It was the neighborhood Parochial school, located on Ashbury Street, one block over and not quite half-way down, consisting of the School proper, a Convent and just a bit further down the “Lower Yard” as we referred to it. St Agnes, a private school run by the Sisters of the Presentation, was a part of the Parish of St Agnes Church, which was over there on Masonic Ave., next to the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park.
On the backside of the school was “Lower” Downey Street, and since there were no main entrances to the school on that side, most of the comings and goings there took place on the Ashbury Street side. The lower yard was not even actually physically connected to the school and the Convent; some regular residential dwellings were there between them making it only steps away separating them.
Anyone anywhere who had gone through a Parochial school system back then directly relates to what we went through in our experience, as I still find out nowadays when it comes up in conversation. The Nuns, the uniforms, the discipline, and it seems that there was an old “Prune face” there whether they came from California or Pennsylvania. The Catholic Church Archdiocese systems across the USA were extensive.
Seems like every school had different colored uniforms, and the only like clothing worn every school day was the white shirt for the boys and the white blouse for the girls. In the sixties when we first started there, it was brown sweater and brown corduroys. And not so very long after, it had become Green sweater and salt and pepper corduroys, same for the girls, similar uniforms but with skirts.
Back then the nuns were still in the old style, dressed in black from head to toe and they all went by “Sister Mary” Whatever her name was. It was a very structured environment and order was maintained in every aspect of the archdiocese curriculum. In St Agnes Parish in the Haight-Ashbury, cultural diversity was way ahead of its time, and we had just about every race possible in that school.
In the Auditorium on the top floor was where all the plays, talent shows and most special occasion events took place. The cafeteria was down on the bottom floor, and I remember the dancing lessons and seeing a movie there now and then. The Library was tucked away in a corner at the end of a hallway, and in there I discovered the love of reading a good book just for the sake of enjoyment.
Within those walls of that school was where we learned the basics for the future, during the formative years when it’s most important to learn to spell correctly and to learn to read at a level where comprehension becomes paramount. The fundamentals of the building of character combined with effort were imparted to all of us through those Nuns, and they truly were serious taskmasters.
The school is long gone now, only living on in old memories that outlive reality. Yet the memories remain, and with an air of nostalgia, I can vividly remember the big rock grotto against the wall in the upper yard, and the basketball court down there in the lower yard with the handball enclosure right next to it. And walking home after school and changing out of the uniform and going outside to play.
Oh yeah, and across the street from the school was where the Grateful Dead lived, just two blocks up from Haight Street.
The lessons that we learned there were more than just an education.