Schools to celebrate annual tradition

Schools of the Sacred Heart’s Noëls celebration marks an almost century-long tradition.


Schools of the Sacred Heart Archives

Elementary school students sit on the Marble Stairs as part of the 1977 Noëls celebration. Students wore white dresses for the occasion, unlike the dress uniform students wear today.

Asha Khanna and Halie Kim

The four-school community is expected to gather today in the Herbert Center to celebrate the nearly century-old tradition of Noëls, a student musical tribute to the president and heads of schools.

“All of the language classes and all of the grades prepare a song in their specific language that they’re studying,” Serafina Cinti, who is in her 13th year at Convent, said. “The coming together every single year, and especially in the time of all the holidays, it’s just a really nice, happy event.”

Cinti says she is looking forward to finally performing the senior song “Noël de Notre Dame.”

“I can remember, especially in the lower grades, that I really looked up to all of the seniors,” Cinti said. “Especially how they’re always on the top, it’s symbol of leadership.”

Each group sits on the gym floor, except for the seniors who participate from the Mezzanine running track, and stands up to perform its song in front of the rest of the community.

Noëls was initiated by former French teacher Sister Mère Madeline Rode, RSCJ in the 1920s at the girls schools’ former location on Jackson Street and has remained unique to San Francisco, according to former Director of Schools Sister Mary Mardel, RSCJ.

The carols, originally entirely sung in French, gained a new diversity when the schools began teaching more languages.

“Last year, I could still sing along to the songs that I remember learning from kindergarten, first grade and second grade,” Cinti said. “I’ve started to pick up songs that I haven’t even learned. I like the tradition of singing the same song.”

Noëls continued when Convent moved to Broadway in 1940. Students originally gathered in the Main Hall, later including the Marble Stairs and finally moving to the gym to accommodate all four schools, according to Mardel.

“You’re connected with the past of the school,” Mardel said. “It’s the value of tradition, the same reason why you continue to have your beautiful Senior Tea and you don’t do something completely different each year.”

Sophomore Mary Crawford has practiced “Mi Burrito Sabanero,” during Spanish class.

“It was kind of exciting,” Crawford, who attended Noëls for the first time last year, said. “It’s always fun to listen to people singing songs that they’ve worked on. I liked seeing that everyone kind of knew the songs from different grades.”

The location and languages have changed over time, but Noëls still represent the school community coming together.

“I like that there is this long-held tradition that hasn’t really changed throughout the years,” Cinti said. “Yes, the music or language teachers are teaching us the song, but in the end the whole Noëls is a gift of voice and a music representation of how thankful we are for the leaders of our school.”