Urban Sophisticate Sister sent an email to the family and sent a link out on twitter. A friend linked to the news article on facebook. My mother called me on the phone. The news traveled quickly. Stone Church Elementary School in Traintrack Village, the little neighborhood school that I attended from kindergarten through eighth grade, the school that educated my four kids, will be closing this June.
The news wasn’t a surprise. We’ve seen the closure coming. But I still felt nostalgic when I heard the news. I have warm memories of the childhood years I spent in the brick building, in those classrooms with their linoleum floors and big glass windows.
The Franciscan Sisters were an early influence in turning me into a feminist. That seems ironic now, but I didn’t know as a child much about Catholic dogma — I didn’t know or care what speeches the pope made or what rules got handed down by the male hierarchy. What I saw in front of me were wonderful role models: a group of women who shared a communal life, who had careers teaching, who didn’t seem to need husbands, and who pursued interests in music and science and books. They were strong women, outspoken and smart and fun, living outside the norms of the 1960s.
Sister Dancing Marie would push all the desks out of the way and teach us to dance. Sister Aloha would interrupt lessons in science and art to tell us stories about Hawaii. I don’t know why so many of the nuns were from Hawaii, some kind of arrangement in the order, I guess. I can still sing Silent Night in Hawaiian (that is, I know the words, even if I can’t carry a tune), and I suspect my spiritual beliefs were influenced by these women who mixed native Hawaiian traditions with what they knew of Christianity.
I was a painfully shy child when I entered kindergarten in 1966, and I loved the quiet rooms of that sunny brick building. That’s where I met lifelong friends, where I had my first crush, where I fell in love with teaching and writing, where I learned to have confidence in myself. By the time I graduated in eighth grade, I had shed my shyness forever.
The era of neighborhood schools like Stone Church Elementary is over. The schools had their problems as well as their strengths, and I don’t think we will see them return. But I’m grateful for all that I learned inside those brick walls, and the wonderful women who taught me there.