St. Louis Bertrand Class of 1961 and Sister Michael Thomas, row 1, second from left.
Catholic education: A gift that keeps on giving
On a hot September Sunday in Davis, 35 St. Louis Bertrand grammar school children gathered to see each other after 52 years. We had begun our nine-years together in 1952 in the sunny kindergarten patio in Oakland where 20-year-old Miss Sylvia Souza greeted us, and were nurtured by Adrian Dominican Sisters until we graduated in 1961.
One of those generous teachers, Sister Michael Thomas Watson, journeyed from Henderson, Nevada, to be with us once again. Now we were children and in our mid-60s at the same time, as we reveled in an afternoon of reconnection, catching up and emotional memories. We glanced back-and-forth at the grammar school pictures on our nametags and our new faces with rich expressions easily remembered though not seen in five decades.
The special day was the brainchild of Mary Anne Nahm Ingenthron whose superb detective skills and the wonders of the Internet uncovered the whereabouts of nearly all of our 100 classmates, even many of the women who now used married names. She and a few friends created a website, sent invitations and organized the party. Classmates posted pictures, stories about themselves and memories of those special years when we first ventured by ourselves into the public sphere and formed a community with 100 other children — day-in and day-out for nine impressionable years.
Our Catholic education formed us, and despite ups-and-downs, played a huge role in who we are today. While St. Louis Bertrand School is no longer open, our educational community was able to reunite through the grass-roots efforts of these now-adult children whose minds and skills had been nurtured and shaped by generous nuns and the institution of the Catholic Church. As we reminisced about the good times and let off steam about the bad moments, we all knew that those formative years were deeply a part of us.
We toasted nine of our veterans who came, the little boys from the class pictures who faced death when they graduated from high school at the start of the Vietnam intervention in 1965, while others of us had the luxury of going off to college. We remembered by name and offered a moment of silence for our deceased classmates. We toasted those who had traveled across the country to attend, and our second-grade teacher Sister Michael Thomas, the sharp-minded, energetic 87-year-old who made each of us feel special and brought tears to our eyes with the eloquent blessing she gave. Classmate Bob Martínez publicly thanked our parents, all of whom had sacrificed so much to pay the tuition to send us to this special school.
As he left, Lorrie Del Bonta's husband Doug Keltie thanked the organizing committee for having given such a gift to everyone who came — several precious hours of happiness. Indeed, the event itself, the website, the preparations, and these new memories carry forward the treasured gift we were given in the 1950s by St. Louis Bertrand School. We've all passed the gift forward in various ways, and will continue to do so as long as we can. St. Louis Bertand School lives on in the Sept. 8 reunion, and in the life, work and giving of the class of 1961.
(Ellen McCracken is a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara.)
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