Wishing You a Merry Christmas!

Christmas is always a special time of year around Saint Mary. There is a certain feeling of peace and excitement on campus—even amidst students cramming for finals and faculty prepping exams and calculating hundreds of semester grades. .

Whether you remember the candles in the windows of Berchmans, sledding with friends, or waking up to a special present from your Kris Kringle, cherish those moments this Christmas … and all the friends that surrounded you during those moments!

Tes Mehring, C'74, Olathe, Kan.

Twas the night before finals at SMC, and all of the young freshmen were busy cramming what they should have learned throughout the semester into one L O N G night of studying into brains already on Christmas vacation! The clock struck midnight and several students emerged from dorm rooms for a stretch and few minutes of conversation before returning for many more hours of preparation for final exams! Not only were we tired from all of the cramming—but we also had the ‘munchies!’ And that spelled TROUBLE!!! “Let’s go to Southside and get some treats,” encouraged one. So the gaggle of girls stifled their giggles and traipsed through the hallowed halls to the Mother House kitchen.

Such delectable delights awaited us: soda, cake, cookies, ice-cream, and salty snacks galore! We were snacking away, when all of a sudden we heard the distinctive sound of footsteps and rosary beads coming our way. There was no time to escape! So we dashed under tables or hid wherever we could! Obviously, we had been making quite a racket before Mother Leo Frances entered. She took her sweet time making hot chocolate, getting a cookie, and then walked nonchalantly over to the light switch and turned it on saying, “Girls, come and join me!” One by one, we meekly emerged from our hiding places, walked to the table, and joined her. She made a big batch of hot chocolate (made the old fashioned way with milk and Hershey chocolate heated on the stove).

Of course, she wanted to know all of our names, where we were from, what we were majoring in, and answers to at least an additional 20 questions. After about an hour, she wished us well on our final exams and escorted us back to the doors leading to the college. For the remainder of our years at Saint Mary, whenever she saw one of us, Mother Leo Francis always had a cheery “hello” using our name, with a twinkle in her eye. And usually, she would ask us if the stock of snacks in the kitchen at the Mother House was up to par.

Mary Hannon Morin, C’64, Raytwon, Mo.

Patty Ronan Youngberg and I picked out a room in Berchmans our sophomore year. We wanted to be on the front, close to the front door, and on the second floor. We chose one that had three windows—as one being a little room which had a sink.

When Christmas rolled around, we were delighted to have not two, but three wreaths with red bulbs in our windows! We always pointed out our room to our dates. (Were we really that naive?)

Karen Kremers Tyler, C'74, Bentonville, Ark.

I have many memories of Saint Mary during the holidays. My first memory was freshman year, when we had a Secret Santa. All members of the freshman class in Maria partook in this festive activity. We left a small gift each day for several days—and then, on the final day, a larger gift from your Secret Santa was revealed. This was my first experience with Secret Santa, and it was a lot of fun.

Another memory were the wonderful dinners we had in St. Joseph’s. I started at Saint Mary shortly after the dress code changed, and we didn’t have to wear a dress every day. The Christmas dinners were an opportunity to dress up. They were formal sit-down dinners, the tables were covered in table cloths and holiday decorations, candles were lit, and Saint Joseph had a huge Christmas tree. The lights were dim, and you were served dinner. I was a member of the choir when I was a freshman. We presented the Messiah at a Choral that was held for all Saint Marians. Our dresses were long and crimson colored. Mr. Crawford was the Chorale director.

I thought of another memory that meant a lot to me—during my sophomore year, I lived on the fourth floor of Mead. They had (I think) four very large rooms with four girls apiece in them.  Two of my roommates and I worked in the cafeteria both semesters to help with our tuition. There was a lady, who worked in the cafeteria, who worked fulltime that we became close to—her name was Dixie. Before I went home for Christmas holiday that year, she invited me and my roommates to her home for a Christmas dinner. We had a full-blown Christmas dinner with her and her husband that included Christmas gifts.  We had a great time, and I thought it was very special for her to do this for us. I found out later she did this with several other girls on different occasions. Sweet memory.

And I loved the snow … I still do.  I was taking a photography class from Sister Marie Pierre, and I took a lot of snow scene pictures. The campus was beautiful covered in snow!  There were many snowball fights. And if you did not want to get out in the cold weather, you had the tunnels. Yes, lots of fond memories around Christmas and during the wintertime.  

Sally Ketchell, C'98, Lansing, Kan.

Stealing trays from the cafeteria to sled down the hill by the soccer field.

Jane Flick Distler, C'71, Leawood, Kan.

I loved the faculty waking us up to preform at Christmas! Our delight and their caring set the tone to finish the year!

Carolyn Boettcher Parmer, C'84, Cedar Hill, Mo.

I was a Leavenworth area alum for a few years, and the wine and cheese reception we hosted in the Red Room before Christmas Vespers is a special memory. I picked up a couple of older alums on the way, and we all toasted to the season. Sister Marie Therese made certain it was all planned beautifully :)

The Saint Nicholas cookie drop in our shoes was very fun, and for this student who had been away from home since August, it came at the perfect time. It was another affirmation that I had made the right choice in colleges, because none of my friends at other schools were leaving a shoe in the hallway to find it full of sweets the next day.

After graduation, I joined the Leavenworth alums at Cindy Bixby's home to assemble the bags of goods.

Brittany Clelland, U'12, Meridian, Id.

My senior year, I was awakened by noise from the parking lot. After getting up and walking to the window, I looked down into the Maria parking lot to find about eight guys (mostly freshmen) dancing around in the softly falling snow. It was the first time a few of them had ever seen snow, and they were ecstatic. It was contagious, and I went back to bed smiling.

Beth Kuckelman Reust, C'70, Frankfort, Kan.

I can't say that I have memories specific to Christmas about St. Mary. I was always thrilled that finals were over, and I was going home for a break. For a couple of years, we had inter-session right after the first of the year—but I only did that for one year because I really liked having almost a month off between semesters. I'm sure the campus was beautiful, but I hated and continue to hate cold and grey weather … so I didn't venture outside all that much.

Aimee Beers Vaught, A'44, Fayetteville, Ga.

Told by her daughter, Cathy Vaught.

I'll bet there are fewer alumni now who remember Christmas at Saint Mary's during WW2! Here are Mom's (Aimee Beers Vaught A'44) favorite Christmas memories from the early 1940s.

Mom says she remembers ice skating on the pond, which is no longer there, out front. She borrowed skates from fellow students that actually fit her size 9 feet—a size that was considered really big back then! Other fun activities included snow forts and snowball fights.

A special charitable wartime activity consisted of wrapping Christmas packages for POW's in Germany and Austria during WW2, since the Germans said they'd allow some of the packages to come through. Mom remembers the packages being wrapped to the tune of Bing Crosby's version of “White Christmas.” They sent useful items, like mittens and gloves with liners, scarves, underwear, and socks. The students didn't know if all packages got through, but some did—and they received thank you notes from those POW's who did get packages.

Another corporate charitable activity included the annual Christmas event for the residents of the local home for orphaned black children, run by the Sisters of Providence, a black order. The children were always invited to Saint Mary every Christmas season. Everyone first gathered in the chapel for Mass. The kids were always well-behaved with folded little hands. They never spoke first—only when spoken to! A Christmas party was always held afterward. Food and goodies were served and gifts were handed out to each child.

The Christmas season at St. Mary also included lots of caroling. The students always went to the VA home, sang carols, and visited with the veterans—many of whom were wheelchair bound or used canes. The veterans were always touched by the singing, which made some of them cry. The juniors and seniors from the college also came and sang carols to the academy students, who were always appreciative. A good time was had by all!

Going to chapel during the Christmas season was always special. The sisters would set up a beautiful nativity scene, which became the focal point. Mom says she always felt the spirit of the song “Silent Night” when looking at it. Lots of people would pray before it, while an extremely peaceful atmosphere pervaded the sanctuary. Mom says she could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and the angels around Jesus—imagining what it was to feel what the angels felt. Many people didn't just rush off, but lingered.

Mom used to go over to the upper-classman’s rooms on the second floor of Berchmans, and look out over the scenes of falling snow … with beautiful big flakes coating trees, covering all the statues and fountains. It was unspoiled, virgin snow—beauty she savored before it was destroyed the next day by cars driving up and people walking through it.

During Christmas vacation, Mom sometimes went home with local fellow students for Christmas dinner. Most of the students were able to go home, but some students, like Mom, were too far away. Her parents were either on the east or west coast, depending on wherever her Army father was stationed. The train rides were long, since it took at least two to three days to get to either coast, with many stops along the way. Since it was wartime, the troops also had priority seating. Civilian passengers got bumped if there was no more room. If any student wasn’t able to go home, the sisters always provided by serving food in the college dining room—even on Christmas day.

Mom's nicest Christmas memory was during her sophomore year in 1942. She decided to stay and read the recently published book “Song of Bernadette” by Franz Werfel, who she felt really brought the story to life. She spent her time reading and eating in the college dining room. She finished the whole book over vacation time and gave a book report when classes resumed.

Barbara "Bobbe" Chase Clayton, A'35, Port Townsend, Wa.

She is 98 years old.

It was a common winter sight to see Fr. Justin’s young assistant priest ice skating on the pond, wearing a sweeping black cape. None of us at the Academy had ice skates, and it’s possible few of us could ice skate.

Sally Smart, C'76, Kansas City, Mo.

Every Christmas season was special to me. Excitement abounded everywhere as we prepared for finals, looked forward to going home, and wondered what Interim (month of January) had in store for us. The holiness of the season also added special sparkle to the month.

Kris Kringle was my favorite Christmas memory.

I remember, as a freshman in 1972, being a Kris Kringle to brighten someone's day and being the recipient of someone's kindness. It was incredibly fun. I was filled with great anticipation to learn who my Kris Kringle was and when I did, I wasn't surprised because she was already known for her kindness. My fondness for that person grew tremendously!

Sue Gonderinger Schoenfelder, C'68, Saint Albans, Mo.

Freshman year, exams were still after the first of the year and the sisters did have a special Christmas party for the students.