The halls of Villa Teresa Catholic School were filled with children once again during a multigenerational celebration that drew about 500 people to the beloved private institution.
Former Villa Teresa students, faculty and parents attended the Carmelite Sisters of St. Therese's 95th anniversary event June 8 at Villa Teresa Convent, 1300 N Classen Drive, and the adjacent school.
The celebration was designed to pay homage to the Carmelite nuns' many ministry endeavors across the state since the order's founder, Mother Agnes Teresa Cavanaugh of Rhode Island, came to teach American Indian children in 1917.
However, there was no question that Villa Teresa School, which closed in 2012, and the sisters who taught there were the main attraction at the recent event.
Many attendees said they didn't want to miss a chance to walk the hallways once more. They said last year's closure of the 79-year-old school made the celebration more poignant.
“I miss Villa Teresa tremendously, and I love Sister Veronica,” said LaThonya Shivers, of Oklahoma City, referring to the school's principal, Veronica Higgens. Shivers said her son Vincent, 8, was a first-grader when the school closed.
Valerie Roquemore viewed vintage science fair posters, photo albums and roll books displayed along the school's main hallway with her husband, Ron, and their daughter, Maria, 8, a former Villa Teresa student.
“I've been kind of hesitant to come back because I feel like I'm going to cry right now,” Valerie Roquemore said, smiling.
Several of the nuns said they were excited to see the familiar faces of students and parents.
“I've seen my former students and friends I haven't seen for many years. It's wonderful,” Sister Immaculata Commet said.
Sister Barbara Joseph Foley, 60, shared similar sentiments about the celebration.
“It just honors the Carmelites' life here in the diocese,” she said. “For me to see so many people coming to see our older sisters who were their teachers is just really wonderful, because our sisters never forget them. To see that interaction is just beautiful.”
Meanwhile, Joan Penrose, 58, of Oklahoma City, said she attended the school from 1959 to 1968. She said she remembers the nuns helping the students perform many plays over the years. Penrose said one memory in particular stands out. She said her father took her to see President John F. Kennedy when he came to Oklahoma City in 1963 for the funeral of U.S. Sen. Robert S. Kerr. Penrose said she vividly remembers that Kennedy's motorcade rode past Villa Teresa so that students at the Catholic school could wave to the nation's first Catholic president.
“Too bad they don't have schools like this any more,” she said.
Lifetime of memories
Little Alexa Drain and her mother, Regan, looked at photo albums, posters and pictures.
“I went here for five years — my whole life,” Alexa Drain said.
Her mother said one more visit to Villa Teresa was on her daughter's Christmas list after the school closed. Regan Drain said since that wasn't a possibility at the time, the family did the next best thing: They held a Villa Teresa-themed skating party and invited the school's teachers and students.
“She still talks about it and cries, so we came to see everyone today,” Regan Drain said.
Anne Codding, principal of St. James Catholic School, and her sister, Jane Holles, said Villa Teresa Convent served as a refuge for many women whose husbands fought in World War II.
Gloria Jennings, 71, of Oklahoma City, said she grew up with the sisters as her teachers.
“The nuns were the most encouraging, wonderful people,” she said.
“This was my family — my home away from home.”
Gretchen Swinney, 72, of Oklahoma City, summed up the day as she looked at the crowd mingling around.
“There are lots of happy memories here for lots of people,” Swinney said.