MABOU: As high school students, they boarded with local families or adhered to strict schedules under the watchful eyes of the sisters at St. Joseph’s Convent.
As adults, they returned to Mabou to share their experiences of attending St. Joseph’s Convent School and Mabou Consolidated School in the late ‘50s and ‘60s with an eager audience that filled the An Drochaid – The Bridge museum on June 10.
The two-hour session was filled with the memories of eight former boarders, some of whom came from areas as diverse as Sydney, Port Hawkesbury and Larry’s River to attend the Mabou schools. Some, like Creignish resident Frank MacInnis, enjoyed their time in Mabou but rarely missed an opportunity to hitchhike home for the weekend.
“Pretty much everyone would pick you up, even if you were only going a mile – once I got 15 drives,” MacInnis recalled, drawing laughter from those in attendance.
Others, like Big Pond native and current Sydney resident Yvonne (Sampson) Bonaparte, marveled at the generosity and kindness of Mabou residents in general.
“There was a lady here that used to bake homemade bread, and her little girls would come and tug on my [school] uniform and say, ‘Mama wants you to come home after school.’ And when I’d get there, she’d take a nice hot roll right out of the oven and make a cup of tea,” Bonaparte smiled.
The “very structured” scheduling of the nuns operating St. Joseph’s Convent School frequently arose during the evening’s remembrances, including those of Catherine (Lamey) Hawley, a West Bay Road native now living in Port Hood.
“You got up at 6:30 in the morning, you went to Mass at 7, and then it was breakfast, and then it was school, and then you came home for dinner, and after school you had an hour, and the Grade 9s and 10s were allowed downtown Tuesdays and Thursdays for one hour,” Hawley recalled.
“And then there was an hour of study, and then there was chapel, the rosary, and then there was an hour in the gym – they’d play music, and we all danced. Then you got upstairs, you got ready for bed or you came down and studied… And the same thing [happened] the next day.”
West Lake Ainslie native Elizabeth (MacDonald) MacPhee shared creative ways of circumventing this schedule, as she recalled sitting and reading late at night in the public bathroom sink so the sisters wouldn’t see her feet. However, Joan (Beaton) Currie, now a Sydney resident and a member of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, expressed sympathy for the nuns assigned to educate and care for the St. Joseph’s student body.
“There were all these very strict expectations of them,” said Currie, who has had the opportunity to visit with her former teachers as an adult.
“They were supervising us from early in the morning, and then they were going to school and teaching – they didn’t have a moment’s peace all day. So by the time they got into those bedrooms and we started carrying on, it was the last thing they wanted to hear.”