By Joel William McGraw/Special to The Commercial Appeal

Saturday, September 22, 2012

All of these people are from Memphis. What else do they have in common?

Judges John T. “Buddy” Dwyer, Robert K. “Bussy” Dwyer, Tim Dwyer, John Brennan Getz, John P. Colton and Louis Joseph Montesi; former police director Walter Crews; baseball pros Tim McCarver, Ray Crone and Phil Gagliano; actors Stella Stevens and Andrew Stevens; civic leaders Kevin Kane and Jack Sammons; restaurateurs Frank and Ronnie Grisanti, priests such as Val Handwerker, Peter Buchignani and John McArthur — I could go on.

All were taught in their youth by Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Memphis.

Memphis has been blessed with Sisters of Charity of Nazareth since 1882 when members of the community came to our city from Nashville to staff St. Brigid School in North Memphis.

In following years, they staffed 14 schools in Shelby County: St. Brigid, St. Peter’s Orphanage, Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Sorrows, St. William, Little Flower, Holy Names, St. Mary, St. Anne on Highland, St. Ann in Bartlett, St. Anthony, Holy Rosary, St. Michael and St. Patrick. When all were in operation simultaneously, about 140 Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were present in Memphis at one time.

In their 130 years in Memphis, 742 sisters have taught more than 70,000 children and raised more than 5,000 children at St. Peter’s. Memphis gave 50 of its daughters to Nazareth to become Sisters of Charity.

Life for a Sister of Charity in Memphis meant living in a cubicle just off the dormitories at St. Peter’s Orphanage, and tending day and night to the children’s needs. Their quarters were so cramped that one morning two sisters tried to put on the same habit.

In early days, sisters taught children in church pews, the vestibule, the sacristy, and even used a card table as a teacher’s desk. There were only snatches of free time.

One evening, Father Gresham spotted two Sisters riding bikes around the campus. There was one TV in the auditorium, rarely watched except on rainy afternoons.

Holy Rosary School had roller skates and picnics for the sisters in Memphis. These meant food, sewing and pleating their white caps, lots of chitchat and roller skating until one sister went too fast down the ramp and broke her arm.

The old Christian Brothers College on East Parkway hosted Saturday afternoon movies for sisters until an untimely visit by Mother Bertrand, who deemed “The Student Prince” unfitting for sisters to see.

A stained-glass window at the motherhouse in Nazareth, Ky., depicts a pelican plucking its sides so that its young can drink its blood to stave off starvation. This symbol represents the spirit of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.

For 200 years, they have given their lives generously to serve humanity.

Brother Joel William McGraw is assistant principal at Christian Brothers High School.

Honoring the Sisters of Charity

What: A public reception honoring the 200th anniversary of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Ky.

Who: The Sisters have been serving various Memphis Catholic schools since 1882.

When: 3-4 p.m. Sept. 30.

Where: Holy Rosary Catholic Church, 4841 Park Avenue.

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