Tell me… What was it like before?

Saint Melaine private Catholic school in Plumelin, Brittany, France, is celebrating its centenary. Thanks to the help of the Archives at the motherhouse, Kermaria, and the sharing of experiences with the teachers and children, we were able to relive “The school of yesteryear”.

Looking to the Archives for help

In search of material used at the time, the headmistress called on Sister Marie Andrée, the archivist at Kermaria, who was able to fulfil her wish. In fact, the Archives contain treasures of all kinds, no doubt in the form of documents, but also in the form of objects to be displayed. These include inkwells, quills, penholders, blotters, slates and pencils, an abacus, markers, reading charts, and geography maps. Not to mention books from the 1920s-1950s, in all the subjects studied and for the various levels.

Going back to school

What better way to present them than by inviting some of the older ”mistresses”? They may be old now, but they have kept intact their teaching spirit. So, on the 8th and 9th of June four Daughters of Jesus- two Marie-Thérèses, Denise, and Maryvonne – and an Associate, Dominique, set off for school. What a joy it was to be welcomed by an enthusiastic team and children dressed in the appropriate clothes: grey or black smocks, all eager to learn.

What better way to present them than by inviting some of the older ”mistresses”? They may be old now, but they have kept intact their teaching spirit. So, on the 8th and 9th of June four Daughters of Jesus- two Marie-Thérèses, Denise, and Maryvonne – and an Associate, Dominique, set off for school. What a joy it was to be welcomed by an enthusiastic team and children dressed in the appropriate clothes: grey or black smocks, all eager to learn.

Each “mistress” joined one of the six classes in the school. Armed with the many questions already prepared by the children, we became “children” again. There was a natural flow to the answers, which satisfied everyone’s curiosity.

How did we get to school? By what means?

– How were we dressed?

– What was the day like?

– What subjects were taught?

– What games? What about boarding school?”

Not forgetting the question of punishments and rewards!  The different visuals – a video, and objects on display – captured everyone’s attention.

Before continuing with the second part, we sang! “If you have joy in your heart“. Everyone joined in with gusto. Then, some of the groups took pleasure in singing to us: a song to “Saint Melaine” for the older children, and “The squirrel”, for the younger ones.

Our principal objectives

Here we were, recounting our days as teachers with our pupils, young and old. We spoke about managing the number of children, who could be in excess of 60. We told them about the lack of equipment and the long preparation of hand-written and illustrated worksheets that filled our days and our years. Through the programmes, which had to be respected by all, each of us expressed our joy at teaching and passing on knowledge.

Our main objectives as teachers were to :

– teach the children to respect each other.

– encourage autonomy and responsibility.

– build up their self-confidence and sense of commitment.

Theatre, music, painting, and sewing enabled many of them to develop their skills to their heart’s content. There was no need to punish in a class where every pupil was diligent, attentive, and eager to learn.

The religious aspect was certainly not forgotten, given a child’s great capacity for interiority.

At Saint Melaine school in Plumelin, in this atmosphere of joyful work and mutual listening, we felt that human and spiritual values were being passed on.

A surprising question

In a class of 30 younger and middle-school children, Marie-Thérèse showed her Daughter of Jesus cross. Surprise: “There’s no Jesus on it”. Marie-Thérèse explained: “Jesus isn’t there, but it’s true that he exists and loves everyone, even if we can’t see him.” A little girl shyly said: “Yes, but you can talk to him in your heart!” What a great response!

“Now that we’re older, we can say “THANK YOU” for what we received from the children in this school, which is so rich in vitality.

Many thanks to Solène, the headmistress, the teachers, and all those who work at the school.

Sisters and Partner, Archives de Kermaria, France

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