Saskatoon StarPhoenix


A Sacred Heart graduate takes inventory of the past and present of the all-girls school


Usually I think of ideas for my column myself. Today's, however, is different. It was suggested by a friend, author Patricia Burns, whose daughter Erin Olizar is a Sacred Heart School graduate from Montreal. She knew that I, too, was a Sacred Heart School graduate from Budapest, Hungary. So she suggested I write about the Sacred Heart School then and now. So here goes:


In my bedroom hangs a portrait of me at 18. I am smiling and wearing my Sacred Heart uniform, including a blouse with a necktie. My parents brought the painting with them from Hungary when they joined me in Canada in 1957.

The portrait was done in 1947, the year of my graduation from the Sacred Heart School in Budapest (we called it by its French name Sacré Coeur). I had been attending the school for the final three years of high school (we called it gymnasium), earning top marks at matriculat­ion.

The Sacred Heart School and convent were housed in an impressive building, surrounded by beautiful grounds, located on the Pest side of town, on an avenue bordering City Park. The nuns lived in the building and so did the boarders attending high school. My best friend, Marika, and I, however, made the twice daily trip on foot from our nearby homes, she from a beautiful villa and me from a more modest apartment.

My days at the Sacred Heart hold pleasant memories. Some of our teachers were Sacred Heart nuns (we addressed them as “mère,” mother in French), robed in their black habits from head to toe, except for a white band framing the face. The girls the nuns liked were chosen to wear a special sash, blue for boarders (ruban bleu) and green for day students (ruban vert). To my dismay, I never earned that honour, perhaps not living up to the nuns' idea of a perfect student. Religion, of course, was very much evident, culminatin­g in Sunday mass in the beautiful chapel. As a choir member, I had to rush there on Sundays, intoning the lovely chants, some of whose Latin words I remember to this day.

My favourite memory is an extracurri­cular activity, the year our class put on a one-act Molière play, Les Précieuses Ridicules (The Pretentiou­s Young Ladies). In it, two silly girls hope to marry “upward” and are fooled by two servants posing as aristocrat­s. In my role as, respective­ly, father and uncle of the girls, I had to warn the girls that I would “send you off to become nuns.” I can still hear the ensuing laughter from the audience, which included Sacred Heart nuns.

The laughter stopped shortly after our graduation, as Hungary's Communist rulers closed all denominati­onal schools and disbanded religious orders. By the time we assembled in 1997 for the 50th anniversar­y of our graduation, the Communist era had ended and religious life had resumed. But visiting our old school, we found the building was no longer a convent but used for another educationa­l purpose. Even the chapel had been partitione­d over the years. Still, it was good to see “the girls” once more.


The Society of the Sacred Heart was founded in 1800 in France after the French Revolution by Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat. The educationa­l order, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus — to which the whole month of June is also dedicated — was brought to the United States in 1818 by Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne. Today it spans a worldwide network of more than 40 countries, with 24 schools in the United States and Canada.

Montreal's only all-girls English Catholic high school, establishe­d in 1861, the Sacred Heart School of Montreal has occupied its present home, a castle-like building on Atwater Avenue, since 1928. The school still takes boarders and the girls still wear their smart uniforms. But there are no nuns among the staff these days. While the founder's principles survive, yet (here comes my high school Latin), Tempora Mutantur, times are changing.

From yesteryear's old girl, best wishes to today's Sacred Heart students.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOT­O ?? The students attending Sacred Heart Schools these days have a much different experience of education than those from previous generation­s.
GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOT­O The students attending Sacred Heart Schools these days have a much different experience of education than those from previous generation­s.
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