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Thursday, June 1, 2017

St. Placid: My Old High School

After I posted yesterday I was reminded that I had found a video on-line about my old high school in Olympia:  St. Placid High School.

The school was part of a priory: "[a] small monastery or nunnery that is governed by a prior or prioress."   The word "convent" commonly replaces the word "nunnery" and I'm not if there is really a difference between the two.  "Monastery" is also  used and not just for monks.  I should know but I'm stumped. Does anyone know?

The mother house of St. Placid is the St. Benedict monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota which has its roots in Germany (Bavaria).  Here is the first video in a series that talks about how these Benedictine sisters came to America in the 19th century.

The St. Placid Priory was founded in the 1950s/1960s in Lacey/Olympia, Washington.  The sisters opened a high school and the first class was graduated in 1965, the year I was born.  It was an all-girls school with uniforms and a deep dedication to the education of young women.  The only male on the premises was Father Edward who taught some of the science classes and who officiated at Mass on Wednesdays.  (Attendance was required even of the non-Catholics.)

Almost all of the teachers were nuns.  The exceptions were two women, native speakers of French and Spanish, who taught the language classes.  The curriculum was (I thought) a nice mix of a "classical" education and a more "modern" one.  Latin was required as well as the modern European languages. The science and math classes were small - so small that individual attention was the norm.
The English classes were divided up into grammar classes (a lot of diagramming sentences) and creative writing where we read the great poets (and wrote poetry) and memorized long passages from Shakespeare's plays.   History was also a lot of rote memorization.  Sister would drop a map of the world (or a region) on our desks and we had to fill in the country names or the rivers or the capitals or the mountains.   Similar quizzes for dates and  important events in world (and US) history.  We did a lot of essay writing as well.

It was a very rigorous education that focused on doing a few things very well.  This was the minimum that the nuns felt an educated person should know (and not just those bound for college): writing in complete sentences; literacy in mathematics and science; basic world history; geography;  appreciation for the Great Works; and Latin which is the root of the languages we would later study, and a source of much vocabulary in English.

The tuition was very affordable.  I don't think the nuns were paid very much (if at all) and there were arrangements for families who couldn't pay the modest tuition.   If you wanted a particular kind of Catholic education for your daughter, it was entirely within your reach.

The school was very small, stayed small, and finally closed a few years after I was graduated in 1983.  The priory is still there and in this picture I can see a couple of my old teachers.  See here for a closer look at how some of these women  came to become nuns (Sister Lucy and Sister Monika were two of my teachers.) The sisters now run a Spirituality Center and they host retreats provide spiritual direction for those seeking it.

This video is a tour of the priory and it is lovely.  The buildings have not changed much and the grounds are still as beautiful as ever.  Imagine being a student here for four years in a place so calm and quiet and surrounded by so much natural beauty.

St Placid Priory tour from St. Placid Priory on Vimeo.

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