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    • The Main Building of Sacred Heart Schools

Alum Boarder Shares Her Story

Lindsay Hill (CSH ’76)
Hear the firsthand account of life at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in the '70s
What is your definition of “home”? As long as I could remember, my home was a 1915-era flat, located in the Marina District of San Francisco. Mr. & Mrs. Moscone, the brother of future Mayor Moscone, lived above us and a classical pianist lived in the next building, directly across from us. On cold, rainy afternoons, the air was filled with piano concertos floating through the double-hung kitchen windows, while my mother baked bread. She baked every weekend until she developed breast cancer. By the time I understood what cancer was, my parents had divorced, my father disappeared and my mother had died. I was immediately moved into my maternal grandmother’s house in the Richmond District.
Realizing that I needed more help than she could offer, my grandmother sought the advice of the RSCJ at Lone Mountain College, which was originally founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1898 as Sacred Heart Academy. It was decided that the best help available was at Convent of the Sacred Heart in Atherton. I was to become a full-time boarding student. Sadly, Sacred Heart San Francisco, just blocks from my childhood home, was not an option for many reasons. So, in the blink of an eye, I was uniformed, packed up and accompanied by a new footlocker purchased from the local army surplus store on Market Street. Both the new footlocker and small grey suitcase were placed in the trunk of my grandmother’s car. We drove south down the San Francisco Peninsula, on to Atherton’s campus, passing through the stately Valparaiso Avenue gates.
The lush grounds of oak and palm trees greeted us as we wound our way slowly up to the main building. Parking under the shelter of the porte-cochère, there appeared a magnificent valley oak tree. Dominating the front entrance on the east side, it towered over the grass, running the length of the building out to the flagpole. I was awe struck! We began removing my belongings from the trunk, when the heavy oak and glass front door swung open. Stepping carefully down to the outside landing were Sr. Gladys Enos and Sr. Folsom. As Sr. Enos gently held my gaze, I immediately felt a sense of safety and comfort. The two sisters slowly helped maneuver the footlocker, suitcase, my grandmother and me down the length of the art gallery hallway and up  the staircase to the freshman dorm. I chose the dorm room with a tall, single hung window, protected by the valley oak just outside. This was my new home!
The boarding school at Convent of the Sacred Heart in Menlo Park was a masterpiece of design. What was their secret? A day school is one thing, but a boarding school is an entirely different undertaking! The Sisters had devised a plan for the boarding school using patient discipline, high academic and personal standards, traditions, and routine. Each element dovetailed into the next to create a solid foundation for life long habits. It was these three elements that I needed to begin rebuilding myself after losing my beloved mother to cancer along with our home in San Francisco. The Sisters understood trauma and how to begin the healing process. Working in concert with school routines, they designed weekdays and weekends for boarders which could be easily anticipated, creating a sense of security and safety.
Weekday morning routines began with the head mistress of the boarding school, Sister Gladys Enos. Standing outside her office, she would ring a loud, vintage brass and wood hand bell directly outside her office door, at the south end of the main hall. Then she would walk into each group dormitory, to ring it up close, ensuring everyone heard it. I had not been told about the up close part, so when the bell began ringing for the first time, right outside my cubicle curtain, I woke up in a standing position on the cold parquet floor with my heart pounding along in concert with the bell! Sister Enos would then announce, “Good morning girls. Breakfast will be served in thirty minutes and you’re expected downstairs in the dining room for the opening blessing, dressed, ready for class, and on time!” After breakfast, we (boarders) ran back upstairs to gather notebooks, texts, and anything else necessary for the day. Once classes commenced, boarders were not allowed access to the second floor until lunch. This allowed custodial staff to clean restrooms and other common areas.
“Goûter” (gootay, French for snack), served from 3:00-3:30 p.m. out of the tiny kitchen near the nurses office, signaled that “after school” had arrived. After laying hold of whatever was offered, we changed out of our school uniforms into regular clothes. We were allowed to leave campus to walk or drive for the purpose of shopping, going to day--student homes, or remaining on campus to begin studying. We also had a main lounge
which contained a large entertainment console housing a television and a record player. There were always programs to watch from couches and bean-bag chairs with friends. Evening dinner was served promptly at 6:00 p.m. There was then a half-hour in which to relax before study hall began. Study hall was a serious affair. It lasted one hour with mandatory silence and not a soul outside their room or the library without an excellent
explanation as to why. Sisters and seniors were designated as proctors, walking dorm to dorm, and supervising the downstairs old library where students were sent who needed closer supervision. As a regular, unhappy attendee of the library, I would do anything but study. Eventually, I did learn the art of silent concentration, and mastery of academic material. These skills developed after a couple of years and several discussions with various Sisters repeatedly shared the same observation, “Lindsay, let’s step into the hall. It would appear that you are unable to concentrate again on your work this evening. How can we overcome this situation? What can we do? Let me give you a moment to think it through while I reflect on my own ideas to help you and we’ll talk.” After Study hall concluded, there was additional free time until Sr. Enos dimmed the hall lights, signaling it was time to shower and ready for bed. Although lights out was 10:00 p.m., flashlights emerged for whispered gossip, reading under covers, and further study. Once everyone finally settled down, the only sound left was the distant whistle echoing from freight trains passing in the night.
Traditions played a key role for boarders. One such tradition occurred annually during the last week before vacation at Christmas time. It was titled "Stars and Switches." Seniors who were boarding were placed in charge of the event and tasked with assigning "stars” for good habits or “switches” for poor habits for all freshman, sophomore, and junior boarders. They secretly hand decorated strips of paper with a star or a stick and wrote the name and a sentence identifying the recipient and their habit. Two seniors then volunteered to dress up as Santa and Mrs. Clause, carrying the wicker basket containing all the Stars and Switches. The rest of us went to bed each night that week in great anticipation because it was supposed to be a surprise! At last, one night at 11 p.m., the main hall lights suddenly flew on and a hand bell summoned everyone in robes and
slippers to follow Santa and Mrs. Clause in grand procession downstairs! During the Christmas season, one corner was graced with a 15-foot-tall, fully decorated Christmas tree, bursting with ornaments and loaded light strings! As the procession entered the cafeteria, the tree stood in darkness, illuminating its corner. We huddled together on the floor as the Clauses took their seats in front of it. After the Stars and Switches were read aloud eliciting both applause and laughter, the cafeteria lights unexpectedly lit up! Festively decorated tables were covered with serving trays brimming with cups of hot chocolate and as many cookies as one could stuff inside a napkin! Before ascending upstairs to bed, we gathered together holding hands and sang a few Christmas carols around the tree as a closing blessing. Truly magical!
On weekends, boarders relaxed into an open routine. Many girls went home while others were served three meals, as always, before leaving campus on errands and other activities. Dating for seniors was allowed by special permission and a curfew was instituted for no later than 10:00 p.m., after which time the entrance gates were locked. Numerous times, I stayed on campus and was sent next door to Oakwood Retirement Center to answer phones and to receive counseling. Upon entering, I was greeted by the Sisters at the front desk who chatted about the progress of my week and what was being studied. A small desk waited at the end of a corridor with an AT&T business phone having multiple lines. I had a job! Being put to work helped with some of the depression over losing my mother which lingered for some time after entering Menlo. Additionally, I was assigned regular “conversations” with Mother Maria Leonor Mejia, (1892-1992). Leonor in English is translated as Eleanor, which was my mother’s name! Mother Mejia rigorously taught the manners of a properly educated Sacred Heart student, which included how to sit like a lady and listen in and out of class, the seriousness of academic work habits, and the respectable way in which to present oneself. All of these discussions were held within the framework of community service. Mother Mejia left a permanent impression and her lessons helped me discern both personal and career choices wisely.
My senior year I earned the privilege of choosing a private room. It had the same towering ceilings, two five foot single-hung windows, and a magnificent valley oak stood sentry outside. Entering my last year in the boarding school came with mixed feelings of accomplishment and the fear of leaving. The Sisters had gently reshaped me into a person who valued scholarship, excellence, and self-discipline (well sometimes)! I had grown to appreciate their methods of discipline by calmly walking alongside you and using reason, wisdom, and logic to redirect poor choices. Study Hall taught me how to manage and focus on academic tasks. Routines and traditions were the fabric of everyday living for four years, and have framed my adulthood going forward. The final weeks of the school year were filled with the nervous excitement of traveling home for summer. There were hidden late night talks, packing, hugs, exchanges of addresses and phone numbers, promises to be in touch, and farewell tears. The boarding school was closed for summer and cleaned in anticipation of a new group the following September. Sr. Enos would personally review the room of each student, verifying it was left empty of personal items, while coordinating travel arrangements and pick up times for national and international flights. Removing things to go home for the last time, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and memories engulfed me like a tidal wave! Uncontrollably crying, I carted my suitcase, footlocker, and many boxes down the stairs and out the front door, to my Grandmother’s car. Sadly, there were several soggy trips until the room was empty. I had recovered from my mother’s death, healed my heart, and emerged a well educated, graceful young lady. Whenever I visit, I pause at the entrance in
gratitude because the Main Building will always be “home.”

Sacred Heart Schools Atherton

Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton

150 Valparaiso Ave
Atherton, CA 94027
650 322 1866
Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12