SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Twenty-five members of The Prout School’s class of 1969, the first to graduate from the school, caught up with old friends and faculty at its 50th reunion on Saturday and Sunday.
Prout opened Sept. 8, 1966, as an all-girls Catholic high school. On that first day, there were 93 students in attendance. The original faculty included nine Sisters of the Cross and Passion, and was led by Sister Dolores White, C.P., called the headmistress.
This is a tight-knit group of “girls.” Forty-three of the class of 1969’s 49 survive, and 25 made it to the weekend’s reunion activities. They came from as far as Texas and California to be there.
“It was pretty impressive, and really beautifully organized” Carola Tabela, known in 1969 as Carola Doran, said. “It’s also funny how ‘the same’ people are from back then. The ones who were quiet then are still pretty quiet, and the ones who are outgoing are the same.”
Among the attendees were two original faculty members, former principal Sister Lillian Dempsey, C.P., and math teacher Betty Faella.
“That was a real treat to see them both,” Tabela, now living in Hull, Massachusetts, said.
She remembers Sister Dolores, the first principal, as a strict Irish nun, but with a softer side as well.
“There was a 16-year-old whose mom had passed away, and she later said that Sister Dolores had been a huge comfort to her,” Tabela said.
The alumni met for a dinner Saturday at Spain of Narragansett, and took part in a Sunday Mass at the school, followed by a brunch and dedication of a bronze plaque within a school garden honoring deceased classmates.
Along the way, they shared memories of their time at the school and details such as the original Prout uniform: white cotton blouses and knee-length plaid skirts, Tabela said. A matching plaid beret and white gloves were added for formal assemblies, she said.
“We had to look sharp,” she said.
The class also remembered many wonderful field trips, such as annual outings to Trinity Square to see plays.
“There was a happy spirit there,” Tabela said.
Her classmate Helen Pernicone of Wakefield, then called Helen Mulholland before marrying, echoed those feelings about her alma mater.
“It was just such a nice place to be,” she said. “It was a place where everyone felt safe to be themselves. There were no rules unless we did something silly, and then there would be a new rule not to do that.”
She remembers being part of an after-school club called the Legion of Mary.
“A group of us girls and a nun who go into a room and pray the Rosary,” she said.
Girls attending in the 1960s could participate in only gymnastics and basketball, which were club sports then. Prout girls now participate on RIIL Division I and II teams, including tennis, swimming, soccer, lacrosse, cross country, track, golf, volleyball and softball, recently winning several state championships.
Pernicone, who likes to use technology and stay in touch with friends on social media, also said the sisters prohibited typing courses at the school.
“They said that (Prout) was not a business school,” she said.
But the girls didn’t really miss what they didn’t have, Pernicone added.
“What we did have was so much stronger,” she said.
The Prout School, originally called Prout Memorial High School, was the first Catholic high school in southern Rhode Island. The school was founded by the Sisters of the Cross and Passion and named after the order’s founder, Elizabeth Prout.
A lot’s changed at the school since the class of 1969 graduated.
The school is now owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence and became co-educational in the late 1980s.
The first boy to enroll, James Morrissey, graduated in 1990. The school’s class of 2019, which graduated on June 13, consisted of 95 members. The senior class has been as large as 160 in past years. The school is currently headed by principal David Estes.
While the sisters are no longer part of the faculty, they remain honored guests and return to the school several times a year for special occasions. Recently, the original cross and tower at the center of the school, which has stood since 1966, was refurbished and re-dedicated to the sisters.
Since Prout was an all-girls school for two decades, it joined forces with the all-male Bishop Hendricken High School to produce highly-acclaimed musical and theatrical productions.
“That was always a big draw,” Pernicone said. “Anyone who wanted a part in a show got one … We put on a play called ‘Seven Nuns in Las Vegas’ that was just the funniest thing ever.”
That collaboration also celebrated its 50th anniversary over the weekend. More than 40 participants, many of whom have become professional actors and musicians, attended.