The Institute of Notre Dame, its Germanic heritage intact, turns out women of character CITADEL OF LEARNING

February 10, 1993|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Staff Writer

The Institute of Notre Dame, the oldest Roman Catholic girl's high school in the city, remains an uncompromising citadel of learning and discipline. It's a classic religious institution renowned for its sense of mission of graduating young Catholic women of character and purpose.

As in the past, the well-scrubbed students attend classes in uniform. These days, it's a plaid skirt, white blouse, blue sweater or blazer. The seniors wear a distinctive gold ring with a black onyx panel on which the letters IND are inscribed in gold.

Since the School Sisters of Notre Dame arrived here from Munich in 1847, the block bounded by Aisquith Street, Ashland Avenue and Somerset Street, where IND is located, has been their domain. The school was built in phases beginning from the time the nuns arrived until 1926.

IND stands out in its battered East Baltimore neighborhood not far from the Baltimore City Detention Center and the Maryland Penitentiary.

But move away? Never. Leave those glorious classrooms and Victorian parlors and fabulous staircases? Unthinkable. Relinquish the genteel formality of an 1890s academy? Pure heresy.

About 60 percent of the current 378 IND students are from Northeast Baltimore's Overlea, Hamilton, Parkville and Gardenville neighborhoods; the rest mostly from Baltimore County, particularly the Catonsville area.

Many of the students' mothers and grandmothers are IND jTC graduates. Many of their parents are hard-working people who sweat raising the annual $3,325 tuition. Alumnae contribute $100,000 annually to the school.

"We have extremely loyal alumnae, about 7,000 -- 5,000 of whom are in Baltimore. They are generous, generous with their money, their time and their daughters," said Sally Ruppert, one of IND's administrators.

IND's stated mission is to provide a Catholic education for young women with "emphasis on their development as whole persons, physically, spiritually and academically."

Just inside the school's classic front entrance -- with the Latin inscription, "Pro Deo et Patria," over the front door on Aisquith Street -- Sister Hilda Marie, S.S.N.D., sits at a desk in what looks like a teller's cage. She arrived at IND in 1949 from the old St. Mary's Orphanage in Roland Park. She was not an IND student but a candidate for the religious life.

She recalled those days.

"We'd walk out in Jake's Alley, the side yard next to the [school] building and St. James Church. The old German sisters would be sitting on benches as they peeled potatoes. They'd all be [talking] in German. I'd run in and ask what was it all about. . . . At 9 o'clock, it was lights out, the Great Silence, but I used to talk some," she said.

Today, she's known less formally as Sister Hildy. She is director of building and grounds, responsible for a school building with a million bricks and several hundred window panes, and the connecting, sprawling convent that once slept 250 sisters.

"On the off days, we used to wax the floors by hand," Sister Hildy said. "This building has remained special. We're very proud of our oak woodwork and stairs -- one is slate, the other marble," she said.

The classrooms have 15-foot-high ceilings covered in ornamental tin patterns. The windows overlook East Baltimore rooftops, chimneys, water tanks, steeples and broad expanses of the Oldtown, Johnston Square and Oliver neighborhoods. It's hard not feeling this is one of those permanent institutions that quietly hold Baltimore together.

A proud school inhabits this massive masonry structure, a school with a strong Germanic personality, stressing learning, discipline and structure.

"Those years at IND were probably some of the single-most best times in my life," said Rose Lapachinsky Homberg, a 1963 graduate who is today a training specialist with the state Mass Transit Administration. "The minute you walked through those big doors, or were in those wonderful classrooms, it happened for you," she said.

"It was a real experience. The school helped you develop from a girl into a woman. It wasn't all just spiritual. There were practical things you were taught. How to dress for work. Health and sexual things. . . . You were taught to be extremely accepting of all people," Mrs. Homberg said.

IND claims two members of Congress: U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, and Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from California. Each spoke Sunday at the dedication of the Marion I. Knott Gymnasium, the newest addition to the IND complex, a free-standing building in back of the school on Ashland Avenue.

While the IND of today is not so much physically changed from its beginning, there is a major difference. Its faculty was once nearly all composed of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Today, there are 11 nuns on a staff of 43 teachers and administrators.

But there are plenty of reminders of the sisters' spirit and influence. The religious portraits on the school's walls. The statues of the Virgin Mary. The sheen on the woodwork and the well-ironed uniforms and blouses.

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