The tradition of the tower

We leave our mark; that’s what we do.

Mr. Frank Espinosa, Principal of Mount Saint Joseph High School

At Mount Saint Joseph High School, the sense of unity is almost palpable. As many of the students, teachers, and alumni agree, this unity stems from the school’s vibrant tradition. Traditions like those fostered at The Mount are essential because traditions unite the participants, define their goals, and create a consistency that makes one feel a part of something bigger.  For example, suppose a family fosters a longstanding tradition of visiting ancestors’ graves on their birthdays, each member of the family will feel connected through this tradition. In that case, they’ll realize how important it is to respect their family members, and everyone will see that everyone is loved. When beliefs like these are affirmed so strongly, a family will be united firmly.

As students turn to alumni at Mount Saint Joseph, they often return to teach other students and participate in reunions. This is because their connection to the community continues past their four-year education. Because of our traditions, students feel permanently grafted onto the community. From the school-wide masses to the lively spirit week game nights, all our traditions are made to bring the community together. 

The tower was used to connect the major buildings on campus and was used as a stairwell.

One of the most essential of these traditions, however, began almost as a prank. Around the 1960s, before the campus was remodeled and when Mount Saint Joseph was a boarding school, the tower served as the main staircase for two buildings coming out of it in an L-shape. The students boarded on the lower floors of the building, and none were allowed on the top floor where the brothers lived. Every now and then, the students would see how close they could get to the top floor without getting caught, leaving their names on one of the bricks up there as proof of their accomplishment. And soon, this dare became a rite of passage, and later this rite of passage became a tradition. Now, as seniors approach graduation, each has a chance to sign their name on the bricks of the tower during their theology classes. 

This tradition, in particular, is important for the Mount Saint Joseph community because when a student writes his name on the bricks in permanent ink, he feels like he is permanently part of the community, that he’s permanently left a mark. Mount graduate Mr. Jody Harris said in regards to the tower tradition, “As I went up into the tower, I looked around, and I saw [the signatures of] different people from different eras, and you get a sense that you’re part of something bigger.” The sense of being part of something bigger and being part of the community is what reinforces the unity at Mount Saint Joseph. Mr. Espinosa, the principal at MSJ, said, “We leave our mark; that’s what we do.”

The tradition of signing your name in the tower originated with students sneaking to the upper floors without waking the Xaverian Brothers living there.

Another reason the tower tradition is so important for the community is that each student adds to the school monument when he signs his name on a brick. The tower is what defines our campus. “It’s almost like [the tower has] been cut and pasted in there because it’s so robust and so big that it just towers over everything,” said Mr. Espinosa, “…It’s something to be proud of.” And as the students climb the steps up to the tower and begin to see the signatures and the sprawl of the surrounding neighborhoods, there’s the sense that the tower is a really unique and special place. Mr. Schuberth, a Mount grad, said, “I love seeing [the seniors’] reaction when they step out onto the top of the tower.” He continues, “You’ve been here four years, you think you’ve seen everything there is to see here at Mount Saint Joe, but you go up to the top of the tower, you get to see the campus in a whole new way.” 

Senior looks out on Irvington from the top of the tower.

Later the school tore down the buildings connected to the tower to make way for fresh, new ones. The school had initially made plans to get rid of the tower as well, but the alumni came together to remind them that the tower was something essential to the community at Mount Saint Joseph. It made them feel like they still were a part of the family. Although built 120 years ago, the tower stands today, still uniting the community in 2021. 

Thomas Scharbach is a sophomore member of the Multimedia Journalism class