Marie Nowakowski, a member of the first graduating class of 1958 accepted my invitation to come to Alvernia and share her memories with me. We were comfortably seated in the Sister’s guest living room convent when Marie began to reminisce about her early days in Alvernia.
Let me begin by saying that classes were held in the Sacred Heart Convent (known a the Mother House) as well as in the present Francis Hall since the high school was still a part of St. Francis Orphanage. A part of the library was on the upper level where the Development Office is found today.
Sisters taught us how to express ourselves. The classes were small and we had the opportunity of giving many oral reports. Sister Accursia, the Academic Dean, taught respect for each child, while Sister Zygmunta, the President, taught history. They didn’t have secretaries. Sister Wanda, was the Registrar, secretary to the President and everything else. The high school was phasing out.
In 1959, four students remained at the college while the rest of the student Sisters left for parishes to teach. We had two Biology classes from Sister Gemma and Chemistry from Sister Donatilla. Lights had to be out at 9:30 but at certain times permission was extended to 10:30 PM.
Intense Science classes began. We learned to improvise in the labs. Here is an example: One day, in Biology we were expecting to work on a special kind of a specimen. What could it be? – a rabbit? Our curiosity was aroused as we waited. To our surprise, it was part of a deer. We thoroughly examined the muscle, studied tissue, the brain and other parts of the deer. At another time we dissected a cow’s eye.
At this time, there were no more orphans but the High School was still here. Now the Library was moved to the lower level of Francis Hall (formerly the orphan’s play room) and remained there until the Franco Library was built in 1991.
A special event was taking place – the dedication of the new Sacred Heart Hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania. The college was closed for a full week so that the Sister students could go to clean the hospital for the dedication.
In 1960, we did practice teaching in the High School in history and religion but not in our majors. The auditorium was used for Mass while the Sacred Heart Chapel was being renovated.
The Baccalaureate, hooding ceremony and commencement were all held in the Francis Hall auditorium. Reverend Mother and her council were present. Sister Zygmunta hosted a dinner at the college for us as “decoy” while the younger Sisters were planning a wonderful surprise party for us.
We had a literary publication – I wondered if there are any copies around. We did find a few copies of the Alvermont later.
In 1965, I returned to be assistant to the Dean of Students and an instructor in Psychology. I also began working for my Masters in Psychology at the Catholic University. We had a large group of freshmen lay students who were good sports living in what you would call “camping out” conditions, in the dormitory in Francis Hall since Veronica Hall, the new dorm was not ready for occupancy. It was fun – bunk beds, minimal space for belongings etc.
The tradition was to attend Mass once a week wearing academic attire. The students had to wear hats and gloves when they went out. No slacks or jeans were allowed in class.
Christmas was a gala time. Faculty and girls in white gowns attended the Christmas Dinner in the dining room. The group processed from the auditorium through the hallways singing Christmas Carols as they entered the beautifully decorated dining hall illuminated with the spirit of Christmas. Most of the students came from New Jersey and Pennsylvania at this time. Allentown College was founded by the Franciscan Oblate Fathers, since Alvernia was still an all girls college, students from Albright and Allentown were often invited for the social events at Alvernia.
Sister Mary Walter and Sister Wanda were part of the recruiting team visiting local and out-of-state schools.
Recalling our first full-time lay teachers were: Daniel O’Brien – History, Rev. G. Stippich, a German Lutheran Minister – Theology
A special ceremony was held each year for the following:
Year 1 – Freshmen Ceremony – Received their academic attire – caps and gowns
Year 2 – Sophomore Ceremony – Donned while blazers with the college emblem
Year 3 – Junior Ceremony – Received their class ring
Year 4 – Senior Ceremony – Received their hoods as part of their commencement ceremony
In 1965, the students moved from their temporary quarters in Francis Hall to the newly built residence Veronica Hall. Here alarms were set on all exit doors for protection and safety. However, the students soon learned how to smuggle others in and out of the building.
The planned Bernardine Hall – science and all purpose building was completed in 1969. Sister Zygmunta had keen foresight as the written charter stated the admittance of college students exclusive of male or female.
In 1965 Agnes Gyb was chosen as the dorm house mother for Veronica Hall. These were exciting times. Alvernia began to grow and expand in every way and students were enthusiastic and eager. We were on our way to forge ahead.
Interviewed by: Sister M. Alodia Podczasy, February 22, 1999
The University Archives are located at the 951 Morgantown Offices on the first floor. Please contact Sharon Neal, Library Director to schedule an appointment.