April 6, 2018 at 1:53 p.m.

The Catholic schools in my life

The Catholic schools in my life
The Catholic schools in my life

By MARYANN DIGNAZIO LOUISON- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

The button for Catholic schools Week a few years ago hangs on my office bulletin board. Its message: "Catholic Schools -- Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service."

That's quite a statement for a button!

Having been educated in Catholic schools and having had my first experience as a kindergarten and remedial reading teacher at a Catholic school in Troy, I give heartfelt gratitude to those who taught me that motto by their example without ever seeing that button.

I entered kindergarten at St. Joseph's School in Amsterdam. Years later, when the carpet was pulled up to replace the worn one, there was the linoleum that my small feet had walked upon, printed with the letters of the alphabet and a rooster weathervane.

Mrs. Fredericks would gather us around a big "Dick and Jane" book and ask a question of the day. One question, I still remember: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

I'm still figuring that one out, Mrs. Fredericks.

I moved across the hall to first grade. Decades later, while visiting the chapel of St. Marianne Cope in Syracuse, a welcoming voice greeted me: Sister Alvera, to whom I had once looked up as a first-grader.

Sister Carmelita, to this second-grader, you were so beautiful. You definitely deserved every apple I shined with my father each night to drop off at your desk the next morning. And your voice! I loved to listen to you speak or sing.

Sister Martha, you told us one particular story that was really scary. Do you remember it? I still do! How our third grade loved it! If you forgot you had told it before, we never let on; we wanted to hear it again. One of my favorite pictures to draw was a sister who looked like you.

Sister Josetta, I remember another sister coming in to talk to you once, before school started. A few friends and I always arrived early for the fourth grade school day to help you. You were so tall and pretty. I overheard the sister say to you, "What's wrong, Josetta?" She didn't use the word "Sister," but her voice relayed the care and concern sisters felt toward each other.

Sister Mary Arthur, I loved those glasses of yours! You were the first sister I ever had who wore glasses. Those rimless shades you had when I was in fifth grade were so cool!

Sister Edward Frances, your stern expression when we didn't listen didn't fool me -- especially since you were the sister who spoke those kind words to Sister Josetta. Perhaps your expression let us know that more was now expected of us in the sixth grade.

Sister Perpetua, you were so short in that long and heavy habit. Now that I work in the former St. Joseph's building and have climbed to that third floor as you did to teach us seventh grade, I think, "How did Sister Perpetua do this year after year?" As I recall, you were no youngster.

Sister John Joseph, how exciting it was when you arrived as the new principal and my eighth-grade teacher. You were so kind -- no homework on weekends -- and always energetic, even though you spent your Saturdays at The College of Saint Rose, studying to further your education and ours.

Now, my office is in the former St. Joseph's Convent. I travel the stairs you took to go to school and come home. I look at the stained-glass windows which once let in light as you prayed in your chapel.

I'm sure some of those prayers were lifted up for us. I can still feel the presence of all of you in that space. The quiet corridor that once held your Grand Silence still does, in the early morning. Kimball Street still echoes with the sound of children -- now, of another generation.

To me, this is hallowed ground.

All who gave your lives to Catholic education continue to give me that sense of community: faith, love and service, from which I believe knowledge truly comes. It's not on the button; it's in my heart. I hope it speaks through my life. May Catholic Schools Week rejoice at resting on the shoulders of these giants who served Amsterdam: the Sisters of the Third Franciscan Order (now, Franciscan Sisters of the Neumann Communities) at St. Joseph's School; Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet at St. Mary's Institute, Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Bishop Scully High School, St. Mary's School of Nursing and St. Mary's Hospital; Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God and Sisters of Jesus Christ Crucified at St. Casimir's School; Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice (the Felicians) at St. Stanislaus School; Sisters of the Resurrection at the Resurrection Home and Mount Loretto nursing home; and Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, who worked in faith formation at parishes in Amsterdam, Perth and Broadalbin.

I'm grateful for all of you.

(Ms. Dignazio Louison is a credentialed prevention professional for Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery Counties.)[[In-content Ad]]


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