Wednesday, December 23, 2015

An {Unstoppable} CSJ Christmas

Religious faculty celebrates Christmas in Brady Hall, 1961.
At right learning on an elbow is Sr. Aline Marie Gerber.
EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY. One tiny image in our "Sisters in Traditional Habits" file shows the Mount's Sisters enjoying each other's company in Brady Hall.

At first glance, it's a not-very-interesting Christmas snapshot. But if you know some Mount history, there's a story behind the setting: the old Lecture Hall, now Brady Lounge.

According to the back of the photo the year is 1961. Scores of holiday greeting cards are pinned to the stage curtain in the shape of a row of Christmas trees. A real tree, off to the right, is festooned with tinsel and more cards. What appears to be a pile of newly unwrapped presents -- mostly books -- is beneath the tree.

Christmas, 1961: Just six weeks before this photo was taken, the notorious Bel Air Fire swept through Brentwood Heights, damaging or destroying about a fifth of the Chalon Campus and doing serious damage at Carondelet Center. Burned to the ground, with everything in it, was the Faculty Residence (Rossiter Hall). Mercifully, no one was hurt, but many of the Sisters lost all they had.

But soon it would be time for the holidays! Although the campus was still grimy with smoke and the air reeked of burned wood, we can be sure Christmas would proceed as planned in a new location.

Other details are only hinted at in this 54-year-old picture. Were there more cards than usual that Christmas? Were the donations tucked inside extra-generous after the fire? Did that load of new books under the tree replace some of the faculty's lost teaching materials? We can be fairly sure the answer to all of those questions is yes.

After the party, the Sisters would scatter to their temporary homes -- other CSJ convents, hospitals, or the Mount's dorms where they would spend the next year. There was a new semester to prepare for, and reconstruction on damaged buildings was already under way. Funds had to be raised for new buildings. The Mount and the CSJs' community life had to keep moving forward, fire or no fire. 

But Christmas in 1961, as it is in 2015, was a special time at the Mount. For an afternoon, at least, our {Unstoppable} Sisters could relax and enjoy some Christmas cheer in familiar, if makeshift, surroundings.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas poem, 1939

A Mount student's block print graces The Queen's Page
cover in the December, 1939, issue.
THE MOUNT IS BLESSED to have in Special Collections a beautiful volume in red leather with The Queen's Page, 1937-1941, stamped in gold. It's a compilation of the quarterly literary magazine of the Sodality Union, an organization of Catholic high school and college students in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles dedicated to honoring the Mother of God.

For Christmas, we thought we'd share a poem by Mount senior Peggy Mahoney '39, a regular contributor to the Queen's Page and the Mount's own literary quarterly Inter-Nos. It appeared on page 8 of the December 1938 issue, and we like it because it evokes a cold, starlit night in the pitch-dark heights of Brentwood.

Broad hills that raise black breasts
To midnight skies
And watch while man and child and
Lapping waters sleep–
Caught in the craggy chambers of
Your heart, you keep the secret
That lies locked in Virgin Eyes.
Jet sky, poise low your velvet heart
And bide the perfect hour when 
The chorus thrums the golden joy afar,
And angel feet will bruise each burning star, 
And Christ will lie on straw, at Bethlehem.
Detail of Corlett's print
A year later, Wanda May Corlett '42 of the Mount provided the woodblock print that graces the cover of the Queen's Page for December 1939. City Hall looms over La Placita Church near Olvera Street. Almost hidden at the bottom is the newborn Jesus in his manger. To us, it speaks clearly that the Mount is engaged deeply in the world around it.

This Christmas season, may Our Lady of the Mount continue to bless her daughters and sons at the university named for her, in the city that bears her name. Pray for us, Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles.