Excerpt from House on the Hill, by Mary Schaller '61
The official move from 1719 Massachusetts Ave, to Stone Ridge in Bethesda, Maryland took place in September on Labor Day weekend. Cars and trucks, friends and families of the students arrived in the early morning at 1719 ready to help, including assistance from the Argentine, Peruvian, Cuban and Mexican embassies. The 7,675 books in the library at 1719 were boxed up and moved into storage until the new wing was completed. The following letters, written either by Mother White to Mother Hamilton at Kenwood, described the whirl of activities surrounding Stone Ridge’s opening.
“September 9, 1947. Dear Reverend Mother, It gets better and better! We have Office on the porch and Reunion in the large summer house where we [the religious community] fit as if it had been made for us. There has been a certain amount of small difficulty in getting along with a small stove until the kitchen is finished, but the Sisters have managed nicely and friends have been generous and thoughtful with food. Sunday morning, just before dinner, Mr. Edward Gannon, having warned us ahead, arrived with two piping hot turkeys on a platter and hot gravy in a jar. I think I told you that the Argentine Embassy sent our supper on Friday night.
“The painters began on the [large] parlor this morning, so the library will soon be in better order. The Chapel grows lovelier and lovelier. Mrs. Flather is giving us some more furniture that will arrive [at 1719 Mass. Ave.] around noon. It can be brought out here when the movers bring out the school furniture next week. Much love, dear Reverend Mother. Please bless and pray for Stone Ridge – people and things. How much there will be to show and tell you!” [Letter from Mother White, September 9, 1947, Archives].
“One hundred and twenty-five children were present on the first day, and our enrollment has increased to one hundred and thirty-four since then. Two days before the opening, moving vans were still coming with school furniture and books, for wet paint and varnish would not permit any earlier furnishing of the school floor. But with the help of God, all was ready for the children, who have shown a fine spirit.
“The first two weeks of school saw classes in the summerhouses, on the lawn, on the porch, in the corridor, in fact, any place where master and disciples would fit. Then the Cottage was finished, and we have two classrooms over there, as well as sleeping quarters. It is in the Library [the large parlor] that all assemblies are held, such as Primes and lectures, for there is no study hall for the seniors. Classrooms have been the center of all school life, taking the place as locker rooms and dressing rooms, as well as clearing-houses for knowledge. Sports are an important event of the day and more than one person, friend and mere acquaintance alike, has commented on how attractive the children look to those passing on the Pike; the Juniors in the orchard with sand box and merry-go-rounds, and the Seniors in bright blue hockey tunics practicing on the front terraces. Lately very practical sports have been popular – the favorite being that of raking leaves, with the reward of a ride in the trailer to the farm to spread leaves over the soil.” [“Country Life in the Capital,” November 1947, written by Mother White, Archives]
While the students and the twenty-five nuns settled into their school day routine, all was not going well with the construction of the new wing. “October 6, 1947. I have been given the very bad news that Bethlehem Steel Company with whom Barber & Ross Company of Washington have placed their order for approximately 75 tons of structured steel cannot begin to make it until December.” [Letter, October 6, 1947, Archives].
Reverend Mother Barry had expected the steel by September. However, Bethlehem Steel had more orders than they could process and they felt that the small order from the Sacred Heart could wait while other, larger orders would be filled first. Mother Barry disagreed and she immediately swung into action. She sent a bevy of letters to a number of Washington’s influential men, many of whom were fathers of her students, asking them to put in a “weighty word” with Bethlehem Steel so that the company would give Stone Ridge’s order their top priority. After appealing to Senator Francis Myers of Pennsylvania for his help on October 21 [see Letter, October 21, 1947, Archives], Mother Barry’s complete steel order arrived during the first week of December.
By early October, Mother White was pleased to report to Kenwood that “outdoors, autumn has shown our gardens and woods at their best, and indoors, Stone Ridge is gradually taking on a settled appearance. There were days of uninterrupted hammering on the school corridor while the fire-doors were erected; days of ‘walking the plank’ over stretches of new varnish; days when wet paint surrounded our coming-in and going-out; one day when the cement floor of the present Children’s Refectory (the past boiler room, the future Community Refectory) had to be asphalt-tiled and the school were given a picnic lunch—on a day that rained, so class by class, they went to a rather damp porch for their sandwiches; and still another unforgettable day when the front hall and stairs were wet with varnish, so that the only indoor approach to the Children’s Refectory was condemned. That day there was a semi-hurricane; but nothing daunted, our plucky school braved the tempest and mud and construction debris and went to dinner on the run! And of course, the meeting with unexpected workmen in unexpected places has become commonplace!
“But all this seems almost a thing of the past, as the stairways are now free for traffic, the sound of floor scraping has ceased to accompany our classes—only the inevitable ‘Wet Paint’ still pursues us and sometimes overtakes our veils and habits. Of course when the steel for the new wing actually arrives—and thanks to your prayers—we have been promised it will soon be here, work will go faster and the sound of hammers will be heard once more. Our front hall is really beautiful, adorned by recent gift rugs, and the Library with its gray-blue walls and mulberry drapes is our pride. The Chapel is that of dear 1719; many like it even better. It is more white than red, more long than wide and more simple than ornate. The stained glass windows show to greater advantage here.
“But we have not even mentioned our farm, and that has occupied not a little of our time and interest. It abounds in domestic animals, the more savage varieties such as copper-headed snakes, frogs and rabbits have been frightened into the forest. We have a horse given to straying abroad and wandering up the Pike. Our twelve sturdy pigs, friendly adolescents, who imitate Nellie [the horse] in all things, one day waddled after her to the front lawn where they were given a welcome by Sister Quarrick, which sent them squealing home. The bees, like many, found the first six months of convent life somewhat austere, lost weight, and made us doubt their vocation, but now they are more at home, for we have given them more honeyed treatment.
“Sometimes we wonder where is the quiet country life they talk of? Other times we know that country life has all the charms we expected. The first Thanksgiving at Stone Ridge there will be much to thank for.” [“Country Life in the Capital,” November 1947, Archives].
One problem kept the nuns praying fervently—the two houses known as 1719 Massachusetts Avenue had still not been sold. Reverend Mother Barry placed an advertisement in the Washington Evening STAR newspaper on November 8, 1947 in the hope of attracting a wider market. Finally, the double property was purchased by Georgetown University, who used the two buildings as their Institute of Language and Linguistics, a division of the School of Foreign Service.