My Aug. 20, 2015, post about the dedication of the statue of Mother Catherine Spalding at the Cathedral and my connection to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth triggered quite a few more memories.
Father Bob Ray and I are from the oldest Catholic parish in Meade County, Kentucky, St. Theresa of Avila. Catholic settlers began arriving in our area in the late 1700’s and the parish was officially established in 1818. The first church was a log cabin on the banks of the Ohio River. Moving closer to the present location, a second log cabin church was constructed in 1826. In 1855 building operations began in the present church which was dedicated officially by Bishop Spalding (I was pastor of his home parish from 1980-1983) June 16, 1861.
In 1866, St. Theresa Academy was built and opened as a boarding/day school. The Sisters of Loretto were the first teachers, but the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth took over the school in 1870 and the “Sisters’ Farm” was purchased.
I remember going to weekday Mass in the academy chapel (all the way to the end, on the left of the door, on the first floor, in the top picture).
I remember spilling a bowl of vegetable soup in the first grade onto Sister Mary Ancilla Meyer’s starched bonnet when she bent over to pick up a muffin that had rolled off my cafeteria tray. (The cafeteria was the room to the far right, bottom floor, of the bottom picture.) Her drooping, vegetable covered bonnet caused her to run out of the cafeteria and up to the convent area to retrieve a replacement.
I remember the wood stoves we had to heat the classrooms and the outhouses we used for toilets. With no running water, we carried buckets of water into the class room and used dippers to pour water over our hands before lunch. One of the “treats” was to be assigned to sit on the wood box next to the stove and cut paper towels in half to save money.
I can remember meeting Mother Bertrand Russell who was visiting the convent one day. The Sisters were so nervous that it was a bit like God herself was coming for a visit.
I remember a large jar of Necco wafers on a tall cabinet in the convent area and could not imagine why they didn’t eat all of them while they had them.
I can remember meeting Sister Mary Ancilla in the Sisters’ “parlor” (the room to the left of the door in the top picture) to touch up my second grade, regional award winning, fire prevention poster on a Saturday morning before it was submitted. I was not always a winner, however. Sister Mary Ancilla was in charge of the altar boys. After failing the altar boy test for the third time, she said to me, “Ronnie, you are a good kid, but I don’t think you will ever be any good around the altar.” We were friends till she died.
After the old academy building was torn down, my father bought the “Sisters’ Farm” which surrounded the old Academy building. This meant that I was always around Sisters of Charity growing up – not only at school, but though out the rest of the week.
I remember some visiting “citified” Sisters and I being chased up a hill by one of my father’s bulls while picking blackberries behind the convent on what used to be their farm.
I remember the day in 1956 when the crucifixes came down and all religious pictures were removed when we officially became a public school, changing our name to Cross Roads School, even though the Sisters continued to teach all the grades in their habits. The only thing different was we went to the parish hall for religious education. To this day, “St.Theresa School,” carved in stone above the entry doors, has never been removed or even covered up.
I remember scrubbing the labels out of the new bathtubs when the Sisters moved into their new convent. I remember drinking Cokes in the kitchen on Saturdays as they ran their starched bonnets through a “pleater” – a small wringer-like gadget that made the back of their bonnets into accordian-like pleats.
I can remember talking over the fence between the convent and our farm with Sister Agnes Bernard Tholl the day before I left for the seminary in 1958. I loved her very much and she was a wonderful inspiration. I remember her last words to me that day. “Ronnie, you will have a hard time, but I think you will make it!”
Sisters David Clare Riesbach, Rose Marie Kirwan and Carol Ann Bonn were all there to make sure I had great music at my first Mass. Finally, there are so many, some dead and many living, that I could never name them all, but to all of them I simply say this, “I thank you and I love you!”