Mission Impossible by Judy Bolton-Fasman
Written by
Judy Bolton-Fasman
December 2011
Written by
Judy Bolton-Fasman
December 2011

The last time I had driven up the hill of Hamilton Heights in West Hartford, Conn., I was a high school senior at Mount Saint Joseph Academy, steering the gigantic wheel of my father’s asthmatic ’65 Chevy Malibu.

I was in the last class to graduate from “The Mount.” That was 1978 and by then a school that once had 600 girls in grades 7- 12 had dwindled to less than 200. When I was a student there, The Mount was an ancient queen that had once been beautiful and graceful. The school was dark with heavy wood and velvet maroon drapery. The marble floors were cracked.

While most of my classmates went to The Mount as a punishment, I went on a dare. I had graduated from the local Jewish day school and much to my parents’ horror had taken up with a group of Hasidim that had infiltrated that school. If I wanted single-sex education, they insisted that it had to be West Hartford, not Borough Park in Brooklyn.

Judy Bolton-Fasman’s high school, Mount Saint Joseph Academy in West Hartford, is now an assisted living facility.
Actually, I was not the first girl in my Jewish family to go to the nuns. My maternal grandmother was educated at convent schools in Greece. And nuns tutored my mother in Havana. In the ’50s and ’60s, the Mount had a cadre of Jewish girls. But by senior year – yes, I had survived three years and ended up loving the place – it was just my younger sister and I.

Last fall I went on a reconnaissance mission to my old high school. The Mount has been through a few incarnations since I graduated, but it’s a historical landmark. That means its exterior is eerily preserved in perpetuity. For the past seven years it’s been an assisted living facility. At the time my mother didn’t know about my trip. I was sure she’d react like a woman described by Tracy, who showed me around the building. This woman was so overcome with memories of the nuns at the Mount rapping her knuckles with their rulers that she refused to get out of the car and set foot in Hamilton Heights. My mother was as afraid of moving out of her house as the Mounties – as generations of girls who attended the school were called – were afraid of the older, severe nuns in their habits.

It felt odder than odd to use the front entrance – something prohibited when I was a student there. Inside, the place was now decorated in false cheer. The nuns’ quarters and the classrooms had been converted to small apartments. I had had English class in the model apartment I saw. The gym was now the Alzheimer’s unit.

Tracy said that people think the place is haunted. Door knobs suddenly jiggle; windows slam shut; elevators randomly open and close. My mother, who always opens doors as if she’s about to encounter a ghost on the other side, might feel at home. But, then again, how would my mother accommodate the glamorous wreckage of clothing and shoes that now bulge out of her walk-in closet if she lived in one of these little apartments?

As we stood at the entrance of another small room, Tracy asked me if I knew why it was called the Pope’s Room. I told her there used to be a chair, cordoned off with fancy braided ropes, bearing a plaque that Pope Pius XII had once sat there. On a winter afternoon during my senior year I snuck into the room, and – uniformed and knee-socked, according to school code – did the most rebellious thing a girl at Mount Saint Joseph Academy could do. I sat in the pope’s fancy, plush and eerily empty chair. I didn’t know yet about the pope’s immoral silence during the Holocaust. I did know that I was doing something provocative, even blasphemous, and it felt right. During my time at the Mount, I lived up to the stereotype that all Jews are smart by graduating salutatorian of my class. According to one classmate, I was the girl who killed the Lord. Until that point, I had no idea I had that kind of power. Now the pope’s chair was mine to sit in forever.

Two months after my visit to my old high school, my mother’s sons-in-law – my husband and my brother-in-law – brought her to the Mount. Sure enough, she refused to get out of the car. When she finally went inside, she refused the free lunch. She watched the men eat club sandwiches and thick slabs of chocolate cake. She consented to sip tea and eat saltines – the diet of a martyr.

The guys slogged through the tour with my angry mother. I wanted to know if my husband saw the Pope’s Room. Surprisingly, he reported the room was actually the highlight of the tour. My mother remembered that I had been inducted into the National Honor Society in that room. She was proud of me even as she declared that she would never live in a place where she might be consigned to the school gym. Judy Bolton-Fasman can be reached at [email protected]

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