalt surface to play on, we were able to fill our recess time with fun, excitement and in most cases, the pure joy of youth! I don’t remember there being very many fights. Everyone seemed to peacefully co-exist. In spite of our youth and naivety, we somehow were able to respect one another’s “space,” get along and just have fun.

Too bad we grew out of the ability to “play nice” with one another!

Sister Agnes Eugene – Principal aka BNOC (Big Nun On Campus!)

The future class of 1962

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9 Responses to Schoolyard Memories

  1. Frank Mullen says:

    Re-reading this whole section of your blog, Jim, gave me pause to reflect even further. That is, from my perspective, at least, I can see that I cannot “go home again,” to the Duquesne of my youth, to what I would call “Solid Duquesne.” Yet, people I thought were in my past are still in my present. The generations of my parents and grandparents are gone, but they are present. Also, most of my friends in the DHS Class of ’62 are still available for outreach. I cannot go home again, unless I take a quiet look inside, especially when I read the many dear memories expressed throughout this blog. Solid Duquesne remains available, and I am grateful. Thank you – all of you.

  2. Mary says:

    Well I use to bring my lunch or go home. Or at least I thought I went home.. I lived right across from the school.. ( lapse of memory here) I think we were allowed to go home but not sure.. lol. Well when in 3rd grade I wanted to eat in the cafeteria.. So I got a week pass to do so.. One day was Spaghetti. . Well being Italian, I did not like it in the least.. I tried shoving it in my milk carton.. Sister Ester was having none of that and made me eat it… Trust me I did not eat the cafteria food again. … I really think we were allowed to go home, because I lived right across in the alley accross from the school..Lol Sister Mary Daniel was my eighth grade teacher.. It was her first year there.. Sister Eugene had retired… I use to go visit Sister Mary Daniel when I went to HS.. Oh and when I went I went with make up on.. Not a good thing to do.. lol.. . I really loved going to visit her.. Also wanted to know if colleen Byrnes is Beck’y sister.. We were very good friends in catholic school..

  3. Bob Chermonitz says:

    Jim, I recall the smells from the exhaust fan as we stood in line outside waiting to enter the cafeteria. I also will never forget those big chunks of cheese. I loved ’em, and the tomato soup was the best, ever! I believe lunch was 25 cents back then. To this day I’ve never found a better toasted cheese sandwich than was served at Holy Name! But on the playground another memory comes to mind. As you know, the back of the Jewish Synagogue faced the alley in back of our Catholic school. We had been warned by the nuns to never set foot on the Synagouge property! One day our rubber ball went over the picket fence onto the Synagouge property just as their janitor was coming out of the cellar entrance. He yelled “I’ll get it.” He bent over, and by the time he stood up, everyone of us was gone! Not long after that he became or janitor. I can still see him in my mind but I cannot remember his name, although we called him Mr. _____. Things were just a little different in the 50’s.

    • Sally Cusick Brown says:

      I believe the name of the janitor for Holy Name was Mr. Franks. He was a very, very thin man and never looked healthy, but he always did his work. I think he lived on the top floor of Holy Name School (which I later found out was once a high school).

  4. Debbie Stewart says:

    What great memories Jim! We really did make the best of the time we had in the school yard and with nothing but our imaginations and a jump rope or two! I can still remember the smells coming from the cafeteria. I remember ham salad sandwiches and chicken noodle soup. Thanks for sharing those pictures of the school!

  5. Frank Mullen says:

    One of the things, concerning the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught us at Holy Name School, which we children wondered about was how the sisters managed to deal with warm days while wearing those multi-layered habits. Every inch, save for their hands and faces, appeared to have been covered completely, with little chance for a breeze to penetrate. If you look at my photos of Sisters Incarnata and Richard, you get a pretty good reminder of how enwrapped the nuns were, and those photographs were taken at graduation in JUNE! However, I never heard a single nun complain, nor did I ever see one of them squirm in discomfort from the heat. (They must have “offered their suffering up for the souls in Purgatory.”) And remember, those were the days before air conditioning was everywhere.

    And speaking of a/c, I remember one day when I left Al Pollak’s 3rd floor home, in an apartment building near City Hall, an office on the first floor had an a/c unit sticking out a window. I figured, to myself, as I approached it, “OH boy, I’m gonna get a cool breeze from that thing, so I’ll get good and close to it as I pass by.” I can still feel that blast of hot air and can still smell it, after all these, subsequently, air conditioned years. What a dummy, huh!

  6. Thanks for sharing. I went to Holy Rosary class of 1945 I knew Agnes Eugene

    • Frank Mullen says:

      Hi Ms. Capone, The way you refer to her as “Agnes Eugene” makes me want to ask you, was that her actual (given/family) name or a name she took when she became a nun?
      Thanking you in advance,
      Frank Mullen

  7. Vickie Brady says:

    This is before my time but I too started Holy name School in first grade moving from West Mifflin. I can still remember it very well. When i went there my mom (Doris Brady) became one of the cafateria workers along with Mrs. Cusick. The one lunch meal I can still remember plain as day was on Fridays we would get pizza, celery sticks, and I think applesauce it was always good. I was so sad when i find out they tore it down I had so many good memories of that school and the play ground A lot of times we would go sit on the church steps because they were heated in the winter time, i always hated the cold and still do. One of my fond memories of the school was going over to the convent and taking piano lessons unfortunately it never mounted to nothing. I really enjoy reading these post for they bring back soooo many memories, keep up the good work .

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