Sisterhood Blog

A Haunting Visit to My Old School, My Mother's New Home

By Judy Bolton-Fasman

  • Print
  • Share Share

The last time I drove up the hill of Hamilton Heights I was a high school senior at Mount Saint Joseph Academy — steering the gigantic wheel of my father’s asthmatic ’65 Malibu.

But today I was behind the wheel of my Volvo on a reconnaissance mission to see if it would be the right assisted living facility for my ailing mother, who 30 years ago gave me no other option than to attend the school that then owned the building.

I was in the last class to graduate from The Mount. That was 1978 and by then a school that once had 600 girls in grades 7-12 had dwindled to fewer than 200. When I was a student there The Mount was an ancient queen that had once been beautiful and graceful: The school was dark with heavy wood and velvet maroon drapery. The marble floors were cracked.

While most of my classmates went to The Mount as a punishment, I went on a dare. I had graduated from the local yeshiva and much to my parents’ horror had taken up with the group of Chabadniks that had infiltrated that school. If I wanted single-sex education, they insisted that it had to be in West Hartford, Conn. and not Borough Park.

I was not the first girl in my Jewish family to go to the nuns. My maternal grandmother was educated at convent schools in Greece. Nuns tutored my mother in Havana. In the ’50s and ’60s the Mount had a cadre of Jewish girls. By senior year, though, it was just my younger sister and me.

The Mount has been through a few incarnations since I graduated, but it’s a historical landmark. That means its exterior is eerily preserved in perpetuity. For the past six years it’s been an assisted living facility.

Coming back to check it out for my mother, it felt odder than odd to use the front entrance, which was prohibited when I was in school. Inside, the place was now decorated in false cheer. The nun’s quarters and student classrooms had been converted to small apartments. The gym is now the Alzheimer’s unit.

Tracy, who showed me around, said that people think the place is haunted. Doorknobs suddenly jiggle, windows slam shut, elevators randomly open and close. My mother, who has always cautiously opened doors as if she’s about to encounter a ghost on the other side, might feel at home.

As we stood at the entrance of a small room, Tracy asked me if I knew why it was called the Pope’s Room. I told her there used to be a chair, cordoned off with fancy braided rope, bearing a plaque that Pope Pius XII had once sat there. On a winter afternoon during my senior year I too sat in that chair. I didn’t yet know about the Pope’s immoral silence during the Holocaust.

My mother, who was equal parts beautiful and difficult while I was growing up, would probably not willingly come to this place, where she had once wielded so much power over me. She’d react like a woman Tracy told me about who had considered moving there, who was so overcome with memories of nuns rapping her knuckles with rulers that she refused to get out of the car.

Still, now I could almost picture my mother setting up house in Sister Barbara Maureen’s old classroom or finding Pius XII’s chair on one of her nocturnal strolls.

But by the end of my visit, I was choking on the irony of it all.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Parents, Catholic School, Assisted Living

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


Comments
Rina Copper Sun. Nov 15, 2009

Fascinating article. This would be a good subject for a book--on the experience of Jewish students in Catholic schools and Quaker institutions.




Find us on Facebook!
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.