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College class rings symbolize tradition

Caitlin Housley | Sunday, October 30, 2011

If you want to learn more about a Saint Mary’s woman and the unique experience she has lived during her college years, ask her about the class ring on her finger.

“When I look down at my ring finger, I’m reminded of my love for Saint Mary’s,” senior Kelly Golden said. “The Saint Mary’s ring is much more than a status symbol to me. Its uniqueness and beauty remind me of my time at Saint Mary’s.”

The Saint Mary’s class ring has stood as a symbol of the College since the 1950s, Ed O’Neil, regional sales representative for Balfour, said. Balfour, the Saint Mary’s ring manufacturer, did not introduce today’s version of the traditional Saint Mary’s ring until 1973.

“To my knowledge, [the current design] has been [in place] since 1973, and the differences between the previous [rings] and today’s version are very, very small,” he said. “Most people almost wouldn’t even recognize [the differences].”

The major difference between the most popular ring of today’s Saint Mary’s student and those of the past is the size of the ring. O’Neil said almost 95 percent of students today buy the petite version, whereas many women in the fifties bought the larger version or pinkie rings.

“Sometimes alumni will come in and comment that there’s very little difference in the seal itself — the size itself is the only difference,” he said.

Prior to the fifties, the Saint Mary’s ring looked very different. O’Neil said the original Saint Mary’s rings were made in Europe and shipped to the United States.

“I gave a ring to Saint Mary’s from 1921, and it had a black onyx and the whole ring was a square-shaped, rectangular ring with a very small seal that was kind of the shape of the cross,” he said. “It was a four-pointed seal and had SMC lettering on it.”

This is a dramatic variation from the current look of the Saint Mary’s ring.

According to Balfour’s website, smcring.com, the current look of the ring features the College’s seal at the top of the ring.

The French Cross in the center of the seal stands as the instrument of salvation. Two anchors in the form of an “X” cross the seal and stand for the Greek letter Chi, the monogram of Christ and the source of the virtue of hope.

O’Neil said these are the features that make the Saint Mary’s ring so unique.

“The Saint Mary’s ring is extremely unique, extremely well thought of and definitely identifiable,” he said. “[Students] probably know that from listening to stories from people. No matter where they go, they’ll have a comment made that they recognize that ring.”

Senior Bridget Gartenmayer discovered how well known the Saint Mary’s ring is while on a trip to Rome.

Gartenmayer said a woman approached her and her group of friends while they were eating dinner. The woman noticed their American accents and inquired about where they attended school.

“We told her that we went to Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, and she lifted up her hand in excitement to show us her Saint Mary’s ring,” she said.

Gartenmayer said she and her friends instantly felt connected to the woman.

“The woman, who was in Rome with her Notre Dame husband, was in her 40s, still wore her ring and had the essence of a Saint Mary’s woman,” she said. “It was so amazing to know that such a small symbol of Saint Mary’s College can bring Belles together all around the world.”

Saint Mary’s class of 2007 alumna Jess Jordan said she still wears her ring, as it serves as a constant reminder of her education and the memories developed at Saint Mary’s.

“My ring helps me stay connected, and even though I’m not there anymore, it reminds me of the time I spent at Saint Mary’s, my friends and my experiences,” she said. “I wear my ring as a symbol of pride because I’m extremely glad I went to Saint Mary’s and I enjoyed every minute of my time here.”

O’Neil said anecdotes like these stand as a true testament to the character and teachings of Saint Mary’s.

“In a school that graduates 350 people a year, [stories like these are] a tremendous statement really,” he said. “The attachments and the recognition are just tremendous. It’s such a connection to the past, and it’s that link that never goes away.”

O’Neil said the 40 years of working for Balfour and selling Saint Mary’s rings have allowed him to play a role in the formation of the lasting connections Saint Mary’s students feel with their rings.

“I think that the students and alumna at Saint Mary’s really [cherish] that, and that ring is very representative of that,” he said. “I was thinking about what the Saint Mary’s ring really represents, and it kind of is like saying a Saint Christopher’s medal is more than just a piece of jewelry. The Saint Mary’s ring is more than just a piece of jewelry.”