At 69 years old, Sister Mary Bartholomew Biviano, CSJ, is gearing up to leave her job at St. Francis de Sales School in Herkimer. But she isn't retiring: She's headed back to her hometown of Norwich, in the Diocese of Syracuse, to work at the parish she grew up in -- and, most importantly, to take care of her 94-year-old mother.

"She's having a lot of problems with her eyes," Sister Bart explained, noting that her mother is still able to cook her favorite Italian foods, but does so a lot more slowly than she used to.

Sister Bart will be living with her mother, helping with housework and running errands. That's a far cry from making giant hats out of wrapping paper, ribbons and balloons for her kindergartners' birthdays, something Sister Bart was famous for at St. Francis.

As a teacher for 46 years, 42 of which were in Herkimer, Sister Bart has had a lot of experience helping people, especially those who need some special care.

Before moving to Herkimer, Sister Bart taught music and art to children with cerebral palsy and mental challenges for four years in Albany.

"The children were beautiful, and I became very close to some of the students," she told The Evangelist.

At St. Francis School, Sister Bart brought in adults with disabilities from the Herkimer ARC to help assemble supplies for her students' art classes. "It was a great thing for both sides," she said, remembering how much her students enjoyed being able to interact with the older people with disabilities, and what dedicated workers the ARC clients were.

"I learned a lot from that," said the sister. "They teach you not to be so critical and to not judge people."

Working with people with disabilities and with children at St. Francis, she believes, has given her the skills to take care of her aging mother.

Mrs. Biviano's limitations aren't extreme, but they are still present. Sister Bart noted that she will be doing the shopping and picking up her mother's prescriptions. She'll take her to church three times a week.

The pair will attend St. Bartholomew's parish in Norwich, the same parish where Sister Bart will be teaching faith formation part-time.

"Everyone tells me that I'm very creative," Sister Bart remarked, noting that she did religious education when she first entered the Sisters of St. Joseph.

That hadn't been something she ever expected to do. "I wanted to be an interior designer; I wanted to be a nurse. But I was called" to religious life, she said. "We had a priest who used to take us [on trips] all over. When he took us to the Sisters of St. Joseph, they were really hospitable and welcoming."

Fifty years later, Sister Bart is excited to be able to care for her mother. It's like returning a favor, she thinks: "Now it's my turn" to do the caretaking. "I often think of the phrase in the Scriptures: 'A mother is more precious than pearls.'"