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- The Week’s End
Before it was acquired by Emmanuel College, the convent next to Highland Park in Roxbury had matured in the years it served the Sisters of St. Margaret. Quiet, narrow streets, gardens and brick row homes only yield at the top of the hill upon meeting the front gate. An undisturbed, warm incubation period several lifetimes long has helped maintain this endearing atmosphere.
As if it belongs in Casablanca, Notre Dame’s stucco walls fail to rise as high as the canopy of old trees that surround it. Behind the property, little Boston expands in all directions on a platform at the base of the sky.
First impressions deliver to those who find romance and melancholy appealing.
The contemporary glass facade of the lofty Jean Yawkey Center appears jarring in contrast to the stone and shadows of the Notre Dame campus. The facility boasts impressive square footage both indoors and out while remaining cozy and occasionally maze-like. All the buildings share dim corridors and sweeping, light soaked verandas.
John Byrne, Associate Director of Resident Life at Emmanuel, guided a generous and impromptu tour of Notre Dame’s student areas and grounds. Renovations, some big and small, continue on the former home of a dozen or so elderly women belonging to the Anglican Church. Wireless internet is now available on each floor of the main building where students live. Dorm room beds and dressers have replaced palliative care equipment for bodies that haven’t known the age of twenty in some time.
Notre Dame embraces its identity crisis: there is an empty telephone room on the main floor. A beautiful, classically inspired full-size organ presides in the larger of two chapels. Upstairs, a nurse’s duty station still features a call system residents would use to alert staff of their needs in the middle of the night. (An RA won’t be available at the push of a button – you’ll have to call the duty phone.)
Students will be pleased to note that Notre Dame’s bathrooms are immaculate and exclusively private and semi-private. Each student will share a lavatory with no more than two to four others. Dining services will be available on site, offering meals for breakfast and dinner.
Almost every room overlooks the marginally unkempt flower gardens on the property. Moss covered statuettes and eccentric sets of stairs that lead nowhere populate the landscape. In the fall, the foliage surrenders to an unobstructed view of the Boston skyline.
But the Notre Dame campus was never intended as a housing upgrade. It will help to preserve the college’s mission of service and spirituality, a commitment perhaps lost to ambiguity for some as Emmanuel continues to grow.
According to Dr. Patricia Rissmeyer of Student Affairs, “the Notre Dame campus will allow us to continue what work we already do in a more comprehensive way,” she said during a private lunch where she advocated for keeping an open mind. “As with any new venture, we need to ask ourselves if this is working. If not, then we’ll improve what’s wrong.”
One anticipated inadequacy has troubled a major department. Staff in Campus Safety, who operate Emmanuel’s ubiquitous maroon Chevy Tahoe for students traveling within the area, say they are weary about the expansion of Emmanuel’s shuttle service.
To meet a greater demand and ease the commute, a new vehicle has joined the college’s fleet. Details of what capacity the new shuttle had were speculation at most until a deal was brokered to rent one. As of August no word had yet been given about what to expect, including for students concerned about move-in day.
Fall semester approached with greater confidence than Campus Safety Sergeant Richard Constantino had about the shuttle service, who said at his desk, “We don’t know what’s being planned. We want to make sure we’re prepared.”
The Notre Dame shuttle will run congruently with the Tahoe from the hours of 7 am to 7 pm. Campus safety officers have begun to familiarize themselves with the vehicle, but patience is kindly asked of all riders.
For further reference, a brisk walk down Southwest Corridor Park – just to the immediate right of Ruggles Station and Northeastern University – will lead you to Highland Park Street and the Notre Dame Campus in a half hour.
One mother of a student who moved into Notre Dame this month accompanied her daughter to Campus Safety for information and ease of mind. “As a parent, I’m worried; I probably wouldn’t have wanted to see it like that just now,” she said, referring to the torn up parking lot outside which was later paved. Most Emmanuel offices were closed at the time to observe the weekend.
“The Notre Dame campus is not a challenge,” says Susan Benzie, Director of Residence Life, in her office. “This is a part of our charisma: a culture grounded in community service. [Notre Dame is] highlighting and accentuating what we already do.” Ms. Benzie would like to remind doubters that furnishing the campus with “not so pretty” and seldom appreciated upgrades is vitally important to a major restoration.
Notre Dame’s opportunities are befitting of Emmanuel’s own character and the pursuit of students. The William Lloyd Garrison House would make an exceptional gallery to showcase artwork or artifacts, or other small functions. With intimate spaces and beautiful detail the potential for use is limited only by an unwilling student body and inaccessible administration.
There is talk of opening a haunted house tour in the spooky attic this fall for Halloween, an idea that’s pure magic and perfectly complements the new digs. “If there’s a problem, please tell us; of course we are open to feedback,” Ms. Benzie added. “I hope we convey how excited and enthusiastic we are about all this.”