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Baltimore’s IND: Empty classrooms for the first time in 174 years | READER COMMENTARY

In this Nov. 5, 1997 photo, students walk down a stairwell between classes at The Institute of Notre Dame in Baltimore. Catholic schools have faced tough times for years, but the pace of closures is accelerating dramatically amid economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The school, founded in 1847, closed on June 30, 2020. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is an alumna. (Andre F. Chung/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
In this Nov. 5, 1997 photo, students walk down a stairwell between classes at The Institute of Notre Dame in Baltimore. Catholic schools have faced tough times for years, but the pace of closures is accelerating dramatically amid economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The school, founded in 1847, closed on June 30, 2020. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is an alumna. (Andre F. Chung/The Baltimore Sun via AP) (ANDRE F. CHUNG/AP)

It’s really hard for me to fathom that my beloved Baltimore high school will not be opening this September for bright-eyed, newly uniformed, dream-driven young women entering the hallowed halls of the Institute of Notre Dame.

When I started my freshman year in 1963, the school had stood for over a century at 901 Aisquith St., a bastion of beauty in a changed neighborhood, but somehow immune to the scholastic rush to the suburbs. Most of my eighth-grade classmates had chosen to go to Mercy, only a few miles from our parish in Northwood. But my sister and I followed in my mother’s footsteps to IND.

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Mother’s era was different. She attended in the early ‘40s; WWII raged; America’s young men were enlisting. IND was a steadying force, turning out educated, motivated young women, destined then mostly for careers as secretaries, nurses and teachers. Need I mention two exceptions? Barbara Mikulski and Nancy Pelosi were among her graduates. My mother, who in high school waited on a neighborhood street corner for a certain boy to “happen by,” became executive secretary to a world-renowned ophthalmologist at Johns Hopkins. She also married that certain boy and raised four children.

In the ‘60s, my sister and I rode the transit buses (armed with paper transfers) daily to and from IND. I’ll never forget my first day: pleated skirt, miraculous medal around my neck, brand new saddle shoes from Hess’. It began four years that would shape my life, my friendships, my career choices, my devotion to that lovely old school.

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Little did I realize that a scant three years after graduation I’d be a teacher there, substituting for a nun who had to go to Rome for a reason I can’t remember. I was barely 20, and, I am a bit ashamed to admit, constantly resisting the urge to engage in the same innocent enough mischief as my students.

As weird twists and turns do occur in life, my three-month stint as a substitute turned into a 13-year career as a faculty member. And if I hadn’t gotten a divorce during that time (which required me to get a job that would sustain a mortgage or rent), I think I would have retired there. Would it have been when I was 70 and the school closed? Who knows.

I only know how much I loved that beautiful old building, the teachers who taught me and subsequently were faculty peers, but most of all the young women who were educated there.

On each first day of school as a teacher, I remember vividly going to Sister Dorothy Mary’s office to pick up my spanking new supplies. There was chalk and pens and paper and folders and other things I might need. But my favorite thing of all was picking up my new black faux snake-covered plan book and grade book, one smaller than the other. No matter how many years I did that, I knew that day I was a Teacher, capital T, of young women.

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Today, I can hardly bear thinking of that dusty old building with the slate stairs and myriad classrooms — now without the chatter and laughter of teachers and students beginning a new year, without the promise of learning, without the burgeoning of new friendships and extension of others. But I know that the silence of the building does not silence the voices and character and accomplishments of the legion of women who will always know, always recognize, always value, and always reflect the last words of the school song: the spirit of IND.

Peggy Collier, Hunt Valley

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