Before The Harker School there was Harker Academy. And before Harker Academy, there was Mother Butler, the school that preceded Harker on this site.
On the site of the present upper school, Mother Butler Memorial High School educated high school-aged girls through the 1950s, ‘60s and until 1972, when they vacated and Harker moved in. Founded and operated by the order Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Mother Butler began much the same way Harker’s upper school did – with a few teachers and a freshmen class. One principal, two teachers and a class of about 70, to be exact. Those two teachers, Mother Benedict and Mother Lawrence, were among a small group of former Mother Butler educators who visited campus on April 26.
No longer teachers, the nuns use their given names now, Sister Eileen Tuohy and Sister Laura Siebert. They, Sister Theresa Cunningham and Sister Gabriel McCauley came up from Southern California for a reunion of that first class of freshmen – the class of 1963 – an impressive 50 or so of whom attended the reunion. Proximity to their old stomping grounds prompted a visit to Harker. They were joined by Philomena Lynch, who lived at Mother Butler while she taught at nearby St. Martin’s and Queen of Apostles schools. Lynch still lives locally and taught at Palo Alto Military Academy and The Harker School for 26 years (she was Miss Killarney to her students then), thus linking the schools together in more than just location.
Walking through the Office of Communication sparked many memories for the teachers, who lived in that very hallway while they taught at the school. A trip into the Bistro Café, which used to be their chapel, invited a wonderful piece of trivia. The two electrical outlets over the kitchen doorway held the lights to the confessional, one to signal vacancy on the priest’s side, and one for the penitent’s. Sister Eileen also pointed out that highway 280 didn’t exist, and the entrance to the school was on Moorpark Ave., allowing the girls to pick fruit from the orchards that surrounded the campus.
School archivist Terry Walsh produced three albums of Mother Butler photos, which she presented to the group. The sisters recollected wearing full habits at the school until Vatican II relaxed their dress code, and Sister Eileen most fondly remembered the song contest held annually, when the students wrote and performed songs for judges.
Harker shares more than just the site in Mother Butler’s history. The school had a proud academic tradition, and Sister Eileen commented that their classes gave their students “a great foundation” for college. Lynch concurred, saying they left “so well prepared” for further study. The sisters themselves all hold advanced degrees from various schools, including USC and Loyola Marymount, making it no surprise that their pupils were so well taught.
Sister Eileen was struck by how befitting it was to celebrate their reunion the week of the 70th anniversary of Mother Butler’s death. Those who met the teachers on their visit were likewise struck that even though the schools do not directly share a history, a shared love of learning and intellectual values has been taking place on these grounds for decades.