Friday, March 22, 2013

Boarding School Years ~ Catholic

Readers here know that I spent six years in girls' boarding schools: three Catholic and three Protestant.  A treasure trove of images of each has popped up on Facebook recently, and I thought I'd share.  The following come mostly from Pavey Photography; I don't know whether Ann Pavey attended the School of the Brown County Ursulines (now closed) as a girl or Chatfield College as an adult, but her photos reveal a genuine love of the campus.
My own family history as intertwined with the Ursulines, in a nutshell:
The Ursuline sisters ventured from France to southwestern Ohio in 1845 and opened a school for girls about thirty miles north of Cincinnati.   I'm not sure when this main chapel was built ~ maybe someone will add some information in the comments ~ but it was at one time attached to a massive convent building of red brick. 

The nuns hired a master carver to teach them to make the intricate carvings that adorned their small chapel in the main building ~ although I think this one is from what we knew as the main chapel:

In the late 1800s, my great-grandmother wanted to study piano and, so the story goes, sold her egg money to pay for lessons and drove her buggy the eight miles or so to the convent to study with the nuns.
In the early 1900s, she and my great-grandfather were married and he established what would become the family grain business, which eventually developed a relationship with the nuns, who ran a farm as well as a school.  I am sure that my grandfather and father, as well as my brother and I, would count the Ursuline sisters as among our dearest of friends.  I don't think I have a photo of those who came to my ordination service, but I do have one of Sister Agatha with my daughter, taken a couple of summers ago.

No daughters in the family until I came along, and off I went to the Ursulines' school when I was a seventh grader.  The chapel was a good deal more ornate pre-Vatican II, but it's still there.   My family was Methodist in a not-so-much kind of way, although I am told that that same piano-lesson great-grandmother as a grown woman used to sail down the street to the Methodist parsonage on Monday mornings to offer the pastor her views on the previous day's sermon.  (Is that where the genes come from?  I'm sure he was just delighted to see her making her way down the block . . .     . )  At any rate, I was not anything in particular, religion-wise.  But I did attend Mass and various other services here regularly for three years, which meant that when I bumped into the Jesuits decades later, I was comfortable with Catholicism.
My friends and I spent an awful lot of time climbing around and through various convent locales in which our presence was not exactly sought.  I think that Ann  Pavey has done an incredible job of capturing the sense of beauty and mystery of  the buildings which I'm sure that all the women who lived there as girls still think of as "ours."

The school is long gone now, and so is the building which housed it.  The nuns built themselves a smaller and more user-friendly home, and the small college on the grounds, established to educate young teaching sisters, is now a vital and thriving educational institution, open to all who live near this community on the edge of Appalachia. 
And, while I've posted this one before, I'll close with a photo of the plaque on the wall of one of the college buildings, which reflects a gift made by my father in memory of our Josh and a century-plus of wonderful friendship and love.


  1. Robin, I enjoyed the tour and the history of your family with the Ursuline sisters.

  2. The plaque moves me in new ways each time I see it. Today, it was a stark reminder of the true beauty of interfaith relations and that we can each learn from one another in ways made clear and in some that become apparent only after many years and turns of events that can not possibly be foreseen.
    Thank you. And thanks to your father.

  3. What a beautiful sacred place that blessed you as you grew up. Now you return the gift in honor of Josh, and the place has become ever more sacred.

  4. Strange how life turns out, isn't it?

  5. Yes, beautiful photos and quite a story. Thanks for sharing all of this with us.

  6. You have been so richly blessed in your education! Wow. Such openmindedness in your family - to send a beloved daughter (and the first girl!) to live and learn in a totally different faith-environment. I admire that radical commitment to ecumenical learning. And what gifts it has given to you, which you can now share with others.

    Oh, the tenderness of the message on that plaque...a beautiful way to honor Josh, and to give thanks for that bond with the sisters through the generations. Thank you for opening this window for us to see into a part of your growing-up.

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