Written on: November 15, 2012
“With wisdom and truth you nourish us,
With love our souls you fortify
So, dear Alma Mater, your sons and daughters hail
We hail Cardinal Dougherty High!”
The singers of the long unsung Alma Mater were women who are retired or nearing retirement age but their singing was youthful and energetic. The women were students of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart in the 1950s and 60s at Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia.
The occasion for the opportunity to dust off and give voice to the school song was a November reunion between a group of Cardinal Dougherty graduates and the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart who taught at what was, in its time, the largest Catholic High School in the world. Sister Marie Therese Staiger, Sister Mary Charlotte Barton, Sister Marlene Butler (Sister John Marlene) and Sister Barbara Harrington (Sister Robert Francis) served as teachers at Cardinal Dougherty and happily welcomed the alums as they walked through the doors of the Grey Nuns’ Motherhouse.
The reunion day began with an 11 o’clock Mass celebrated by Father John Nevins, current Chaplain to the Grey Nuns and one time Cardinal Dougherty faculty member. Louise Ucci Hartley, class of 1965 and Barbara Miller, class of 1966, read scripture passages, Sister Mary Charlotte Barton recited the Prayer of the Faithful and Sister Marlene Butler offered a reflection at the end Mass.
“For me, those were wonderful days,” Sister Marlene remembered. “We Grey Nuns lovingly referred to Cardinal Dougherty as ‘the factory’. Most of us were not used to such big numbers of students or such a large school–6000 plus students! Everything had to be in order because of that large number of students. It would have been impossible to teach or have activities without that.”
“The important aspect for us,” she continued, “was that each student was a unique individual with her own special talents and gifts. We were happy to be part of the teaching faculty.”
After Mass, the Cardinal Dougherty girls and their teachers gathered for lunch in the sunlight-filled Moyle Gallery of Grey Nun Academy. Sister Barbara Harringon offered the blessing before the meal, expressing gratitude for the day and for the opportunity to reunite and reconnect. The room was soon filled with hugs, smiles, laughter and memories. And eventually, song.
“I am so happy to be here today,” beamed Dottie Wiseman Polsenberg, class of 1962. “It means a lot to me to see the sisters again.” “The Grey Nuns were such a meaningful part of our high school years,” observed Louis Ucci. “They were excellent teachers, kind and compassionate women and good role models for us girls.”
As the day came to a close, the sisters and their former students said good-bye, as they had so many years ago, grateful for the special day and for the blessings of reunion.