As part of Cardinal Newman Week, Newman University will present its annual High Tea event from 2 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 21, in the Dugan-Gorges Conference Center. A second, less formal High Tea will be held in the evening, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Eck Hall Lobby.
History Behind High Tea
Cardinal Newman Week focuses on celebrating Newman University’s namesake Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, who lived from 1801 to 1890 in Victorian England and Ireland. During this time, it was common practice for English people to host an afternoon tea. Newman University students, faculty and staff decided to honor Cardinal Newman’s life and legacy with a tea in the English fashion to which he was accustomed.
High Tea is a free, long-standing Newman tradition and social event that welcomes all students, faculty, staff, alumni, ASC sisters and other members of the community to enjoy. It features homemade desserts, cheeses, sandwiches, baked items, salmon and, of course, tea. Many participants attend the get-together in “tea attire,” which often includes dresses, suits, the occasional tuxedo, gloves and many decorative hats.
Behind the Scenes
High Tea is hosted entirely by volunteers, the majority of which are Newman faculty, staff and students. “[Administrative Assistant] Monica Borger, [Instructor of Piano and Organ] Carole Pracht, and [Director of Student Activities and High Tea volunteer coordinator] Lauren Fontarum are a few crucial team members who help a great deal in finding volunteers,” said Associate Professor of English Susan Crane, Ph.D.
Each year, a handful of the same individuals dedicate many hours of their weeks to organize, bake and volunteer for the event from start to finish.
“In a way, it is a testimony to the best part of the character of the university: individual care, attention and patience,” said Crane. “The university could cater the event, but the community participation makes it far more personal.”
The committee has coordinated with a range of facilities over the years, however Scooter’s is very cooperative when it comes to events like this, Crane said. “They are kindly letting us use their kitchen for washing dishes, so the traffic flow will be much better this year for people who attend,” she said.
It takes an enormous group effort to organize and help at the event, so the team holds several committee meetings throughout the planning process. Volunteers subdivide the tasks and follow steps to complete each process. This is also a direct way for members to share ideas and tips to improve the High Tea experience for upcoming years.
Aside from Newman, other organizations such as Dillons and The Spice Merchant have donated popular food items, such as high-quality cheeses, for High Tea in the past.
“High Tea brings people together in a new way,” said Archivist Diana Stanley. “The different recipes, organizations and many helpers make it a fun atmosphere that is focused around community.”
“For me,” said Crane, “an important part of the uniqueness of the event is that nearly everything is made from scratch; mostly by faculty and staff.”
One of the most famous dishes at High Tea is the trifle, a delectable dessert that consists of a glass bowl filled with cake, cream and berries.
In addition to tasty treats, a collection of unique tea sets from the Chair of the High Tea Committee Sheryl Stanley are displayed throughout the gathering space. These sets, embellished with flowers, range from teapots sporting the British flag to a musical-themed tea set that sits atop the piano.
“The Noah’s Ark tea set always gets me,” said Stanley’s daughter and Newman Archivist, Diana Stanley. “I noticed it a couple of years back, and my mom just got another set for only $1.50.”
Crane said, “One of my favorite parts of High Tea is being able to talk with people I don’t always get to see. Plus, I love looking around and seeing all of the fancy hats.”
Last year, Art Professor Susan DeWit held a workshop to make felted wool hats. A few faculty members attended, including Crane, Associate Professor of Art Mary Werner and Assistant Professor of Communications Suzanne Berg. Those who participated were then able to attend the event while wearing their very own fancy hats made from scratch.
“You don’t tend to see people wearing nice hats nowadays,” said Diana Stanley. “It’s a pretty rare occasion, so to see a bunch of cool and interesting hats in one place is a pretty neat experience for me.”