Head of School Blog
Susan Tyree Dempf, Ph.D.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

On the second floor of the 1835 building there is a very special place.  This room, with its wide plank floors and large fireplace, was the community room for the Religious of the Sacred Heart.  For me, more than any other location on campus, this is where I feel the presence of Philippine.  In this place, I envision Philippine sitting with her companions in the evenings—planning, praying, writing and, especially, reading letters sent from ‘home.’

It has been suggested that the art of writing a letter is being lost—a result of our preference for instant communication.  Texting, tweeting, posting or sharing a snap offers the sender a quick and easy way to communicate with one or more recipients.  Recipients are informed, entertained and engaged for, and in, the moment.  Each of these has a place in our fast-paced lives and are good tools for modern communication.  However, there is something special about a letter.

Placing your thoughts on paper, committing to an idea that cannot be ‘backspaced’ into oblivion with no evidence of having ever been articulated- this requires commitment.  In this age of ‘thumbs up’ replies and emoji emotional responses, a letter represents a gift, a deeply personal gift.  More than words on paper, the letter is a tangible connection between people.  It is handwriting recognized at the opening of the mailbox, paper once carried by the sender—now held by the recipient.

How fortunate we are that both St. Madeleine Sophie Barat and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne were avid letter writers.  Our history was secured through those letters.  It is through them, even more than two hundred years later, that we can come to know our founding mothers in their own words. 

I imagine this is why I was especially pleased to find the Fourth Class writing letters yesterday.  These were not typical correspondences; you see these were letters to Philippine on the occasion of her 249th birthday.  The students’ letters acknowledged the risks taken to open this school and shared expressions of gratitude.  Others recognized the gift of love that Philippine offered and, perhaps most touching, was the writer who expressed a hope that all of Philippine’s wishes came true. 

As I reflected on the activity, I could not think of a more fitting ‘birthday gift’ for Mother Duchesne.  How wonderful that 249 years after her birth children continue to love her… Bon anniversaire Philippine!  Thank you Fourth Class for keeping this art form alive.

Dr. Dempf

August 30, 2018