St. Rose of Lima alumni set off on nostalgic journey

April 10, 1994|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Sun Staff Writer

There was a time when nuns in black habits ruled the classrooms at St. Rose of Lima School, using clickers to remind students when to stand and sit and rulers across the knuckles to punish their youthful naughtiness.

The nuns are mostly gone now, replaced by lay teachers. But one thing remains the same: Each day still begins and ends with prayer.

Today, graduates of the school where many Brooklyn youngsters learned reading, writing and arithmetic will gather to reminisce about the old days at a reunion for members of classes from 1931 to 1985.

They will begin with prayer and a Mass at 11 a.m. in the church next door, then move to the school hall to eat, drink and share memories.

The nuns at the school were kind but firm, former students recall. "They didn't take any foolishness or back talk from you because if you did it, it was whack, whack, whack," said Betty Sappington, a 1952 graduate, imitating the swatting motion of the nuns.

"We always listened to the sisters," remembered Eileen Printy, who graduated in 1942.

"They just spoke and we listened. Our parents taught us that we were suppose to respect the sisters in authority," she said.

Occasionally students would act up, said Mrs. Printy, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., and the nuns would discipline them. "We weren't angels, but it's nothing like today," she said.

Going to school at St. Rose of Lima was a family affair. Mrs. Printy's four sisters are graduates of the school.

"In those days everything was centered around the school, church and family," said Mrs. Printy, 65, who remembers playing volleyball and dodge ball at school.

"We didn't have a lot of outside interests," she said.

One sister, Kathleen Cooke, lives in Westminster. She was voted May Queen in 1943 when she was in the eighth grade. "I don't know why they voted for me," said Mrs. Cooke, 64. "I was a kid with freckles, which I hated."

As May Queen, she got to crown the Blessed Mother on the front lawn of the church with a wreath. The May Queen Procession was an important school and community event, drawing neighbors who plucked roses, daisies and other flowers from their gardens to make wreaths for the girls.

"It was like entertainment," she said. "We didn't have a TV in those days."

Earl Bartolimeo, who graduated in 1938, recalled his time at St. Rose of Lima as "eight years of drudgery."

Yet it was Mr. Bartolimeo and his wife, Ruth, who spent all day yesterday at the church cooking oven-fried chicken, roast beef, meatballs, string beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy for today's reunion.

It was Mr. Bartolimeo who sent all three of his children to the school. Those children will be helping him today.

The school was established in 1922 at Fourth and East Jeffrey streets.

There were four girls and 13 boys in the first graduating class in 1929.

In those days, the teacher's desk "sat in line with the classroom door, with the children's desk neatly aligned facing the teacher. We had a cloakroom in the back to hang coats," recalled Lillian Harman, who graduated with 10 girls and seven boys in 1931.

In her day, she said, no one knew the meaning of snow days.

She and her classmates would trudge through the slush on Fourth Street to the school, just across the city line in Baltimore. And if not enough youngsters showed up for school "we would stretch our socks out on the radiators to dry, eat our lunch and work up the courage to brave the weather for the trip back home," she said.

In the 1950s, when Charlotte Graham walked to the school from her home on Jack Street, there was no cafeteria serving lunches. "You ate in your classroom at your desk and then you went out for recess afterward to play on the playground," she said.

Today, there is a cafeteria and a computer.

And the desks aren't so neatly aligned anymore. Often, they're arranged in semicircles.

By 1973, the year Karen Balonis graduated, "there were only a handful of nuns," she said.

"It was definitely turning over to lay people," said Mrs. Balonis, whose husband, Alan, graduated from the school in 1970.

Even with the changes, "there was a close-knittedness in the school," Mrs. Balonis said. "Everybody kind of knew everybody."

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