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Children in a courtyard at 1719 Mass Ave.

Excerpt from House on the Hill by Mary Schaller ’61 Page 23–24

One of the first Sacred Heart Upper School graduates from 1719 Massachusetts Avenue was Caroline Wimsett Reilly ‘28. She was the first student to attend all four years of high school at 1719. When she and her mother initially visited the nuns, they did not have a high school, only the elementary grades. Mrs. Reilly remembered the nuns telling them, “We will be happy to open a high school. So I started. The first year there were three of us.” The other two girls left at the end of their freshman year. In her second year, Caroline was the only high school age student. Mother Hutton was her teacher for the year, except in math, which was taught by a lay teacher.

“I was the blue ribbon – the first blue ribbon ever given [at 1719] – I had it all four years. And I had to sit in back of all the little boys to keep order. They loved to turn around and put ink on something if I was working on a composition.”

During Caroline’s third year, Carman Arias joined the tiny high school, and in the fourth year, Diana Powell came. Caroline gave the first graduation address on Prize Day at 1719, but her parents were not allowed to attend the ceremony. Mrs. Reilly still has her copy of that address. [“Caroline Wimsett Reilly: Our First Sacred Heart Graduate in Washington,” INTERCOM/ALUMNAE NEWS, Vol. 23, No. 1, Winter 1993, page 18. Archives.]

In 1995-1996, many of the alumnae from those early days took part in an oral history project, initiated by Sister Ann Dyer ‘55 RSCJ in 1995-1996 called ECHOES FROM THE HEART. The memories of these ladies bring to life those long-ago school days.

“It was such a happier, more carefree, safer time in those days than is facing teenagers today. A sound that I can still hear from those days is that of the vigorously rung bell that punctuated our day!” one [anonymous] alum recalled.

Other memories included the “Decorum books” in which the teachers kept daily accounts of their students’ behaviors. Some of the noted infractions were “loud voices during French class,” “chewing gum,” “talking in ranks,” and most daring of all, “skipping class.” [See INTERCOME/ALUMNAE NEWS, Vol. 28, No. 3, Winter 1997; page 6. Archives.]

“There was a wonderful; ‘esprit de Coeur,’” wrote Mary Catherine Coffey, ‘34. “Silence was required in ranks from class to class and you did not receive your notes at Primes on Mondays if you broke the rule! We were served a hot, seated lunch (more like dinner) each day always with soup as a first course! There were quite a few children from the Diplomatic Corps and they would often bring wonderful ‘left-over desserts’ from parties at the Embassies the night before. I can still remember ‘sponge sugar’.”

Virginia Lark McCann, ‘45 also remembered good things to eat at 1719. “On First Fridays, we came in (to the main house) for Mass. And I can still remember the taste and the smell of hot chocolate and cinnamon buns – really gorgeous. The bad thing about First Fridays and any feast day was that we had to wear those stiff and starchy veils. We had to curtsy all the time, before and after class, etc. There was a receiving curtsy, which we could use when we passed each nun while walking. Of course, with any of the senior nuns or at Primes, the curtsy was deep. We did a receiving curtsy when we passed the picture of Mater Admirabilis. Some of the physical drawbacks of 1719 were what made it so special to me and gave it a certain charm. I remember the intensity of everything, the helpless laughter, the love.”