Guest Column: Convent Life in Laguna

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By Patricia Peper Truman

Sacred Heart Convent Sisters stand outside of the former school on 450 Glenneyre St. Photo courtesy of Patricia Truman.  

My family fled the cold, harsh winters of New York in search of warm sunshine, as doctors suggested we should move to a climate more conducive to helping my father’s tuberculosis. We tried Florida, but the humidity was not helpful to him. We headed to California and settled in Hollywood for the winter, where my parents had good friends. My mother heard about a charming beach village in Orange County and rented a cottage in South Laguna for a two-week summer stay. Lovely Laguna won our hearts, and the rest is our history.

This was the early 40s when my parents purchased an original artist bungalow on Anita Street and became a part of the small population. Because of my father’s possible contagion, I was enrolled in Sacred Heart Convent on 450 Glenneyre, which is now housing units. The convent was run as a school, and a few boarders like me were in the care of a small group of Dominican nuns from Cuba. The Mother Superior also needed California’s glorious sunshine (no smog in those days) as she also contracted tuberculosis in her home country. She and my father connected over this mutual challenge. 

I was just five or six years old and one of a few young girls who lived at the convent, except when parents took us home for weekends, an outing or just sweet visits. I was contented there, as the nuns were kind and wise, both our teachers and caregivers. Sister Mary Rose was the fireball who really handled this well-run convent/school. The nuns lived in a separate building. We, a small group of girl boarders, slept in a dormitory room with Sister Francis given charge of us. She slept in the same space with drapes all around her enclosure for her needed privacy from the prying curious eyes of children.

A dining room is where we all had three meals a day, dessert being our favorite item. The grounds were seemingly large to a small child with lovely old-growth eucalyptus trees, swings, and a place to roller skate by the Mother House. The schoolroom was a small separate building, similar to the one-room schoolhouse of early America. A few day students came, which gave us a wider assortment of friends. Sister Rose and one of the other nuns would occasionally walk us to town to spend a few cents at Carpenters, the ‘everything’ store next to the still-with-us theater on Coast Highway (then known as Highway 1). Attending Sunday service at St. Catherine’s Church, receiving our 

First Communion in that charming old (now re-built) landmark on Temple Terrace.

I hold those kind nuns dear to my heart even now as I write this. I fondly recall my mother occasionally inviting them to Emerald Bay, where my parents first lived, for a day at the beach and picnic. It is a treasured memory of the nuns in their habits with straw hats on top of their veils, bare feet wading into the beautiful clear Pacific. I remember seeing their pure white feet and a tiny bit of leg and being intrigued, as their faces and hands were the only flesh we ever saw. 

As my father improved, I was eventually moved to our sweet home on Anita Street and attended elementary school for part of the year. During the other months, we lived in a small desert home in Palm Springs as Laguna, in those winter years, had thick fog. Cars had yellow lights, and drivers crawled slowly at night to remain safe, but that’s a story for another time.

Since my childhood was a part of this legacy, I wanted to share a tiny bit of old Laguna. This small cameo was prompted by a prior article by Skip Hellewell that mentioned the convent.

Patricia Peper Truman is a businesswoman, realtor, published author and minister. She’s a longtime resident of Laguna Beach.

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