Have you ever been to a class reunion? I can tell you that you’ll go through a wide range of emotions. I graduated from an all-girls Catholic school, St. Francis High School, which was operated for decades by the Franciscan Sisters and closed in 1977. I was taught by nuns, priests and a few lay women. Yes, the stereo types are remarkably accurate. Here are some of the emotions I experienced before and during the reunion.
Amazement – Has it really been that long since I was a naïve teenager? This was my 50th so it may have been closer to shock.
Excitement – As I aged I felt a need to reconnect with people from my past and this offered me a way to do it with minimal effort. All I really had to do was show up. I did call a couple of classmates I hadn’t talked to in years, but other than booking the flight and car and telling my family I was coming, that was it. I was overjoyed to be given the chance to see so many of my classmates in one spot.
Anticipation – I first heard about the reunion in late winter. It was slated for July so I had time to think about the positives of seeing old friends and then the joy of anticipation turned into…
Anxiety – I’d only seen a few of the people in my class a couple times in the last 50 years. They had aged, but it always seems it wasn’t as much as I had. Some were thinner. I hoped it was genetic. I was a chubby kid who effortlessly lost weight during puberty and kept most of it off until menopause hit. Since then it’s been an uphill struggle. I have few wrinkles due to staying out of the sun, my mother’s advice, and some nip and tuck. Yes, I believe in being honest, but it had been over 10 years since I did that and gravity had its way.
Delight – When the time for the reunion arrived reconnecting with old friends was fun. We were past the age of caring about how to impress each other with our accomplishment and those of our children.
Gratitude – Although I was sad we had lost 3 of our classmates, most of us seemed to be in good health with no visible impairments-at least none we wished to share.
I found that people who’ve spent years apart can still reconnect when they’ve shared experiences. When we talked about our time as “Frannies” the years lifted away and we were back in those classrooms talking about boyfriends and learning things we really needed in life and some we never would use. We did get an education that I feel was superior to the local public school in some areas, but not many real-life experiences. I guess we were supposed to get those in college or on the job. Maybe they figured that our inevitable marriage would give us a new protector when our parents weren’t there for us. It was a very sheltered environment.
Besides seeing my old friends and classmates, my after dinner visit to the once forbidden dorms was the highlight of the reunion. We weren’t allowed there while we were students since we were day students and the life of the boarder was a mystery to us. Although we attended classes together, fraternization was not encouraged. We thought it was because we had boyfriends and more contact with the outside world, but the boarders must have had boyfriends since the prom was well attended. To be honest, they did import boys from the nearby Catholic boy’s school for dances, but most of them were expected to be priests. I met my first boyfriend, a local boy, at a dance there so males weren’t entirely banned. I think one of my first real teenage crushes was one of the school’s priests who was from Boston and I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. There were other places we dared not tread and even the boarders couldn’t go inside the convent. Our class was the first one in history to not produce a nun, so we were real renegades. One classmate told of going to the nearby Dairy Dream to smoke and later being confronted by the principal who said she shouldn’t insult her intelligence by thinking Aqua Net hairspray would cover up the smell of smoke. I’m sure I would have found out more secrets when I was in high school had I not been such a Goody Two-shoes. I regret missing out on some of the adventures. I was too concerned about my GPA which dipped when I met my boyfriend. Ah, the years have taught me so much.
We were sure the boarders were sent there because they got into trouble at home, but that night I found out that for most of them being a St. Francis graduate was a family tradition like it was for my sisters and me. St. Francis is no longer a school and has been used for many other purposes. It’s currently for sale, but the dorms remain. Now instead of climbing the marble steps to the 3rd floor, you can take an elevator. My friend told me that now she understood why the boarder didn’t have many clothes. The closets and rooms are tiny. It’s now air conditioned, but there are still shared bathrooms and a common room. We took our snacks and once prohibited alcoholic beverages to the common room, pulled up chairs and continued to revisit memories and rules customary to Catholic schools in the 60s. No skirts that didn’t touch the floor when you kneeled down. Patent leather shoes were supposed to let boys look up your skirt, so even though they weren’t forbidden we were too proper to wear them.
My classmates and I have lived through the technology boom and the Woman’s Movement, which most embraced. We grieved during the Kennedy assassination and terrorist attacks. We applauded women in space and more rights for all groups of people. We endured divorce, single parenthood and death in their families. In spite of our hardships, we thrived. Our class produced mothers, artists, educators, business people, writers, nurses and professionals from a variety of fields, some not considered appropriate for female Baby Boomers.
Out of the 67 students who graduated, 30 attended our dinner, a good turnout for a class our size. There was a whole school reunion with a Mass and picnic the next day that I couldn’t attend – maybe in 10 more years. I hope to get together with the women living near our old high school when I return at Christmas and to travel with some. We may have spent many years apart, but we still have so much in common no matter where we now live. I appreciate the education we were privileged to get at my alma mater.
Continue the adventure!
P.S. Our class president, Carol, brought a book titled Class Reunions can be Murder by Susan Santangelo which told the tale of two friends, Carol and Claire, who with other classmates planned a reunion at Mount St. Francis Academy. Claire is the name of our Carol’s best friend from high school. There are other similarities like the name of the school, the marble steps, the dorms and the fact that the school was for sale. Luckily, no one was murdered during our reunion.