Looking back through the years

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 9, 2010

School Days at St. Peter’s

by Carolyn Millet Ourso

In 1941 when I started school, the Dominican nuns staffed St. Peter School in Reserve. Sister Mary Roberta was my first-grade teacher, and Sister Mary Grace was the principal. Girls’ uniforms were navy blue skirts and white blouses with a small tie at our necks. Boys wore khaki pants and shirts and a tie.

First Communions were always scheduled each year on St. Joseph Day, March 19th. Once we made our Communion, the nuns never let a month go by without taking us to confession every Friday. We’d attend mass and afterwards march back to the school, where the Sisters treated us to hot chocolate and donuts.

The month of May was really special back then. During the month, “May Devotions” were held at St. Peter’s Church at seven o’clock each night. On these cool evenings, some of us in our neighborhood would walk together to church for the services honoring our Blessed Mother. Often we’d walk along the levee to see the overflowing Mississippi River that would rise each spring due to melting snow and ice from up north.

On a dedicated Sunday in May St. Peter’s would hold a May Crowning at church to further honor the mother of Jesus. Schoolchildren formed a procession on the sidewalks bordering the church parking lot, with girls wearing small floral wreaths on our heads and boys carrying candles. Reciting the rosary, we proceeded to the church, and one of the children would place a crown on the statue of our Blessed Mother. One year I was blessed with the honor of carrying Mary’s crown on a beautiful pillow for the ceremony. There were also May crownings in individual classrooms at school; a student would bring a small wreath of flowers to crown our Blessed Mother each morning.

While we enjoyed these celebrations, there were other rituals that were not as much fun. Our sixth-grade teacher. Sister Mary Adelaide, became famous for teaching her students how to diagram sentences, a regimen most students dreaded.

I rode the bus to and from school, but at lunchtime my Dad picked up my brother and me to go home for lunch. I guess my Mom’s cooking was more appealing to us, but many kids ate in the school cafeteria every day.

Monsignor Jean Byraud’s birthday was on

Nov. 11, and we had a school program every year to celebrate his special day. Afterwards, Monsignor would always declare a school holiday, which the principal would implement — if she saw fit.

We always had Christmas plays. There was one special play I’ll never forget. That year a very energetic girl was chosen to be Santa Claus. In the play, when another character lit a candle, our Santa Claus really lit up the stage. Santa reached out too fast, accidentally hit the candle, and fire broke out. The flames were quickly extinguished, and no harm was done. But it sure made this Christmas play one to remember.

That reminds me of Sister Mary Isabel, the nun always in charge of teaching dances to students for our plays. She is one of the few nuns from our days at St. Peter’s who is still living. Dancing must be good for one’s health.

Our carefree days at St. Peter’s ended June 4, 1947, when our grammar school graduation was held. Girls in our class wore white dresses and white hats, while the boys wore white suits. We said goodbye to our seventh-grade teacher, Sister Mary Evangelist, and our principal. Sister Mary Conrad. We moved on to another school, another set of rules and responsibilities, but we will forever remember the school where we learned reading, writing, and arithmetic (yes … and how to diagram sentences) — but, more importantly, St. Peters’, a place always in our hearts, where a group of devoted nuns instilled in us the three things that sustain us to this day: Belief, Faith and Trust in God.

Memories of St. Peter

by Melba Duhe Hymel

I feel very fortunate to have been taught by Dominican nuns in first through seventh grade at St. Peter’s School in Reserve. The Sisters were such an important part of our early religious training back in 1941 through 1947. Religion and prayers were a big part of our school day. We started each morning with assembly acid prayers, and after lunch we would recite the rosary in the classroom. Then we’d begin our afternoon studies. Before leaving school at the end of each day, we again said a short prayer.

School mass was on Friday mornings, and on the first Friday of the month, girls were required to wear white skirts and beanies, instead of our regular blue skirts. God forbid if you forgot to wear them. Every Monday the teacher would ask if anyone had missed Sunday mass — and your excuse had better be a good one.

Naturally, Monslgnor Jean Eyraud was always involved in the school. He would regularly visit all the classrooms. Monsignor made a point of handing out each child’s report card. He would congratulate you if you did well and encourage those who needed to improve. Whenever there was a play or other event, it didn’t start until Monslgnor was seated front and center. He dearly loved his school and the children.

In the early grades at St. Peter’s there were two principals no one can ever forget. Sister Mary Fraaicesca walked around with a ruler in her hand and had no qualms in applying it to the knuckles of any child who misbehaved. The other principal, also quite strict, was Sister Mary Patrick.

Our seventh-grade teacher was Sister Mary Evangelist. Despite having 47 students in this class, Sister always had the upper hand, even with boisterous boys who tried to be disruptive. She taught us Latin so we could respond to the priest at Mass and sing traditional hymns for special church events.

Sister Mary Adelaide is especially memorable. She had a hard time dealing with hot weather. Sister always confiscated the white blotters included in Coca-Cola packages distributed to each child at the start of the school year. She used the blotters in the front of her warm, confining headpiece to absorb perspiration from her forehead.

I must confess, the school cafeteria was not my favorite place to eat. If you didn’t like the food, too bad, you were not allowed to throw it away;

so I would often bring my own lunch. Sometimes students were allowed to eat lunch in the Convent, not with the sisters, but in the laundry room. There was a small table with place for

six children. I can’t remember exactly how

that privilege came about, but I enjoyed having lunch there, and it was always a challenge to make your way through the maze of damp laundry.

Baseball was our favorite playground sport back then. Every chance we’d get we’d run out to the baseball field. Not being very athletic, I went just to have fun with other kids. Sometimes there were mishaps, like when my friend, Carolyn, got hit by a ball right on her nose! Ouch!

These were happy, formative days under the inspiration of the Dominican nuns. Uppermost in my memory is what they taught us whenever we had a problem or were upset about something. Their admonition, “Offer it up” (for the poor souls in Purgatory.) Over the years I have often followed their advice, and I must say it really helps in many situations.

Many of my friends from St. Peter’s are still dear friends today. Our bond is the common base of faith, values and self-discipline that we were blessed to receive in our early years at St. Peter’s School.