As people filtered into the Archbishop’s Seminary Tea this year, they were met with one familiar face – Elizabeth Bunce. She has served on the planning committee for many years, and on this day she was graciously ushering attendees into the splendor and tradition of the annual party.
They also saw a new face. Bunce’s granddaughter Audrey, 9, sat beside her grandmother echoing the welcomes, cheeks flushed with excitement.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but this has been awesome,” the girl said.
Wide-eyed wonderment has been the reaction of little girls who attend the tea for decades. It’s part of the custom. Elizabeth remembers having the same feeling as a young girl at her first seminary tea in the 1940s.
“Young people learn etiquette, manners and appreciation of an event that is infrequent now,” she said. “The women who are part of the seminary tea committee set such a fine example that, as these children get older, they will appreciate and want to be a part of the tradition when they grow up.”
The tradition of Portland’s Catholic women gathering once a year to meet with the archbishop at a tea began in 1935 when Gladys Dunne invited 22 friends to her home to make elaborate sandwiches and fancy home-made cookies. That year, the group congregated on the General Lee State steamship. After that, the tea moved to private homes and Dunne faithfully chaired the event through 1960.
The event has evolved into a fundraiser that supports the archdiocese's seminarians. Archbishop John Vlazny and Retired Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner were among the guests of honor.
“Tea is truly a lost art,” said Dee Madden, committee member. “It’s hard to get people to come in the middle of the day to sip tea and eat cucumber sandwiches.”
To accommodate guests who work during the day and students who are in school, the tea was scheduled later in the afternoon this year. The event was also hosted at the spacious Portland Golf Club instead of a private home.
Perhaps due to the slight changes, there were more men than ever at the tea, and also many more children, said Seminary Tea Committee Chairwoman Mary Kay Beaudoin. Mary Willis was also chairwoman for this year’s tea.
Janie Grant, a parishioner at St. John Fisher Parish, brought her twins, Paige and Molly, 8. The towheaded girls delicately nibbled strawberries and tiny desserts.
Janie said she enjoys giving the girls a chance to get dressed up and practice their table manners. Her daughters agreed, yes, they thought wearing pretty dresses was fun, but the delicious brownies trumped all.
Each year, high school volunteers handle important jobs like greeting or helping in the coatroom.
Jesuit High school sophomore Erin Strader had so much fun last year that she wanted to come back and help again. (Plus, her mother is the volunteer coordinator.) This year she brought friends.
Jesuit junior Shane Richards comes from a big family of five kids, so these types of prim-and-proper events are few and far between for him. But the cause is near and dear to his family – three of his mother’s uncles were priests and his family is close with their parish priest, Father John Kerns, at St. Juan Diego Church.
This year, the event drew between 300 and 400 attendees and raised $30,000 for seminary education.
“It was a great party,” Beaudoin said. “There were Catholic women from different parishes all over the city, and a real sense of community.”