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.

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