Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Growing Up Catholic #4: A Typical School Day at St. Edward

The daily routine at St. Edward School followed a pattern.

Morning Mass
A typical school day began with Mass in Church. After walking from home to school we gathered informally with our school friends outside church. When it was time for Mass we sat with our classmates and teacher in an assigned part of the church. We genuflected and entered the pew. Girls had to wear chapel veils in church. These were white, doily-like circles of lace that we pinned in place with a hairpin. When not in use we kept them in a plastic container that snapped closed.

All children who had received their first communion were expected to be at morning Mass. The church was full, because there were a thousand students in St. Edward at the time. So excluding the younger children, there must have been about 800 children, maybe 16 teachers, and other adult parishioners. One clear memory of mine is how much my knees and back always hurt me by the middle of Mass. It was quite a discipline for me to kneel so long and to contain my naturally active nature. Nine times out of ten the Mass was a Mass for the Dead, called a Requiem Mass. In pre-Vatican II days the priests wore black vestments for these Masses.

After Mass concluded we again genuflected as we exited the pew and walked in straight lines, called ranks, to the school building and then to our classroom. We were not to talk, but most of us did a lot of whispering.

Our School Lessons
Before our first lesson of the day, we stood for morning prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Every day we recited The Morning Offering prayer. It was customary, when finished with the prayers and pledge, to say, "Good morning, Sister Mary________," in unison. And Sister always responded, "Good morning, boys and girls. Please be seated." That was our cue that "business" had begun.

Lesson began promptly, and religion was invariably the first subject of the day. After that we had lessons in arithmetic, reading, English, spelling, history, geography, and penmanship, although not necessarily in that order. We never had a science lesson, because it was not part of our curriculum. Physical education was just once a week my first year at St. Edward, but eventually it was phased out. "Art," taught once weekly, consisted in copying a drawing, usually related to the seasons or holidays of the year, that the art teacher brought. She rotated from classroom to classroom on that day. It was more of a rendering lesson than an art lesson.

Good behavior, attention, and respect were both expected and enforced. Our teachers had no qualms about correcting conduct that was out of bounds.

Recess was what play time was called. We had recess after lunch. Girls and boys had separate, assigned play areas on the campus, where we played only with those in our own grade. This was not a problem, because there were so many children in a given grade, at least a hundred. So everyone had a friend or several friends with whom to play. I don't recall any loners. We didn't leave anyone out, even if we didn't especially like someone. Everyone was to be included.

For safety, barricades, which were saw horses, were placed at each end of Sunnyside Avenue so not cars could drive through the area during recess. So the street was one section of the play area, as was the church parking lot, which was quite large. The Sisters took turns monitoring.

We played organized games, which we organized ourselves. There were rules for each game and we made sure our friends followed them. From sixth grade on some of us girls enjoyed playing softball. But there wasn't enough room for a full game, so we practiced batting and catching.

When the bell rang at the end of recess, we immediately stopped and stood still, like statues. When the second bell rang we walked to an assigned place were we formed ranks with our class. Our teacher met us there. Everyone recited the "Pledge of Allegiance to the Cross of Christ." Then we walked silently---although I was an avid whisperer---to our classrooms.

Classroom Design
The class photo on my previous post shows what all the classroom looked like. The photo was taken from the front of the room with the photographer near the window side.

On the front wall above the black chalkboard hung a crucifix. Elsewhere in the room was a statue of Mary, Our Lady of Grace, standing on a globe, representing the while world, and she was stepping on a snake, representing Satan, who had tempted Adam and Eve.

A speaker, part of the school intercom system, was located on a wall near the crucifix. The system was used by the principal for daily announcements.

Both the front and side walls were lined with black chalkboards, and right above them was a narrow bulletin board. These were decorated with religious quotations like, "Work as if everything depended on you. Pray as if everything depended on God." The one in the photo that I mentioned says, "When you play, play hard. When you work, don't play at all." The Sisters always had fancy corners cut out of colored construction paper at the ends of the bulletin boards. Student work was always displayed on the side bulletin board. This would be spelling tests or art work. There was always a large, square bulletin board in the front of the room, next to the chalkboard. This was also decorated. In May it had a Marian theme.

In back of the room lockers lined the wall. You can see them clearly in the previous post. Winter jackets and boots were stored there along with our book satchels. No one used backpacks then.

Desks were arranged in five or six straight rows, depending on the size of the room and the number of children in the class. Desk styles varied from room to room. Some had separate chairs and others had chair and desk as one unit. Some were wood; others were laminated with Formica and had metal frames. The tops of some, like the ones in the photo, conveniently opened upward, but others were not adjustable and books were slid in and out, cubbyhole style.
Regardless of the type of desk our teachers expected them to be kept neat and orderly. At the end of each day a student passed the wastepaper basket so we could discard old papers. Also, at the end of the day we aligned our desks. If the chairs were separate we set them on top of the desk so the janitor could clean the floors more easily.

Our school days were long. To me they seemed interminable. For the last half hour I had my eye on the clock, which meant turning around as stealthily as possible to look at the time. Time seemed to stand still those last 30 minutes of the school day.

But when it was time to go home, the teacher waited until everyone was quiet and ready. We said a final prayer, The Act of Contrition. We stood an waited for our teacher to dismiss our row. If anyone in the row was misbehaving or not ready we all had to wait for that person. If things were really bad, the teacher would tell everyone to sit and we could be kept after school. This was not common, but it was an option, so we really wanted to cooperate. Needless to say any student, friend or not, who kept us waiting longer than necessary, heard about it from everyone when we finally were outside.

The Sisters actually didn't just open the school door to let us go. No, she walked us to a particular street corner and watched us as we set out to go home---no pushing, no running. And we gave Sister a friendly good-bye.

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