Mother Antonia in her element

A couple of photos of this year’s performance of “The Fundamentals, with Mother Antonia” at the St. Catherine University Reunion. I think you can see that the actor, Megan Campbell Lagas, is enjoying herself. The enjoyment was catching! When she described the Katies’ 1920 basketball victory against the Gophers, the audience cheered.

Last year’s performance inspired someone to share the story of that game. I wonder what stories will surface this year….



Grudge Match

I asked Stacey (over at the Alumnae Relations department at St. Kate’s) if they wanted any rewrites on the Mother Antonia piece before starting to rehearse it for this year’s reunion. Stacey mentioned that after last year’s performance, someone had shared the story of how Mother Antonia gave permission for the basketball team to wear bloomers, and the Alumnae Relations folks were wondering if this could be worked into the play.

By way of background, Stacey sent me a paragraph on Modesta Reichert Gamble of the class of 1920, a basketball star known for “assuring Sister Antonia McHugh that the St. Catherine’s team could beat the University [of Minnesota] if she permitted them to change the cumbersome bloomers in which they customarily played.” So it appeared that M. Antonia actually gave permission for them not to wear bloomers!

Digging for more details, I was dismayed to find in Joel Rippel’s 75 Memorable Moments in Minnesota Sports that the University of Minnesota didn’t have a women’s basketball team in 1920. The U had abolished women’s intercollegiate sports in 1908, not to revive them till 1973. So did that write-up on Modesta Reichert get it wrong?

Continue reading Grudge Match

the test

Mother Antonia: Performance at the St. Kate’s Reunion. A full house. After Mother Antonia enters, her first line is, “I trust you have all come prepared for the test,” and when this drew a (somewhat uneasy) laugh I knew we were going to be fine. Almost all the jokes I tried to plant got laughs, including small ones like a tart remark about teaching new students to follow instructions. When M. Antonia turned the chalkboard over to display the bullet points from her talk, one alumna took a picture of them on her phone. Several women approached me and Megan (the performer) afterwards with stories they had heard about Mother Antonia and her protégées. The satisfaction of a piece doing the work it was meant to do.

it’s not what’cha do but the way howt’cha do it

Mother Antonia: First rehearsal. Megan and Anya begin to dig in, question and experiment. It becomes really, really clear that I have borrowed a great deal of “Mother Antonia”‘s shtick from my 12th-grade English teacher, Mr. Slevin. Who was Jesuit-educated, so I suppose it fits. Today’s post title, in his honor, is one of his favorite catch phrases.

effulgence, flink, whelming

Mother Antonia: Phone call with Anya to hear her thoughts & questions. A foray into the CSJ’s digital archive to try to get a better handle on the limits on where and when the Sisters could leave the house; the Sister at the reading last night pointed out that the community tended to be pretty practical-minded when it came to getting women the education they needed. Got sidetracked into reading oral history interviews, re-reading others that strike me differently now that I have some familiarity with the (so to speak) cast of characters. One more rewrite, & then sent the rehearsal draft to the team.

It’s All Good: Emailing potential stage managers. Gathering plausible seventh-grade vocabulary words from Lord of the Flies (some of my favorites are today’s post title). Brainstorming potential titles.

to-do list

The Last Game: Talked with Heather H. about her observations of/suggestions for the script. Among other thoughts, she raises the idea of a second act set some decades into the future. This doesn’t click for me; though it’s difficult to pick apart how much it fails to click on its own merits, and how much it fails to click because long, long ago, I got very tired of one faction of my writing group persistently trying to tack a second act onto Liability. In any case, Heather spots many places where payoffs can be added or enhanced, and the path ahead seems clear.

Mother Antonia: Finished a new draft just in time for reading #2, with an audience including not only the Alumnae Relations & Marketing/Communications staff but also a Sister of St. Joseph and Prof. Mary Ann Brenden, who has made a study of Mother Antonia and the Our Lady of Victory chapel she caused to be built. Stacey takes actor Megan Campbell Lagas, director Anya Kremenetsky and me to go look at the ballroom where the play will be performed. Anya has the idea of including a chalkboard with, written on it, the name of the putative class in which M. Antonia is administering her pop quiz, along with M. Antonia’s name, to set the scene.


Mother Antonia: 6 hours at the Sisters of St. Joseph Archive. A little while ago, the archivist got in touch to ask if the play would include anything about Mother Antonia’s relationship with Sister Ste. Helene? Because they just happen to be working on processing Ste. Helene’s papers….So spent most of the day reading Ste. Helene’s letters home from a 1924-25 trip to England, Ireland, Europe, Egypt and Palestine. She wrote vividly and with a humor by turns whimsical and cutting. One of my favorite bits is her description of visiting a lace shop in Dublin where she resolutely bought nothing; only to go down the street to Walpole’s linen store which “broke me entirely.” Not sure if she meant that it broke her will, her budget or both.

The archivist had also culled out some oral histories of Sisters and students who knew M. Antonia. One lady, quite elderly when interviewed, was hazy in her memory of many topics but quite specific and clear when it came to pranks she and her friends had pulled. Along similar lines, one administrator fondly remembered when Dr. Francis Schaeffer came to speak about the Kensington (Minnesota) Runestone and a student wag altered the poster for the talk by adding a “P” in front of the word “Runestone.”

Infrastructure: Got a rejection.

big names

The Last Game: Reading Collision Course. Evidently the formation of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization advanced quite rapidly after a controller at La Guardia recognized that the private jet he was handling was piloted by F. Lee Bailey. He got in touch with him later.

Mother Antonia: Finished taking notes on Liberating Sanctuary. An alumna describes an impromptu salon with Evelyn Waugh in the parlor at Derham Hall. Just another day at St. Kate’s.