Angela Pirrone Sandri graduated from the College of Holy Names in 1963 and celebrates her 50th reunion this fall. In a recent interview, she recalled the impact of Holy Names’ commitment to social justice and academic freedom.
“It (i)s the kind of thing that … remains with you over the years, the way the nuns really cared about the community and also their students,” Pirrone Sandri said. “You weren’t just there to learn about some particular subject. You were there to learn about life.”
While a student, Pirrone Sandri volunteered with a small group of women from Holy Names at a cerebral palsy center, where she provided comfort to patients and helped to get them physically moving. She also collected money for social causes.
Pirrone Sandri, who studied English literature, drama, and speech, remembers attending a conference at local Catholic university with other Holy Names’ students. The conference opened with a statement that drama in Catholic schools should only be related to religion. The nuns at this institution felt that the students should not perform any plays that did not have to do with the saints’ lives or similar issues.
“We decided we were not going to stand for that. So we got up and left,” she said. The late Sister Claire Madeleine, who served at that time as chairperson of the Holy Names’ English department, supported the students’ choice. Pirrone Sandri said that Sr. Claire Madeleine was a wonderful mentor.
“Her attitude about learning was (to teach) the whole person, and you found out more about who they were and … then you hopefully lifted them up to … an area that they wanted … to go into,” she said. “In other words, the (Sisters) led you to find what it was that you wanted to do.”
After graduating from the College of Holy Names, Pirrone Sandri attended Stanford University to obtain a high school teaching credential. Upon completing her training at Stanford, she married Piero Sandri, whom she met at a University of San Francisco and College of Holy Names party. They moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he attended medical school.
She began teaching high school, but soon became pregnant, and was no longer allowed to teach. This would be the first of four children—three of whom would follow in Pirrone Sandri’s footsteps and become teachers.
Her husband became a physician for the military, which led the family to Northern California, Southern Spain, and finally Bainbridge Island, Washington, where Pirrone Sandri and her husband currently live.
Pirrone Sandri fondly remembers the family’s time in Spain and the Spanish people, who she said appreciated the outdoors and each other. “I, for some reason, truly identified with the Spanish way of thinking. I mean, they’re just very open and there are no airs,” she said. “They were very straightforward and cared about one another, and that was what was important to them.”
The family had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe and Morocco. They especially enjoyed visiting Spain and Portugal. “The Spanish and the Portuguese love children, they love family, so we never ran into problems with … having four little kids making noise,” she recollected.
Her experiences abroad influenced her to later open a travel business from her home in Washington, specializing in budget travel to Europe, that partnered with a local travel agency. It was before the days of Expedia and other online travel resources, but she had a committed computer to one of the airlines, and she could manage bookings. Pirrone Sandri said the career change was exciting, and she liked the process of tailoring trips to individual travelers.
In more recent years, Pirrone Sandri served as Bainbridge Island’s neighborhood team leader for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, which had a profound impact on her. “It was really quite life changing, in a way, because I found myself speaking in front of groups, recruiting people, being far more open than I’d been, and outgoing, since I graduated from Holy Names,” she said.
Pirrone Sandri is looking forward to visiting HNU and seeing her classmates at their 50th reunion this fall.
“I can gather that (Holy Names) still (places) a lot of importance on academic freedom and in the importance of following your … internal goals … so that you can better yourself, but also have a better understanding of your community,” she said. “If they maintain the same attitude that they did all the way back 50 years ago that excites me, because I think that’s what our world needs today.”