The Monthly Editorial Blog By Schlafly Beer President Tom Schlafly
This being the back-to-school issue of The Growler, now is as good a time as any to recognize an order of nuns who have played a major role in educating women and girls all over the world for over two centuries. I’m referring to The Society of the Sacred Heart, which was founded in France in 1800 by Madeleine Sophie Barat, and is commonly known by its French acronym RSCJ. With convents and schools in 45 countries, the RSCJ have produced some truly illustrious alumnae who span the cultural spectrum from Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga) to the operatic diva Frederica von Stade. Actresses Vivien Leigh and Maureen O’Sullivan were Sacred Heart girls, as were the authors Kate Chopin and Mary McCarthy, whose works were regarded as somewhat scandalous in their respective days.
Sacred Heart schools have produced journalists such as Cokie Roberts and Maria Shriver, in addition to educating lots of other women in the extended Kennedy family. They have graduated political leaders as varied as Mayor Jane Byrne of Chicago, Senator Dianne Feinstein from California, White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, President Mary Robinson of Ireland, and Empress Michiko of Japan.
What is not as well known, even among alumnae of RSCJ schools, is that there are also Sacred Heart boys, of which I was one. From kindergarten through sixth grade I attended Barat Hall (colloquially known as Brat Hall), a boys school named for the founder of the order. The school, which no longer exists, was at the northeast corner of Maryland and Taylor in the Central West End of St. Louis.
Faced with the challenge of taming the brats at Brat Hall, the nuns employed some creative motivational techniques, none more memorable than the ritual of the Christmas lambs. In the weeks leading up to Christmas vacation a Nativity scene was placed at the top of a set of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs there were close to 200 ceramic lambs, one for every boy in the school. At the end of each school day, every class was assembled around the lambs. Boys who had behaved well were allowed to move their lambs up one step, closer to the crèche at the top of the stairs. Those who had misbehaved were not allowed to move their lambs and, in cases of exceptionally bad behavior, had to move their lambs down a step. Imagine the emotional trauma of those whose lambs were still on the floor on the day before vacation, while others’ lambs were at the top of the stairs, nuzzled up next to Baby Jesus.
My report cards at Brat Hall were generally good except for one subject: penmanship. In first grade we began learning how to write with pencils. Slowly but surely everyone in the class moved up to writing with a pen. I was the last in the class to be allowed to write with a pen and then—-to my great humiliation—-I was demoted back to writing with a pencil. Four years later I actually flunked penmanship in fifth grade, the only course I ever failed in my 20-year academic career.
I recently reconnected with the nun who gave me a failing grade in penmanship back in 1959. Nelwyn Landry (who was known as Mother Landry when she taught me) left the RSCJ over 40 years ago and is now living in New Orleans, not far from where she grew up on Bayou Teche in Cajun Country. She now professes to like my writing, something she never said when I was in her class at Brat Hall, probably because she wasn’t able to read my handwriting. She also says she likes Schlafly Beer, to which she gives a much higher grade than she ever would have given me for penmanship.
One of the many things I learned from Mother Landry was the joie de vivre exhibited by her and other Cajuns. It may well have been from her mouth that I first heard the words, laissez les bons temps rouler. Let the good times roll. Wherever I first heard the phrase, this spirit has animated Schlafly Beer throughout our 20-year existence, never more so than in September, when we throw two of our best parties of the year: Art Outside and Hop in the City.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of our most memorable Hop in the City ever, which was held on Saturday, September 15, 2001, four days after 9/11. Like most Americans, we at the brewery were uncertain how best to proceed. Was it appropriate to hold a beer festival while lower Manhattan was still smoldering from the attack? If we did go ahead with the festival, what was a respectful way to acknowledge the horror that had just taken place?
After a lot of soul-searching we decided to proceed with Hop in the City, including a tribute to those who had lost their lives on 9/11, followed by a moment of silence. We turned the occasion into a celebration of the many freedoms that groups like Al Qaeda wanted to destroy. We collectively acknowledged our freedom to worship or not as we pleased; the freedom of women to drive and to go out in public without wearing a chador; the freedom of girls to go to school and of women to go to universities; our freedom to express our opinions freely on all of these topics and to do so over a beer.
We now know that the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks was Osama bin Laden, who met his demise back in early May. He had been living in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan with several wives, no beer and a computer full of pornography. Without knowing much about any of his wives, I think it’s safe to say that no RSCJ alumna would be dumb enough to put up with this lifestyle.