These precious few
MSM Class of 2018
(11/2017) This past month, alumni of Emmitsburg High School met for the 93rd Annual Alumni Banquet. In honor of the event, I sat down with Mary-Catherine Shields who was part of the class of 1954 and spent 37 years as secretary for the alumni committee, to discuss not only the history of the school, but the impact it has had on herself and others who
had the pleasure of being a part of the school.
The school, built in 1922 is now the Emmitsburg Town Offices and Community Center. It remained a fixture of the community for forty-seven years before it merged with Thurmont Catoctin High School in 1969. The elementary school followed suit in 1982. Between the opening of the school and its closing, it brought together the lives of so many individuals
into a patchwork family that stretches through the generations.
The graduating class of 1954 contained thirteen people. Twelve of them were together since 1942 when they started first grade at Emmitsburg Elementary and the thirteenth was a German exchange student who was quickly welcomed into their little family. The public school had grades first through eighth and fed into the High School. During this time, World
War II was in full swing and Emmitsburg Elementary along with schools in the surrounding area experienced a teacher shortage and frequent air raid drills: "One thing I do remember about first grade," recalled Shields, "we used to have to practice air raids…everybody was assigned a spot. You either had to crawl under a desk or crawl under a table…or have to go to the back of
the cloak room. You had a corner assigned to you…They had this drill siren and that meant everyone would take cover till the all clear…". For some reason, this was one of the stories that stuck out to me. It is an experience shared by those in that generation that no other generation has had to experience and one that, I hope, no future generation will have to live through.
These shared experiences, even though they were filled with fear and uncertainty, are highlighted by the unity those that live through them will have forever. In the case of the class of 1954 the stories they have to share take place in many highs and lows of our country’s history. Mary-Catherine Shields wrote a letter for the 50th reunion highlighting what the class lived
"…We heard and lived through World War II and saw our family members go off to war; some returned, some did not and some came back wounded. All were heroes. As we advanced through the grades, we learned what friends mean and how to survive as a close-knit group. I guess, ‘All for one and one for all,’ would describe our brood. We lived through the
years of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president to be elected to three full terms in office. Then we saw Harry S. Truman and the first A-bomb. There was the first Catholic president elected [who is] was the youngest man elected to date. We experienced the Korean Conflict, the Bay of Pigs and the brutal slaying of J.F.K. We saw a great general serve our country in the White
House, Dwight D. Eisenhower. [We] experienced the political corruption through Richard M. Nixon and Watergate. [We saw] the first space craft to leave U.S. soil and an American take the first step on the moon. There was the Vietnam War, the economic downslide and the election of a movie star to the White House, Ronald Regan. [We lived to see] the Berlin Wall [come] down and
Germany was reunited…We have seen the Middle East conflicts, the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, terror striking the U.S.A and many points of the world…"
Having been a part of small schools most of my life, I can attest that to go to a small school is to have a family that exists outside of blood. You grow up with people and have years of shared memories and experiences that you can find nowhere else in life. The alumni of Emmitsburg High School vary in age from mid-sixties to nineties. Even though
generations of people exist within that range, they all have the open point of contact that is the memories of their school and the family pride that came with it. When a school closes, it affects more than just the people that attend it. It also affects the people who have been marked by it; the lives that were touched and changed during the time when its doors were open.
"What do you think was lost when the two schools merged?" I asked her. Her response was touching and filled me with a sense of nostalgia, "The family feeling, the closeness, the comradeship—You know it was one for all. I mean when one got in trouble we all got in trouble. It was how it was all through school…What pain one family felt, another family
felt, because we were so close…we knew everybody’s history, really. It was like if a family needed help, everybody was there to help. It was the same way in the classes we were in. If we knew one student was failing we’d all step in and drill those kids and do everything in our power to make sure they would pass, so that we wouldn’t be separated. And I don’t think you have
that today...and you cannot break that feeling because it has come down through families."
The memory of any great thing lives on in the stories that live after it. A school like Emmitsburg Public High School will continue to survive in the multitude of histories that live on in the minds and voices of those that were blessed to have walked its halls.
Read other articles by Sarah Muir