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St. Joseph's College - More then a Memory

Marykay Hughes Clark
 SJC 72

(4/09) As soon as I cross the Mason Dixon line heading south, it's obvious I'm not from Emmitsburg. Five generations of New Yorkers contributed to my accent and if that isn't enough of a clue, the sheer volume and speed of New York word delivery is a dead giveaway. This is only place I've lived outside of New York. The way I feel about Emmitsburg brings me back year after year. I started at St. Joseph's in the late 1960's, my mother graduated in 1941 along with my aunt; her sisters were there through the 1930's, and their mother was a 1909 centennial graduate. My husband graduated from the Mount in 1970; his father and uncles were Mount Prep grads in the 1930's. The people I most value and hold closest to my heart today are the friends I first met in a little town in Maryland in 1968. St. Joseph College is more than just a memory for me, it's my family.

My arrival in Emmitsburg in 1968 was made possible in part, by Fiorella LaGuardia, the Depression era mayor of New York City. In the late 1930's, my grandfather was an accountant who was working two city jobs to support his family. He was called to the mayor's office to answer a complaint that he should be fired for having what some considered more than his fair share of employment. Back in the day, even in a city as large as New York, being called to the mayor's office meant, in fact, seeing the Mayor - the real Mayor, not some deputy assistant administrative associate mayor. This was a very big deal. Loss of his livelihood was the probable outcome. My grandfather explained to the Mayor that he had always worked two jobs to ensure that his children could receive the highest level of education he could give them. His kids contributed with part time jobs and were scholarship students. He had one son at Fordham law school, another was a Manhattan College undergraduate, and a daughter who was about to begin college at St. Joseph's in Emmitsburg. This was at a time when a college education, while taken for granted by the wealthy, was still a luxury for most men, and almost unheard of for young women. My grandfather, a widower who had raised his children alone, was definitely not wealthy. He told the Mayor his goal in life was to enable his children to have a Catholic education, learn everything they could and work hard to support themselves. If he could give the boys that opportunity, he was going to make sure it was also possible for his daughter.

The Mayor's reaction was quiet - unusual for a volatile Italian with a reputation for a love of talking. LaGuardia's exact words weren't recorded, but my mother recollects it as, "Mr. Fullam, you're doing something remarkable. I wish everybody in New York City valued our children's future as much as you do. We'd all be a lot better off today. God bless you and you can keep your jobs." The family breathed a collective sigh of relief. My mother packed up her trunk and was driven to Emmitsburg and deposited at St. Joseph's by Msgr. James Casey, the pastor of their parish in Brooklyn, who had arranged a scholarship for her. Msgr. Casey, a family friend, was also a Mount graduate and lifelong Mount benefactor whose desire was to share the unique feeling of community he found in Emmitsburg with as many people as he could. So in 1937, Kay Fullam arrived from Brooklyn and met a girl from Hancock, Maryland. Along with the regular curriculum, my mom learned to love the apple orchards that Bebe Cohill called home and Bebe learned to love New York. She moved to Brooklyn to marry my mother's brother and later become my godmother. For fifty years, this friendship that started in Emmitsburg continued to grow and sustain them. It included so many other women from their class that as a kid I was convinced my mother had about a dozen sisters. Watching the love, support and encouragement all these women shared over the years, I've benefitted from the spirit of this college from the day I was born, although it took me decades to realize the extent of my gratitude.

I had no idea what to expect in Emmitsburg when I arrived in 1968. I'm from the south shore of Long Island where there's an abundance of beautiful flat beaches but a severe shortage of elevation. Swimming was a big part of my life, hills were an unknown factor. For somebody familiar with the level predictability of the Long Island Expressway, driving over South Mountain was a wilderness experience. Watching fog wreaths float up from the valley knocked me out. I felt safe when I could see the mountains on the horizon and each fall I impatiently waited for them to change into their trix-are-for-kids colors. By the time I had figured out that pigs were not pink and that a herd of dairy cows wouldn't stampede, I was in love with Emmitsburg.

I still can't figure out how the Daughters of Charity had me pegged so fast. The first day I arrived on campus I was put on academic probation. I had majored in art in high school and the admissions department at St. Joseph's wasn't at all convinced that I was a strong enough contender to carry the full 18 credits per semester the college required. I panicked, worried that I would be locked in the library until Christmas. Luckily, the only penalty involved was not being allowed to carry a full academic schedule. During my first semester, I wasn't permitted to take the Ethics course that was mandatory for the rest of my classmates. This probably didn't have the positive effect the administration hoped for; it was 1968, I was a noisy 18-year old and quickly realized that the absence of ethics sure wasn't going to interfere with my social life.

Conduct was prescribed by a rule book of regulations that was nearing the end of an era by 1968. The dress code at St. Joe's mandated that skirts be worn at all times. This resulted in an epidemic of girls wearing knee sox, loafers and trench coats buttoned to the neck, regardless of season or temperature. The coats usually covered cut-off faded blue jeans and tee shirts, except for early morning classes when pajamas were the easiest option. Curfew was at 11:00 p.m. When we left campus, we had to sign out and note our destination. These entries contributed to the development of our ingenuity and resourcefulness and many of us took creativity to new levels; panic ensued each time it was rumored that Sr. Gertrude planned to send these sheets home to our parents. We were sure the rules were designed to discourage every opportunity for romance, but we were inventive, with the result that our class must have at least a dozen SJC-MSM marriages. When I say that the strict no drinking policy didn't slow some of us down much, I am only speaking for myself, not wanting to implicate most of my dearest friends. Attendance at Convocations was mandatory and required wearing full academic attire. Headcounts were taken and there was no way to avoid this cap and gown torture. However, the college provided great storage facilities; if you had no history of claustrophobia and were willing to hide quietly in a roomy closet for an hour, your attendance was never missed. For years my roommate and I had caps and gowns that never left their original boxes. At our 35th reunion we took a FEMA-sponsored tour of the campus; neither of us ever remembered being inside the chapel. It seemed we balked at every regulation, big and small, but we were growing. In addition to academic education, we were learning and discovering the value of friendships that would last a lifetime. The administration at St. Joseph's in the late sixties and early seventies encountered a group of intelligent, and admittedly exasperating, young women on the cusp of an era of sweeping social change. We were impatient and didn't feel the need to have doors opened for us.

My mother and her friends graduated in 1941; social convention dictated that they should expect door holding. However, in 1941, the majority of men in this country had urgent military responsibilities; their absence during the war years provided the opportunity for women to step up, open their own doors and launch their own careers. The women of St. Joseph's responded. The college sent those young women off with an education, a confidence in God and themselves and a deep loyalty, appreciation and spirit of love for each other that has carried them for six decades. For more than 160 years St. Joseph's offered this treasure to every young woman in every class in the academy high school and college. My generation may have plundered the rule book, but we've always protected the treasure. We thought some of the rules seemed irrelevant and of no great concern in the long run, but somehow we knew the spirit and goals of the college would provide empowerment and the stability that would become central in our lives.

When I tried to put it into words, I realized that the Emmitsburg connection is pretty much impossible to explain to anyone who hasn't been here. I call it treasure, one of my friends calls it magic. Put these together and you've got something so valuable it defies explanation. For me, it encompasses family and forty years of irreplaceable friends who've become family. The treasure and the spirit unique to St. Joseph's is the two hundred years of love and community that Saint Elizabeth Seton created in this valley. It's made us a part of something greater than ourselves and has nurtured, educated, carried and befriended us for generations. Don't ever believe it's just a memory.

Have your own memories about going to school at the Mount? St. Josephs? Emmitsburg High School, or others schools in Emmitsburg?
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net