Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Catholic School Girl

In Rawlins in the 1950s, dads worked on the railroad, as guards at the state penitentiary, for government, or in a few cases owned or were employed by local businesses. My parents were descendants of Catholic immigrants, German farmers in the 1850s on Dad’s side and Tyrolean Austrians in the first part of the twentieth century on Mom’s. My dad’s family included several nuns and at least one priest who went on to become a bishop. So it was a given that their children would attend Catholic school since one was available.
Photo of St. Joseph's Catholic Church
by Brigida Blasi

A drive to collect the money to build a Catholic School in Rawlins began in November 1949. Six weeks later an extraordinary $101,000 had been raised toward the quarter million dollar effort to erect St. Joseph’s Catholic School. The entire population of the south central Wyoming town in 1950 was 7415, and of course only a fraction of that population was Catholic. The average salary was $2,992 and in general there was only one wage-earner in a family at that time, so the success of the fund drive to build a school and give the parish’s children a religion-based education really was remarkable.

Photo of St. Joseph's Parochial School
by Brigida Blasi
The school, at 222 West Spruce, sat on the busy business loop of US 30. A squat yellow brick structure built behind the fancier St. Joseph’s Church with its cupola dominating the downtown skyline, the school was utilitarian in the extreme, sparing little for fancy design. The original plans called for six class rooms, boy and girl rest rooms, a library, dining room and kitchen, a gym, and the principal’s office, where hid the paddle with holes drilled in to make sure we felt the whacks.

Photo of classroom at St. Joseph's Parochial School
by Brigida Blasi

The school opened in September 1951, with an enrollment of 183. Five Sisters of Loreto came from Denver to teach. In a diocesan report dated 1939-2000, in that latter year enrollment was 290 with six teaching Sisters, two lay teachers, and three priests, who teach religion and physical education. Men from the parish kept the football, basketball, and track programs going through volunteer services. Moms supervised the lunchroom after one was later added on, coached girl’s gym, and ran countless fund raising activities.

I attended kindergarten at the public school in Rawlins, and started elementary school in the first grade at St. Joseph’s. I went through all eight grades of parochial school in the 1960s, and well remember the strict expectations of the nuns. We did not wear uniforms, but girls wore only skirts and dresses below the knee. Boys had shirts tucked in to nice pants and wore belts. 

We felt, and were, different from the public school kids whose playground faced ours across Pine Street. If we got a paddling in school, we could expect another to reinforce the lesson when we got home. We knew a smidgen of Latin from the Mass. We were better educated in English, but less so in science and math. We didn’t get dirty jokes, and were veritable sacrificial lambs when we graduated out of parochial school the spring following the Summer of Love... 
Photo credit: Derek Redmond / / CC BY-SA

and just ahead of the Tet Offensive.
Photo credit: IcronticPrime / / CC BY-ND

Sources consulted:

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