It was just like being back in school for Bishop McMahon High School's class of 1957, who gathered at Classics V restaurant in Amherst for their 60th anniversary reunion. The only difference was they could talk as loud as they wanted, and chew gum and wear makeup.
The Buffalo business school for girls, which closed in 1987, taught skills in typing, shorthand and accounting, but would not tolerate any teenage monkeyshines. The school handbook made it clear that students would earn detention or demerits for tardiness, causing a disturbance in class, cheating on exams, insolence, wearing eye makeup and chewing gum. Students were graded on off-campus conduct as well. There would be no smoking in their forest green school uniforms at any time. Students could not accept rides from people other than parents, and, get this, students may not be married or engaged.
"When I was a freshman, I got caught chewing gum," recalled Bernie Mussen. "I had to stay after school and write the preamble of the Constitution. The next morning I had to come into school a half hour early and sit outside the principal's office with gum on my nose. And, if that wasn't bad enough, on Saturday I had to come in, all by myself, and clean the gym. All for a piece of gum. My grandchildren, when I tell them the story today, say, 'What?'"
The school, which opened in 1950 and closed in 1987, was housed in the Goodyear Mansion at 888 Delaware Ave. It took its name after Bishop John J. McMahon, a native of Buffalo who became the bishop of Trenton, N.J. The Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity operated the school.
Labeling itself "a business school for girls," Bishop McMahon set high objectives for its students, instilling Christian attitudes and characteristics such as integrity, pride in workmanship, cooperation, tolerance and reliability in one's business and personal relationships. The sisters taught clerical skills for sales, accounting and secretarial work, and assisted the students in forming sound judgment.
Along with their intellectual and moral development, Bishop McMahon was known for instilling spiritual development in its students through Mass, prayer in the chapel, a May crowning ceremony to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, sodality of the Blessed Mother, Mission Club and service as sacristans.
"That school was a stepping stone to my career," said Mary Keller, who joined the insurance field while a senior in high school. "It was because of that school that I got the job that I did and was able to advance."
It wasn't her typing skills she learned from the school, or her knowledge of office machinery (yes, that was taught as well). The husband of the school office manager came in one day looking for help in his office and interviewed the teen.
"My interview - he asked me to write my name and address on a piece of paper. He could read it, and so I was hired," she explained.
She began working for an insurance agent right away. She continued working for him when he started his own firm, which was later bought out and moved to Syracuse.
"Many businesses called Bishop McMahon for a referral," said Dolores Kurzdorfer. "I was one of about 10 who were sent down to Exchange Insurance, on the corner of Delaware and Summer. I got hired. I was there five years. I got another job at Insurgrant Insurance Company out in Snyder. From there I went to Marshall McLellen. I was there for 32 years. So, this was all the basics that we learned."
The class of 1957 has remained close over the past six decades, meeting often.
"We formed lasting friendships too," said Mussen. "There are some of us that still get together for dinner once a month, and then we get together as a McMahon group a couple times a year. Usually we have about 15 girls."
Forty-five members of their class came to the luncheon. One woman came all the way from Georgia to attend.