This past month, our School community enjoyed the extraordinary opportunity of listening to and questioning one of the foremost astronauts of our time, Dr. Peggy Whitson, as she detailed for us the importance of scientific studies in space, as well as what life is like aboard a space station. When I returned to my office, my thoughts turned to how the meeting was an example of what Sacred Heart education is about: Presenting new understanding of what it means to explore, not only the world around us, but the universe as well.
What motivated us to present a program like the one we witnessed when Dr. Whitson visited campus? I believe that the sense of intellectual discovery and the freedom to learn were nurtured from the very beginning of our educational system long ago in France, when our Sacred Heart education began. Our founders wanted to make plans for an education that would adapt with the times and grow as knowledge of the world grew: these plans were essential to a Sacred Heart education.
At the time of the founding of the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1800 in Paris, the Religious of the Sacred Heart wanted to establish a system of educating girls and young women to be well-educated and influential members of their communities.
The earliest members of the Society created a Plan of Studies at the beginning of 1805. Unique for its time, the plan set down in writing the course of studies that Sacred Heart schools would offer to its students, while explaining that the plan would be flexible, allowing for growth and change. The plan explained fully not only the goals of women’s education but detailed how students would be given the desire AND the ability to function as “examples and apostles” of clear thinking in a new and changing world.
The world we live in now changes so rapidly that we often forget that the 19th century had also witnessed enormous societal and intellectual changes: the rise of the middle class, the beginning of the industrial revolution, changes in religious beliefs, changes in the importance of the role of women, the beginning of democracy in many countries. The Religious wanted their students to be exemplary in educational skills and in good works as well, but always equipped to handle their responsibilities in a changing world.
In the New York area in the early 1840’s Mother Aloysia Hardey, the first American-born RSCJ, combined both great personal magnetism and balanced judgment. She was a highly gifted person, both as an educator and as a spiritual figure. In our New York City school, the precursor to our school at Greenwich, she developed a strong educational system that was admired by students, parents, educators and community leaders. Our observatory at Greenwich, built in 1999 as part of an initiative to immerse girls in STEAM subjects, is named after her. Long may we continue to explore new worlds and new ideas!