When Grace Garlisi, a sophomore at St. John’s University, recently decided to attend her first formal tea, she chose one with a treasured history on the Staten Island, NY, campus.
“This is all so beautiful. It is wonderful to be a witness to this great tradition,” said Grace, of Oakwood, NY, a Childhood Education major, as she enjoyed tea and treats served on Sunday, December 12, during the Notre Dame College (NDC) Alumnae Christmas Tea. Held annually since the 1940s for NDC alumnae and friends, the beloved Christmas holiday tradition allows attendees to reconnect with each other and relive an event that, for many of them, marks the true beginning of the Christmas season.
Sitting next to Grace was her mother, Kristine Albano Garlisi ’95NDC, ’95G. For her, the highlight of the tea is the opportunity it offers to honor the alumnae of Notre Dame College, a premier women’s higher education institution for nearly 40 years. It became part of the University in 1971, thus establishing St. John’s Staten Island campus.
“Notre Dame College represents the legacy of the alumnae, who were, and still are, strong women. They were empowered before we started using that word as often as we do now,” Ms. Garlisi said.
“They became successful in many professional fields—as judges, educators, and scientists, to name a few. They were women leaders before the second wave of feminism dawned in the 1960s.”
Graduates of NDC during that decade were well-represented at the tea, and organizers repeated the tradition of hosting the event in the lobby of the ornate Flynn Hall administration building. A Christmas tree glimmered next to a grand staircase, and the lobby was festooned with holiday decorations.
The festivities took place directly beneath the second-floor office of NDC founder Mother Saint Egbert, later known as Sr. Helen Flynn, a member of the Congregation of Notre Dame. The NDC Alumnae Association oversees the Sister Helen Flynn Scholarship Fund, which was established in the belief that those who choose to study on the Staten Island campus do so within an environment conducive to her ideals of service, education, and faith.
“Celebrating the Notre Dame College alumnae is an especially important component of the 50th anniversary of the Staten Island campus. Their legacy continues, in large part, through events like the Christmas Tea, as well as their continued financial generosity to St. John’s students through the Sister Helen Flynn Scholarship Fund,” said Mark A. Andrews, Director, Office of Alumni Relations.
During her welcoming remarks, Maureen O’Brien ’62NDC, President of the NDC Alumnae Association, told the gathering, “We are still able to be together, and the tea remains a very happy time for us all.”
The most recent tea proved to be reminiscent of the event’s earlier days, when the alumnae who were present were young college students. During those years, the tea was hosted by the freshman or sophomore class for faculty and administrators. The students and their guests donned formal holiday outfits and wore white gloves. Sandwiches and desserts were served on gold-rimmed china that was dotted with a yellow rose pattern.
The Christmas Tea was not a sit-down affair in those days, which meant the students became adept at managing food and beverages while standing. “We had to balance the china, the food, and the tea while we walked around to mingle,” recalled Marylou Powderly Galgano ’63NDC, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History before launching a successful career as a high school teacher.
The weeks leading up to the tea also spurred a mixture of anxiety and pride on the part of the young hostesses. “Pouring a high tea was a frightening experience,” according to one description that was included in the 1954 edition of Moorings, the yearbook of Notre Dame College. “But we passed it off expertly, beaming at the laudatory remarks about the success of our party.”