I wrote my very first post about the difference my ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Eckles, made in my life. I was a shy new student in a large public junior high and while Mrs. Eckles helped me that year, I was still miserable. I didn’t make any friends at my new school. I cried almost every night while I did my homework, and I felt sick to my stomach every morning when my bus arrived at school. As a field trip approached, I worried so much about not having anyone to sit with on the bus or in the theater that I actually made myself sick and stayed home from school that day. My parents tried to help me, and about halfway through the school year they suggested that we look into the local Catholic high school. It was the best idea they could have had.
The following autumn I began tenth grade at Bishop Shanahan High School. Naturally, I was nervous on my first day. All the students assembled in the gym, and there I was sitting on the bleachers surrounded by a few hundred strangers. To my surprise, a couple of girls sitting next to me introduced themselves. In fact, that kept happening all day. Friendly students noticed that I was new, and they would introduce themselves and their friends to me. I felt welcomed.
There was such a difference in the atmosphere at my new school. I loved beginning classes with a prayer and saying grace before lunch. I loved the uniforms that made us all equals; no one was judging me based on clothing labels. After four years of changing classes in middle school/junior high, I was used to all the students jumping up at the sound of the bell and pushing through the crowds to get to their next classes, but it was different at Shanahan. I will never forget the boys standing aside and letting the girls go first. These kids were taught to be ladies and gentlemen.
In the spring of that first year at Shanahan, we went on a field trip to Washington, D.C. I had a friend to sit with on the bus and a group of girls to explore the capital with. The next year I joined chorus and had the amazing opportunity to travel to England. There I also had friends with whom I could share the biggest adventure of my life. To tell the truth, I didn’t actually have much of a social life outside of school or these school-sponsored trips, but that was okay. While I was at school, I felt a strong sense of belonging.
I had wonderful teachers at Shanahan, too, who made the school a place in which I was happy to spend my days. Well, maybe not all of them were wonderful, but 23 years later (how is it possible that it’s been that long?) my memories of Mr. McQuiston and Mr. Keane are a lot stronger than my memories of, let’s say, my chemistry teacher. (There’s no need to mention his name here, or the name we called him behind his back. I guess I do remember that.) I’d rather laugh over my memory of Mr. McQuiston’s April Fool’s prank on Rose and smile when I think of Mr. Keane reading the entirety of Macbeth aloud to us. Oh my, and then there was the time Mr. Finlay came bursting through Mr. McQuiston’s door and announced, “That was my best Kramer.” Mr. Degnan kept us entertained with his Irish gift for storytelling. Perhaps my best memory of all is my fourth period study hall my senior year. Thank you to Mr. Sagnella for taking attendance and then walking out of the room every day so that we could watch The Love Boat and play cards and once in a while do our physics homework that was due the next period.
I spent three years at Shanahan. I learned French and Latin, religion and history, physics and calculus. I learned about St. Catherine of Siena’s influence on the pope, about Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia, about Arthur Dimmesdale’s hypocrisy. Shanahan gave me an education, but it also gave me a safe place to work through my adolescent struggle to figure out who I was and helped to establish my faith as the foundation of my identity. Shanahan is truly my alma mater, my “nurturing mother.”