Historical High Tea tradition returns to Newman campus

Feb 23, 2022
High Tea - Heritage Month

After a year absence, the St. John Henry Newman High Tea event returned to campus for students, alumni, faculty, staff and families to enjoy on Tuesday, Feb. 22.

The annual St. John Henry Newman High Tea event pays homage to the English heritage of the university’s namesake, St. John Henry Newman. The come-and-go afternoon tea party encouraged attendees to don fancy hats, peruse the one-of-a-kind tea sets on each decorated table and enjoy the company of the Newman community over tea and treats.

Laura Hartley
Laura Hartley

Laura Hartley, director of annual giving, describes High Tea as “a very unique Newman tradition.”

“I don’t know of any other university that holds a university-wide high tea,” she said. “It’s very symbolic of Newman being a family in the fact that everyone comes together to make sure we can pull this off, and it holds a special place in my heart.”

It takes a village

Scottish shortbread, currant scones, Cheshire cheese tarts and the decadent strawberry trifle were just a few of the finger foods and desserts served. All were generously prepared by volunteers, Newman staff, faculty and administration.

A student volunteer scoops a serving from the strawberry trifle dessert.
A student volunteer scoops a serving from the strawberry trifle dessert.

As a member of the planning committee for High Tea, Hartley assembled volunteers, set up the room and even helped plate and cut the picturesque foods in preparation for the big day. With last year’s High Tea on hiatus due to COVID, the planning committee also had to revamp the event with safety measures in place.

“We made some concessions where we’re using paper products this year, instead of the real china we typically use,” Hartley explained. “Our goal was to make it safe so that everyone felt comfortable coming back this year.”

Returning volunteers, such as junior biology and history student Jenny Duong, were excited to take part in the special Heritage Month event once again. 

Student volunteered to serve cups of tea to guests.
Students volunteered to serve cups of tea to guests.

“I love it. It’s just something fun to enjoy and relax during February which is always such a hectic month,” Duong said.

First-year student Emily Pachta, a St. Newman scholar, was excited to volunteer for this year’s event but wasn’t sure what to expect.

“The atmosphere was lively and we had a piano player here which really set the mood,” Pachta said. “There are so many fun snacks that you wouldn’t probably try on your own, but at a fancy event like this, you have to. I like that you can pop in, see some people you might know or meet new people, get a snack and head out whenever you feel comfortable.”

A huge amount of behind-the-scenes work goes into bringing High Tea to life, and Hartley credits Sheryl Stanley to the event’s success.

Sheryl Stanley
Sheryl Stanley

Not only is Stanley a proud parent of five Newman alumni, but she also heads the planning committee and provides many of the unique decorations that High Tea is known for. 

“Sheryl really goes above and beyond for this event,” Hartley said.

Remembering Sister Charlotte’s part in High Tea

Back in 2015, the late Sister Charlotte Rohrbach, ASC, asked Stanley for assistance with High Tea through the Heritage Month committee. 

“I didn’t know what she was going to ask me when she called, but I couldn’t tell her no,” Stanley said with a smile.

Sister Charlotte Rohrbach, ASC, 1940-2021.

The two worked together that first year and made sure that the volunteers, food items, tea, decorations and flower arrangements were all accounted for. Then in 2016, Sister Charlotte asked Stanley to take the reigns and chair the High Tea committee.

“I’ve been helping ever since,” Stanley said.

Since Sister Charlotte’s death in March 2021, committee members have carried on her iconic tea-making traditions to the best of their ability. 

For this year’s event, Stanley wanted to make sure a small memorial was included to honor Sister Charlotte’s legacy.

The poster reads, "Charlotte Rohrbach, ASC, played an instrumental role in this university tradition and many more. We remember Sister Charlotte always, but especially during High Tea."
The poster reads, “Charlotte Rohrbach, ASC, played an instrumental role in this university tradition and many more. We remember Sister Charlotte always, but especially during High Tea.”

“The signs for High Tea were updated to express some information about Sister Charlotte being the one who took over and shared the tea for many years,” Stanley said. “I feel like there’s kind of an empty seat for her here today.”

Sister Janet Rowley, ASC, experienced a similar void. As she discussed different versions of how High Tea started at her table of fellow ASC sisters, she was reminded of the woman who knew its history inside and out.

“Sister Charlotte would’ve known exactly,” Sister Janet said. “We miss a sense of that historian that she was for so many years of her life. She loved events like this where people got together, and that’s a part of her heritage, too. So it’s wonderful to see this happening, where you’ve got students and staff and alumni all mixed together for this event.”

A Newman-wide bond

Sister Betty Adams, ASC, believes that High Tea — and Heritage Month as a whole — is also a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the rich history of St. John Henry Newman

“It opens our minds a little bit to expand our experience of culture in a simple way,” Sister Betty said. “And not only the attending of it, but the preparation of it really helps create the community. Everybody does their part and it just makes it such a lovely experience for everyone.”

“And I love making the lemon tarts,” she said with a laugh.

Stanley considers Newman a part of her family after several ties to the university through her children and late husband, Doug, who served on the Newman Board of Trustees from 2006 to 2013.

“I like to give this event back to Newman to show them the love that they’ve shown us,” Stanley said. “It’s been a privilege to work so much with all these wonderful staff and volunteers that have helped.”

High Tea celebrants also celebrated "Twosday" at 2:22 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 22.
High Tea celebrants also celebrated “Twosday” at 2:22 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 22.

The Heritage Month events continue this week and next, with Homecoming on Thursday, Feb. 24, Newman Giving Day on March 1, and Ash Wednesday Mass on March 2.

Video: High Tea, 2/22/22