Vol. LXIII, No. 21
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
After a lovingly prepared and delivered slide show and narrative describing his great aunt Janet Erskine Stuarts journey from mid-19th century rural England to international distinction as a religious and educational leader, The Right Honorable Earl Castle Stewart was asked by a young Stuart school student about the significance of the Stuart clans plaid pattern. I dont know, he admitted, but theyre jolly nice bright things to wear.
So it went, as the Earl informed and thoroughly charmed an audience of Stuart Country Day School students, teachers, parents, and founders during a recent visit to mark the schools 45th anniversary.
After introductions by headmistress Frances de la Chapelle (sporting, probably not coincidentally, a jolly nice bright plaid shawl), the program continued with reminiscences by two of the schools three founding mothers, Mary Garret and Millie Harford. The third, Peggy McNeil, is deceased, but remains well-represented by young family members currently attending Stuart.
I cannot believe the beauty of the school today, Ms. Garret concluded after she and Ms. Harford described the origins of Stuart, an independent Roman Catholic school, as a Bible study group, and how the three women found the land, money, and zeal that made it all possible.
A Woman of Outstanding Talent
Although he did not know Janet Erskine Stuart (1857-1914) personally, Mr. Stewart, who was born in 1928, and his wife, who prepared the slides for the program, became well-versed in her life.
Describing the bits of kinship he found between them, Mr. Stewart related how both he and Janet grew up among farmers, and how both embarked on spiritual endeavors that led them away from their respective families, she in a life devoted to Christ, and he as an educator following the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. Although Stuart Hall, the family home in Northern Ireland no longer exists, Mr. Stewart and his wife still live on the same site in a more modern house.
Janet Erskine Stuart enjoyed a wonderful childhood, Mr. Stewart said, despite the loss of her mother when she was only 14 months old. The eldest sister in the family took on the role of mothering, and a Swiss governess introduced Janet to German thought and philosophy when she was in her early teens. When she fell under the influence of a Roman Catholic priest, her Episcopal fathers consternation was so great that he arranged for her to meet with Prime Minister William Gladstone for guidance. Undissuaded, she broke with her father, and pursued a life in the church, eventually taking vows as a nun. She rose to become the Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, and, as a leading educator, she travelled widely, visiting both North and South American schools and convents.
Musing about what would have happened to Janet if she had been born later in time, Mr. Stewart wondered how would her calling have come to her? The world has changed a great deal, he observed, but, he concluded, she was a true leader who still would have had a calling.
Stewart or Stuart?
Try explaining it to customs officials, Mr. Stewart joked as the question of the spelling of his name, versus that of Janet Erskine Stuart, came up. The Scottish kings spelled it uar, he noted, as did his early ancestors. Then, in the early 1800s, later forefathers decided it was time to go native, changing the spelling to ew, the Irish way. Weve been plagued with it ever since, he said.
Town Topics® may be purchased on Wednesday mornings at the following locations: Princeton McCaffreys, Coxs, Kiosk (Palmer Square), Krauszers (State Road), Olives, Speedy Mart (State Road), Wawa (University Place); Hopewell Village Express; Rocky Hill Wawa (Route 518); Pennington Pennington Market.
Copyright© Town Topics®, Inc. 2011.