On Saturday afternoon just before Easter break, Georgia Butler (SHP ’21) made the first drop of dozens of letters at the Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton (SHS) security gate for delivery to the RSCJ at Oakwood, their retirement community on campus. It’s part of a letter-writing project Butler launched last month after SHS switched to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Before distance learning, students from PSK through grade 12 enjoyed the friendship, company, and mentorship of the Sisters on campus. It was more important than ever during social isolation to maintain those connections, Butler realized, albeit through epistolary means. What she didn’t anticipate, however, was the potential for stronger relationships and new bonds to form, and for an outpouring of support and participation campus-wide as students and faculty members began to write letters to the nuns.
While the idea was first sparked when she and her family began writing letters to seniors in a nursing home facility in Belmont, the “true inspiration for this project came from missing our beautiful campus” and the ability to “say hello and chat with RSCJ” during the course of a typical school day, Butler says.
So, Butler put a plan in place, found support from Sr. Sally Rude at Oakwood, and teacher Reid Particelli in the SHP Service Learning office, and rallied her peers and teachers to begin writing letters. She set up a Google Doc to collect letters, and devised a weekly communications plan whereby a prompt followed by a reminder later in the week go out via email and other channels.
Finally, Butler prints out the letters and drives to campus for a weekly delivery, where the letters sit for a 24-hour period before being touched, as an extra precaution against potential virus contamination.
The entire project takes considerable time and planning, and the slower nature of solely digital communication with participants adds extra back-and-forth, a challenge Butler says has “taught me patience.” She allows time in her day to respond to questions or assist with uploading letters to the shared Doc. It’s all done out of “love for our community,” and in addition to her regular classes.
“The RSCJ are the ‘backbone of our community,’ as Mr. Particelli says. The sisters bring our campus together—we would not have as wonderful an educational experience without them. I miss the normalcy of seeing the RSCJ every day,” says Butler.
Within the first week of receiving the often-handwritten letters (drawings and photos also encouraged) from the SHS community, Butler learned that the overwhelming majority of her peers feel similarly.
“The letters make me smile every time I read one because I can see how much effort students put into writing them. I think this time away from campus has given everyone an opportunity to reflect on what makes life meaningful. For myself and many others, it’s our campus that makes life truly meaningful.”
For Butler, the shelter-in-place order has brought with it both the good and the bad. It’s nice, she says, to have more time with family and a more flexible school schedule, but she misses friends, teachers, and the motivation they provide in the classroom.
“The letter project has given me something to do that is meaningful work and brings me joy. This is a way for us to come together as a community, share our letters with each other, and send them on to the Sisters where pen-pal relationships can form. It’s allowing us to get to know the Sisters better.”
Butler intends to continue facilitating the project throughout the school year and possibly into summer break.