BY SHERYL EDELEN • SEDELEN@COURIER-JOURNAL.COM

When Sister Edna Fabre began working in the basement cafeteria of Presentation Academy nearly 20 years ago, she was a simply a teacher who wanted to lend a hand.

“They were short-handed, and I knew they needed help,” she recalled. “I taught Spanish at the time, and I would teach a class, run down here, work some and then head back upstairs for class,”

Fabre’s 2004 retirement seems to have done little to diminish her willingness to help the school.

In fact, officials at the downtown Catholic girls’ high school say that the 73-year-old Fabre has become a fixture, serving the students not only food, but a mixture of humor, motivation, loving discipline and quiet support that’s helped countless girls make the most of their time there.

As part of her daily routine, Fabre, who lives in the Highlands, arrives at Presentation around 9 a.m., waters the plants around the school building and helps cafeteria staffers prepare to serve lunch to the school’s 278 students. Once the girls begin arriving to eat, Fabre can often be found in the serving line, chatting about any number of topics and telling jokes.

She also works the cash register, where cafeteria staff members say she’s earned the nickname “the Banker,” because of loans that she routinely makes to students who are either short or have no money for lunch.

“She gives them a little slip of paper, an IOU that says, “I owe Sister Edna however much, and I will pay her, say, on Tuesday,” said cafeteria manager Ginnie Taylor. “And when it’s time for them to pay her, she reminds them.”

Fabre quipped: “I let them charge it when they don’t have it, and then go after them for the money.”

She knows some students won’t be able to repay her, but she wants to make sure all of them are able to eat.

“Some students wouldn’t make it without her doing that for them sometimes,” Presentation counselor Cindy Christensen said. “She’s very caring.”

But take it from students like senior Rikola Jewell, Fabre is no pushover.

“She doesn’t even have to say anything, she can just give you a look that lets you know that what you’re doing isn’t right,” said the 18-year-old Taylor-Berry resident. “I was a little nervous when I first met her, because I’d heard that she doesn’t play when it comes to discipline, but she really is nice.“

Another area in which Fabre shines is in helping raise money for the school’s annual walkathon. Now in its 17th year, the event’s proceeds provide financial assistance to needy Presentation students.

Presentation spokeswoman Ruth Hans said Fabre has always been an important part of the fundraising effort for the event, and works to get the students involved by wearing funny hats during the fundraising drive and participating in student skits on the day of the event.

“She wears a hat with fake dollar bills sticking out of it, and asks the students, ‘Where’s the money?‘” Hans said, chuckling. “And in the past, she’s been Paula Abdul in a skit. … She’s both fun and funny.”

Fabre, a Puerto Rico native and member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth for 50 years, said her commitment to Presentation comes easy.

“I believe in what they’re doing here,” she said. “And I hope the students see in me something that makes them want to do something like this later in their lives, to volunteer.”

Fabre has definitely impressed at least one Pres girl.

“She doesn’t have to do what she does. Other people do things like this, but don’t want to. She motivates herself,” Rikola said. “She motivates me.”

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