45 Years Later, Institute Of Notre Dame Still Calls Back Its Daughters

November 09, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare

The typical lunchtime conversation as the work week wound down centered on plans for the weekend. I mentioned that I would be attending my 45th high school reunion, and the youngsters - I had 30 years on most of those at the table - looked at me askance and tried to figure my age.

"Why would anyone want to do that?" one asked. "I never want to go back there."

Be that as it may, I love going back to the Institute of Notre Dame, an all-girls Catholic school in the city, if only for a few hours every five years.

There I can lunch with peers in a school cafeteria that was once limited to the privileged senior class. I can tour that aging, five-story brick building not far from Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore. Meandering through those polished corridors and peering into classrooms - a few unchanged, but most filled with all manner of technology unforeseen in the 1960s - floods me with nostalgia. We peer at the beautifully renovated chapel, the library with the latest amenities, and those front parlors, where we introduced our prom dates to our teachers.

In the auditorium, where the metal chairs predate even our tenure and dwindle in comfort as any assembly lengthens, we can hear the echoes of endless concerts. We marvel at the state-of-art gym built a decade ago in the courtyard. Our basketball games were played in the basement, where the ceilings were not much higher than the hoops.

A few of us made the climb to the upper floors to see 21st century science labs. We are well into our 60s, but no one even considered taking the elevator perpetually reserved for faculty. (That taboo is so ingrained that one friend recalled how her 80-something mother, also an alumna, still insists on using the stairs when visiting the school.)

Yes, it's a walk down that overused Memory Lane, but a rejuvenating trek that recalls those hopeful girls in their navy blazers, starched white blouses and plaid skirts required to fall at least 4 inches below the bend of the knee. We are grandmothers now, definitely senior members of myriad workplaces, or in some cases, fairly new retirees. But why not reconnect and reiterate the stories we share?

My own adult children reacted in much the same way as my young newspaper colleagues. One daughter just attended her 20th and said that milestone should be the reunion cutoff. Another deemed my reunion outfit too old-ladyish. I reminded her that I am into vintage, not dotage, apparel.

"What will you talk about with people you knew all those years ago?" my son wondered.

I knew from eight reunions past that I would easily slip into many different conversations. Our reunion name tags came with our 1964 yearbook photos and helped us make connections between those girls with bouffant hair and today's "natural" hues that mask the gray.

Like every class, we left IND in a swirl of red roses, long white dresses and bittersweet tears. We went on to college, marriage, motherhood and careers, some of them brilliant - but that was not unexpected, given that IND counts two members of Congress (including the current speaker of the House) among its alumnae.

Many of us are still working, some at jobs we truly enjoy. We are celebrating decades of marriage, showing off grandchildren's photos, traveling far and planning for the golden years. These gatherings give us time to remember with friends and fondness the four years that launched our adult lives.

One of our own wrote the words of grace and intoned them before our luncheon. Another penned a loving tribute to our late classmates. And one of our most organized produced a welcome letter written nearly 50 years ago by her freshman homeroom teacher. The advice she reread to us has held true.

We talked of our parents, who sacrificed to send us to this school in an era when the $200 tuition strained many family budgets. And, in that school setting, we could not avoid a look back at our teachers, most of them nuns in starched habits that hampered peripheral vision. They gave us the invaluable lessons that have steeled us through the years. Those dedicated women lived at the convent attached to the school. We thought them to be insulated from the world, yet they deftly prepared generations of young women to handle whatever the world tossed at them.

I have made it sound idyllic, when high school rarely is. There are many, like my young colleagues, who prefer to forget and not relive the experience.

But IND calls her daughters back to that towering brick building that has stood on Aisquith Street for more than 160 years. We respond with thanks to our revered Alma Mater for a solid education and, along with the arts and sciences, lessons of a lifetime and lifelong friendships.

I would not have missed this 45th reunion and hope that all of us come back for a grand 50th.

Mary Gail Hare is a staff writer for The Baltimore Sun. Her e-mail is mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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