Written on: August 21, 2019
The azalea-lined driveway that wound its way up to the white-columned mansion is gone. The gardens, a kaleidoscope of roses and hydrangeas, fish ponds and bowers are mostly gone too.
The classroom building is gone but the women religious who lovingly taught there live on in the hearts, minds and memories of their students.
Fifty years ago, rising costs forced the closing of D’Youville Academy, a small, all-girl Catholic high school that existed in Atlanta for nine years. The school’s founders, the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, dispersed to other ministries in other places. The lush, 25-acre property on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, formerly known as Flowerland, became home to two condominium complexes. The historic mansion was preserved but the chatter of teenage girls faded away into the mists of time.
In June, D’Youville Academy’s last graduating class—the class of 1969—came back to mark the passage of 50 years. Twenty-two of the 30 graduates attended the reunion, some from as far away as Colorado, California and England.
“It was a wonderful turnout,” said Joan Stafford Betts, one of the event’s organizers. “It meant so much to us to be together again.”
The event brought back to the women a rush of memories of friendships, academics, liturgies, rituals and just plain teenage fun.
They remembered being part of the outdoor Living Rosary organized by the sisters, each girl a prayer. They remembered the Advent Wreath Ceremony, Ring Prom, and Class Day. They remembered Glee Club, Drama Club, Science Fairs and cheerleading for Marist High School, an all-male institution at the time.
Returning to the former estate for a portion of their reunion recalled classes held outside on fine weather days, walks along winding trails, toes dipped into cooling creek water and posing for pictures in formal gowns on a bridge over a sparkling waterfall.
But many reminiscences focused on the women religious who created the very meaningful world they inhabited for four years: The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart. The sisters–highly-educated women themselves–set a high academic bar for their charges. Every girl was tasked to do her personal best.
“I had never been around nuns so I was on high alert when Sister Mary Charlotte, Sister Vincent de Paul and Sister Mary Timothy were close by,” Lorinda Cordeiro Fournier remembers. “I had a terrible time with math and physics and Sister Rosalie gave a lot of time helping me.”
May Kennedy recalls panicking in the face of complex algebra equations “until Sister Mary of Grace said, ‘Of course you can do it. Just take care of what’s in the parentheses first.’ I wanted to please her, so I tried it and it worked.”
That “of course you can” view, imparted by the sisters, was reflected in the scholastic performance of D’Youville Academy students, Kennedy says. “A quarter of my senior class was admitted to Georgia Tech, which had few female students at the time. We crushed the state math and science fair and had four national merit finalists from a class of 30.”
Rosemary Dashiell Young agreed: “D’Youville Academy was always very far ahead, academically, and this is because of the outstanding education we received from the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart. We have benefited from that our entire lives.”
Academic excellence aside, many of the women attending the reunion said that the spirituality and personal values that the sisters modeled and emphasized have influenced them over the years. “Sister Vincent de Paul taught me the meaning of INTEGRITY. I have held that to my core for all these years,” said Fournier.
“I used to think that I was a born teacher, but I realize that was hubris,” Kassie Talbott-Nixon mused. “It was observing the high standards of Sister Mary Charlotte, the humor and compassion of Sister Mary Timothy and the gentle Sister Rosalie helping us tutor students in downtown Atlanta that had a hand in lighting my career path. Every child that passed through my classroom befitted from the direction and advice of those strong and capable women. For this I say, deeply and sincerely, THANK YOU!”
Fournier said the most important gift she received from attending D’Youville Academy under the auspices of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart was “the love I felt for the Mass and the contentment I felt in the Church.”
Elena deGive Allison also credits the sisters with providing her with a strong spiritual foundation. “Later on in life, when challenges became more complex, I fell back on my Catholic roots. I better understood what it meant to really trust God and hold on to my spiritual values.”
Several of the returning members of the class of 1969 said they felt fortunate to have transitioned from girlhood to young womanhood in such a beautiful setting and in an environment designed to nurture their growth.
In a very meaningful way, the three-day reunion was a celebration of the gifts given by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart to all of the young women who walked the halls and gardens of D’Youville Academy.
The Catholic paper, The Georgia Bulletin, published the article. Click here to read online.