By Kathleen Gurbacki
My first impression of the School Sisters of Notre Dame was that of Sally Field in “The Flying Nun.” I wondered if they had to walk sideways to get through a doorway. It was orientation day for classes at St. Mary’s Business School on Broadway and Pine.
I began to reminisce after dusting a bookshelf the other day when I came across a textbook from that era for Gregg shorthand. I couldn’t help myself and opened it to no page in particular and wondered how much of it I remembered.
Surprisingly, I didn’t have to refer to the answer book too much. To the average individual it would look like hieroglyphics, but to me and other would-be secretaries at that time, it was shorthand.
Years ago, when it came up that schools would no longer be teaching cursive writing, I thought how sad it is. Shorthand is really only a version of that style of writing using part of the cursive letter and the sound it makes. For instance, the lowercase letter “a” is a circle with a tail. In shorthand, you only use the circle. With today’s technology, shorthand is now a dead language, but I still find myself using some of the words and brief forms (as they were called) when making appointments today over the phone.
When school started that September, the sisters’ habit had changed and what a change it was! The two-foot sections on each side of their head was gone and a small, white stiff-looking piece now covered only their forehead and ears. Doorways were obviously not a problem any more. Bet they sat a lot closer to each other at the dinner table as well.
The sisters were wonderful and that’s probably why I have such fond memories of the school. Sister Francis Xavier was just what a young teenager needed. She shared her life with us students, from boyfriends and dating to her calling to serve God.
She was a patient teacher, knowing that what she had to teach us was something entirely different from normal high school subjects.
This school’s purpose was to prepare girls for the working world. Sister Immaculate Concepta was our principal and also my teacher during my second year there. I swear she was born with a permanent smile on her face. A husky lady with a wonderful grin and a personality to match.
St. Mary’s did not have a cafeteria. We ate our bag lunch in a large room with long tables and a small stage. Sister Vincenta was the reason we all enjoyed lunch every day. She was short and plump and full of rhythm. She loved the sound of the new guys in town called the Beatles and played their records over and over and over again. And she welcomed everyone to get up and dance.
The two-year school was well known locally for the education and training the girls received there. Employers often called the school when they needed to hire a secretary or bookkeeper.
St. Mary’s Business School no longer exists as a school, but the building is still there. And I can’t help but wonder if the skeletons in the closets are singing, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
Kathleen Gurbacki, of Lancaster, attended St. Mary’s Business School.