50 Years of Esprit
In 1971, Mother Cecilia called a meeting in the Playroom. The Fire Department had just stopped by again, but this time, the Sisters’ charm was not enough to get the firemen to leave with issuing just a warning. Founders Hall desperately needed renovations to meet the fire code, for which the school did not have the money. The group put their minds together and came up with the idea of a bazaar. Sister Anne Marie set out to make arts and crafts to sell, and Margaret Van Evera stepped up to chair the very first Esprit.
Many of the traditions of Esprit de Noel that we know and love today actually started at that very first Esprit, 50 years ago. Parents and Sisters baked homemade treats for the Country Store in the Lodge and collected gently used furniture, antiques and book donations for Attic Treasures and Ye Olde Booke Shoppe; a 1972 Ford Pinto was the first car raffled; and 5 professional vendors sold “unusual and useful items” in the gym. The first Esprit raised $29,000, but more than that, it raised “Esprit de Coeur,” or heart. And so, a beautiful tradition was born.
Nancy Wright Green JC’58 fondly remembers that first Esprit. As the DC Chapter President, she had been invited to the Playroom meeting, and she joined the committee as the Snack Shack & Bar chairwoman. They sold pizza and roast beef sandwiches made by Sister Veronica in the Lodge, and Nancy remembers they were “flying by the seats of their pants” the whole weekend. They ran out of food, and then beverages, and then horseradish sauce, which still makes Nancy chuckle to this day. She has returned to numerous Esprits since with her five alumnae granddaughters.
Esprit has certainly changed over the years, but the spirit and heart remain. The Country Store evolved into the Bake Shop, and the latest addition of care packages in 2019 allowed alumnae away at college to partake. The Snackery was born in the 80’s, replacing earlier versions of a Cafe de Noel. Alumnae return to campus every year, eager to reminisce over that bowl of chili. The pizza and roast beef sandwiches from the first Esprit transformed into a fancier cocktail party and seated dinner in the gym, now Nolan Center lobby. Today, that tradition has become Bistro, the Friday night happy hour for alumnae and parents.
The coronavirus pandemic has challenged us to bring these traditions into a virtual world, but it seems this isn’t the first year we’ve faced challenges. In 1974, the chairwoman writes “without each of you it would not have been possible to realize such success in this year of troubled economy. I continue to marvel at the “Esprit” here at GVC.” It seems every year has been the most challenging yet, but every year, we can rely on the smell of cinnamon nuts wafting through campus, friendships rekindling over Christmas gift shopping, and the Sisters’ presence throughout the weekend. In 1979, Alumnae Notes reads, “the financial benefit is evident, but more important is the social success, the opportunity it provides for all members of the Georgetown Visitation family, students, alumnae and parents to meet with the Visitation Sisters.”
As Esprit moves online this year, we won’t be able to physically be with each other or the Sisters on campus, but we can light a scented candle, play some Christmas music, and call an old Visi friend to reminisce. The Esprit traditions may continue to change over the next 50 years, but we will always keep the spirit and heart.