Hallowed Halls, A Tidbit of Memoir

American Actor Ed Begley, Sr. (1901-1970)

Ed Begley was an American actor of theatre, radio, film, and television. He won an Academy Award for his performance in the film Sweet Bird of Youth in 1962 and appeared in such classics as 12 Angry Men and the Unsinkable Molly Brown. He was nominated for an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Matthew Harrison Brady in a television adaptation of Inherit the Wind. He is the father of actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr. MORE [Wikipedia]



In fact, it’s some fifty-six years ago now, around 1963, perhaps around the time that Mr. Begley won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Boss Finley in Sweet Bird of Youth.  He showed up one Sunday afternoon to visit a relative at our convent-affiliated school in Brentwood, New York. In those days, male or female, you had to “dress” to come on the grounds. That meant men had to wear a suit, white shirt, and a tie.  It was spring and Mr. Begley came wearing a loud island-print shirt and a big mischievous smile. Sister Regina Celeste, C.S.J. who was Directress (school principal), and who we called (not to her face) “Rexy” for her bulldog tenacity, was not pleased or impressed. I stood outside the chapel and watched and listened as these two accomplished adults, influential in very different spheres, negotiated one another. Clearly neither was awed by the other’s credentials.

Sister was tight-lipped and firm. Mr. Begley laughed but was polite. She indicated a choice: leave and come back properly dressed . . . or just leave. He said something soothing, I think, but I don’t remember what. Then he reached into a pocket, pulled out a roll of bills, and handed off quite a few to her. She raised her eyebrows and pocketed the money. She walked away with a stiff back, prayer beads clacking, and a reminder that next time he needed to come dressed like a gentleman.

The lesson I learned from Mr. Begley: money talks. The lesson I learned from Sister: flex. Weigh the pragmatic against policy. I’m sure the school operated in the red, forever in need of books, supplies, and repairs.

It’s likely that neither Sister nor Mr. Begley realized that one young student was watching, listening, and taking it in, but I was . . .

School days

And then there’s the idealistic poetry of our school song (below). It’s been a lifetime, but it still brings tears to my eyes, as does the memory of the community itself. In the ’60s when the second wave of the women’s movement was in high-gear advocating for – among many other things – opportunities for women in the higher echelons of business, industry, government and social services, this was something that was easy for me to envision. The first C.E.O. I ever met wasn’t a man.  It was Reverend Mother Immaculata Maria, C.S.J. Superior General of the Sisters of St. Joseph, overseer of a community that included the mother house (the main convent), novitiate, a college, elementary and high schools around the U.S., a “chapel” (more like a small church), a convalescent hospital for older nuns, a dairy farm, an apple orchard, and stables.  She administered as broadly diverse an organization as any male C.E.O. I’ve met or worked with since. 

How sacred are thy hallowed halls, oh Brentwood,
A century of learning has combined
With culture, truth and beauty here to form us,
That we may mirror Christ, in heart and mind.

In struggle and defeat –
In joy and gladness –
In every hour of triumph or despair,
May all the lessons Brentwood’s love has taught us,
Bear fruit in holy living, everywhere.

May girlhood’s dreams, and all its dear ambitions,
Be every shrined within our grateful hearts.
To cast their glow on every path we travel,
‘Till age erases time and life departs.

In struggle and defeat –
In joy and gladness –
In every hour of triumph or despair,
May all the lessons Brentwood’s love has taught us,
Bear fruit in holy living, everywhere.

– Sr. Regina Celeste, C.S.P.
© The Sisters of St. Joseph, Brentwood, LI, NY

Two videos, should you be inclined to watch:  The first is a tribute to Ed Begley, Sr.  The second is an intro to the Sisters of St. Joseph. Sadly, the school I attended has gone the way of all things.

If you are reading this post from an email subscription, you will likely have to link through to the site to view the videos.

Note “Reconciliation” as used in the video below: The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (commonly called Confession) is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church (called sacred mysteries in the Eastern Catholic Churches), in which the faithful obtain absolution for the sins committed against God and neighbor and are reconciled with the community of the Church.


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