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I will miss the Institute of Notre Dame | COMMENTARY

The students get ready for the Processional at the start of the 156th Institute of Notre Dame Commencement, held at Notre Dame of Maryland University. It's the last one for IND, which has closed permanently due to financial problems exacerbated by the pa
The students get ready for the Processional at the start of the 156th Institute of Notre Dame Commencement, held at Notre Dame of Maryland University. It's the last one for IND, which has closed permanently due to financial problems exacerbated by the pa (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

There was only one word for it — school.

When I was young, maybe 5 or 6 years old, my mother would stop her household or career duties on a Friday afternoon and say to me, “I’m going down school to make meatballs for the spaghetti supper. Want to come?” I always said yes. For “school” was her alma mater, the Institute of Notre Dame, or IND.

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Back then it seemed far away from our neighborhood home. On the way, she would regale me with stories of her days at IND. She told me of the kind sisters who took her under their wings to teach her all the skills she’d need to become a world-class secretary. She talked about riding the bus from her home near what would eventually become Memorial Stadium wearing real silk stockings and uniform. My father, then a student at Clifton Park High School, would meet her at the bus stop and they’d chat until dark. I loved those stories.

When we’d arrive at school, we’d traverse long and sinewy hallways to an enormous kitchen, abuzz with the voices of her alumnae sisters, shaping meatballs from huge mounds of ground beef. I hardly understood any of the conversations, but loved to just hear the laughter and gossip, and wondered how such camaraderie existed long after these women had finished high school.

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But I only had to step through the doors as a freshman to understand. There is a spirit in that building — not a spirit like a ghost — no, a spirit like a nurturing environment, a cocoon unseen but not unfelt. My sister was a junior the year I entered IND. She already knew it, in fact, had it: that spirit. I couldn’t believe the friends I made, the lessons I learned, the courage I grew — the spirit of IND. It was in the school song, for Pete’s sake!

And so there I flourished. Through a serious of truly fortunate events, I even became a teacher at “school,” and a coach. I went through a marriage and a divorce there, aware that the spirit would comfort me and help me heal. I had a homeroom with 12 different years of junior classes. I greeted them each morning, taught many of them some very complex math (and a few far more valuable life lessons). Every year, my favorite day was the one on which I handed them their onyx and gold school rings. It was as if I were receiving my own again and again and again. I congratulated them, hugged them, wiped their tears. And we went on.

And then, somehow, another series of events took me away to another job, another city, several different states. But the spirit never left me. I revisited often, sometimes at reunions, sometimes alone in the hallways. But I was never truly alone. All the women before me and after me walked with me. Last weekend, IND held its last graduation because it has closed after more than 170 years. The procession of young women in long white gowns, each carrying a dozen long-stemmed roses will be no more. The building stands tall, but years of saddle shoes and knee-high socks have worn gutters in the slate stairs. And as so often happens, finances change, families change, and, well, we change.

We are so sad the building has closed. But the spirit of IND will never die. It lives daily in each of us: mothers, wives, business women, teachers, nurses, famous in the world or famous just in our neighborhood and families. And in our IND family, too.

Even now, over 60 years later, I still struggle to find the words to explain it. In the end, perhaps there are no words. It was, and is, just school. My mother, class of ’43, was right all along.

Peggy Collier (mlcinoh@aol.com) is a retired human resources director and former IND teacher.

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