Graduation Exercises

Ava Mari Doogue

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For the month of June, the CSJ Archives is celebrating past commencements. The Archives is focusing on St. Thomas Aquinas High School commencement programs.

St. Thomas Aquinas was the first school staffed by the Sisters, in 1873. Thomas Magennis invited the Sisters to teach in Jamaica Plain after witnessing their teaching methods in Flushing, NY. “He had been elected to the school board of the town (Jamaica Plain) and he appreciated the value of the public school system, but he wanted that extra something, religious training and liturgical music, taught as well.” (Glynn, 1989).

 

At first glance, the commencement programs seem regular and uniform. When you look more closely, you begin to notice subtle differences and details…

 

 

Many were doubtful that the Sisters would make good teachers, and Mother Mary Regis Casserly (then Sister Regis) fought hard to prove that the Sisters were suitable educators. St. Thomas Aquinas parish grew and the grammar school was extremely successful, so much, so plans to erect a high school had started. (Glynn, 1989).

In 1927, St. Thomas Aquinas High School formally opened; “The first graduating class consisted of six boys and twenty-five girls” (O’Hara, pg. 74). The school offered an advanced curriculum, an enviable sports program, and a band (Glynn, 1989). At first glance, the commencement programs seem regular and uniform. When you look more closely, you begin to notice subtle differences and details. Different motifs for different years, maybe a familiar last name or favorite hymn.

St. Thomas Aquinas High School is a good example for the difference and change in how high schools celebrate the graduating class. For example, high schools would sometimes take the whole weekend to celebrate. The weekend schedule began with an evening Mass on Friday, followed by the Commencement and Diploma Ceremony on a Saturday, maybe with a performance by the band and high school thespians. Sunday was the final day of celebration, with Mass in the morning.

In 1931 and 1932, graduates performed a drama during their commencement ceremony. June 23, 1931, the graduating class performed “The Shepherdess of Lourdes”, a drama in five acts. The next and last theatrical production was June 13, 1932, “Coiana or The Rose of the Algonquin’s”. The following year, you can see the high school began putting on drama productions a few months before the commencement ceremony, probably as an attempt to shorten the ceremony.

 

 

These annual commencement or graduation exercises programs span from the early 1930s to the late 1940s. As the first school in which the sisters taught, the success of St. Thomas and students was instrumental in expanding the CSJ presence in Boston. It allowed parishioners to see the joy and contentment the sisters experienced from teaching and helping neighbors in the community. The success flared so greatly, and quickly it was imperative for more schools to open staffed by the sisters.