My father, Louis Emanuelli, Sr. was born in northern Italy on November 23, 1894. He grew up there near the Alps Mountains where he sometimes played running up and down those mountains. He had four sisters and was the youngest and only brother. At age eleven, after school hours, he was apprenticed to an older tailor to learn the trade. At age nineteen, his parents gave their permission for him to go to the United States. He came through Ellis Island, and vividly remembered the Statue of Liberty. There, a sponsor met him to get him placed in Memphis, Tennessee where he met my mother. He went to night school to learn the English language.
My mother’s parents traveled to America from Genoa, Italy. Her father, Frank Sicco, ran a grocery store. Her mother, Louise Amedeo Sicco, was a wonderful homemaker. My mother was Massamina Sicco, born May 1, 1897. She attended twelve years of school under the care of the Dominican Sisters, and was the first in her family to graduate from high school.
After she and my father married, they moved to a small town, Dyersburg, TN, north of Memphis, to begin his tailoring business. They raised four children, two boys and two girls; Louis, Maria, Franklin and Frances.
Growing up, we enjoyed family rides on Sundays in our car going through small towns and the different areas around. At these times Dad usually had the radio on so we could listen to opera and love songs from Italy.
Mom was a “stay at home mom”. She kept food on the stove for us if we came in the house hungry. She canned green peppers in vinegar in mason jars to last the whole year. We liked to eat them with the meat Mom cooked. She also canned jelly when the grapes were in season.
Dad was the one who brought the groceries home. Mostly we stayed healthy, though Franklin had chicken pox one year, but he ran all over the house and no one could tell he was sick! I had diphtheria and our house had to be quarantined with a big red sign on it – no fun! Frances had pneumonia when she was five, and our parents were worried about her. That Sunday, Dad wrapped her up in a blanket and took her to the hospital. I remember going into the kitchen where I liked to pray in front of a window overlooking a large meadow. I prayed that Frances would not die and, also, for my parents because they were so worried. I was so frightened for them. The doctor said that the first thirty-six – forty-eight hours were crucial, and we all rejoiced that Frances pulled out of it. Because she had been so brave, the doctor told my parents to give her whatever she wanted. She asked for a Hershey bar and another time, vanilla ice cream! Louis was six to eight years older than the three of us. He had no childhood diseases. Dad had him do maintenance work at his tailor shop.
Before Christmas, Dad would take the three of us to the nearby toy store. Each of us could pick out one toy. That was a very exciting time for us.
In the summer, Mom went to visit her family in Memphis and took the three younger ones with her. We went to Sunday Mass; while there and I saw Sisters for the first time. My mother told me all about them since she was familiar with the Dominican Sisters during her school life. In Dyersburg, we did not have a Catholic Church, but, when the priest came, we attended Mass in someone’s home once a month.
We went to Jenny Walker Grade School. I remember seeing some of my school friends going to the Methodist Church in our town and I wanted to go with them. My mother told me that we were Catholics, so we couldn’t go. Then one day good news came – a new Catholic Church was going to be built for us! Father William G. Neidert, an Order of the Sacred Heart priest, helped build the church. Oh happy day! We could attend services and have Vacation Bible School in the summers. Sisters of Charity of Nazareth arrived each summer for a few weeks. My mother had them for dinner once a week at our house.
Suddenly World War II was declared, and Dad’s tailoring business slowed since few men were buying suits. He then went to Memphis to see a friend about a dry cleaning plant. He found a large place on the other side of town to start the dry-cleaning business to add to his tailoring shop. Dad was the proprietor and Louis Jr., his oldest son, became manager of the dry-cleaning plant. Louis Jr. started work early in the morning by lighting the boiler to get the steam going for the steam pressor, the hot house and the washers. Louis was always obedient and faithful in helping our dad. A new military air-base opened ten miles south of Dyersburg. Soldiers from all parts of the country were stationed there and brought their clothes to be dry-cleaned. It was our first experience of hearing different accents in the English language! What intrigued us most was the “Yankee talk” from the men from up east. As we three younger children got older, we helped by waiting on the customers. Franklin helped at the dry-cleaning plant. I had the privilege of working on the books at Dad’s desk at the end of the day.
At age twenty-two, Louis Jr., was summoned to join the Coast Guard where he served for five years. After that, he wanted to “see the world” instead of returning to Dyersburg, so he went to work for the Chrysler Auto Plant in Chicago. He enjoyed that work and was good at it. In the meantime, Franklin joined the Navy for a short term and received an honorary discharge for health reasons. Our mother became ill with cancer. Dad asked Louis to return home because he was needed. Mother was soon admitted to a hospital in Memphis and Franklin entered the VA Hospital also in Memphis.
My sister, Frances, graduated from high school, then went to Memphis State University for two years. After college she got an office job at Woodson’s Appliance Store where she worked for seventeen years. I entered the Novitiate of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in June of 1945. At the end of two and a half year’s Novitiate, I made first vows on December 8, 1947. Srs. Mary Aquinas Kelleher and Mary Rosine Callahan were our Directors.
My first mission was at Blessed Sacrament School in Louisville, but I lived at St. Helena Convent. We took the streetcar to and from school. It was a nightmare, but I was happy for the year I was there.
In September 1948, I went to St. Catherine Academy in Lexington to teach first grade. Sr. Edward Maria Rooney was a big help to me coaching my efforts as a new teacher. I spent that summer at Nazareth, and there received word that my mother was very ill. I was transferred to Sacred Heart School in Memphis, TN to be near my family. I taught the second grade, which included the First Communion class. My mother was at St. Joseph Hospital with terminal cancer. Our family members took turns staying with her until she died on December 2, 1949. That year, Sr. Ruth Agnes Bickett, a beautiful teacher, had the first grade. She was a genuine support in assisting me with the children. She was the best teacher I had ever met and was “tops” with small children.
The following September, I received a thin letter to go to Martin’s Ferry, Ohio to teach the fourth grade at St. Mary’s Grade School. I felt it was my first experience of being a successful teacher. We had a happy home of ten Sisters, two of whom went to St. Clairsville to teach every day.
I made Perpetual Vows on July 19, 1951, and had my first official visit home with Sr. Ruth Agnes as my companion. Frances and Louis hosted us.
I was looking forward to returning to St. Mary’s, but when I arrived, I found a thin letter awaiting me, asking me to go to Corning, Ohio to be at St. Bernard School and Convent. Corning was a “ghost town” because people kept leaving as the coal mines closed. The school was very small with about thirty students total, and the three of us Sisters – ages 65, 35 and me, 25 – had about ten students each. It was a very quiet town and my loneliest mission. We each took turns taking care of the convent and the school. It was difficult for me, but God sent me a holy priest, Fr. Herman Croch, as my Spiritual Director. He supported my need for a different mission.
After four years there, I went to St. Cecelia’s School and lived at St. Ann Convent in Louisville, KY. We enjoyed a house of youthful Sisters, and walked eight blocks to and from school every day. I enjoyed this happy home for another four years.
Next, I was given a year off from teaching, and worked as a nurse’s aide at our old infirmary at Nazareth. It also was a new, happy experience for me. This was followed by another happy year, teaching third and fourth grades in Wolfhurst, Ohio.
The next school-year found me at St. Frances Convent in Owensboro, KY. We walked several blocks to St. Stephen’s Cathedral School where I taught the third and fourth grades. I had twin girls in my classroom – Jeanette and Jeanetta – who came early and hungry to school. I had permission to share some of our breakfast with them some mornings, which made them a happy twosome! During my time there a new beautiful convent was built between the Cathedral and the school. This became more convenient for us! It was another happy time for me. There were about fifteen Sisters at this mission. Sr. Teresa Carmel Whittinghill was our superior and principal and Sr. Mary Paul Walsh cooked for us. Sr. Sheila Ann Madden was School Supervisor for the Diocese and resided with us. In the 1960’s, the rules were not as strict as before, so that helped make life more relaxed and joyful.
My sister, Frances, came to visit us for a week each year while I was there. She finally chose a husband, Mike Webb. I was privileged to go to their beautiful wedding in Memphis.
I received my BS in Education from Brescia College in 1966. That was my first free summer from studies and I had the privilege of spending it at Camp Maria. Sr. Loretta Anne Stober taught me all about canoeing. She knew when it was safe to go out into the Bay in the afternoons. It was a great experience and I enjoyed every bit of it. I was forty years old, and I agree that “life begins at forty”!
For a short while, I changed places with a Sister at Holy Names in Memphis who was having problems. At the end of that year, I was transferred to St. Peter’s Orphanage in Memphis. There, I was secretary to a case-worker and helped in the Infant Nursery sometimes after work. Later, I was assigned to the young girls’ apartment, ages six to twelve, full time. I did this for four years and by then, had to have gall-bladder surgery according to the old way of removal. I then went to live with my aunt and uncle three months that summer to recuperate.
In 1971, I visited Orlando, FL for the first time. My companion was Sr. Cecelia Biven. Then we went to Miami to visit my sister, Frances and her husband, Mike. They had only recently moved there. Frances gave us a cruise trip to the Bahamas. It was a glorious experience!
The following year, 1972, was my twenty-fifth anniversary as an SCN. Sr. Pauline Abell, missioned with me at St. Peter’s, remembered it and offered to get it ready for me. I told her to please keep it simple. She did. We had Mass at seven-thirty in the evening with Fr. John R. Batson as celebrant. I had asked for blue carnations for the altar and the florist sent two beautiful bouquets. All the SCNs in the city attended the Mass. I was dressed in a red jumper and a white blouse. After Mass, Srs. Daniel Maria Nugent (now Sr. Shirley) and Anna Marie had their picture made with me at the side of the altar. It was a wonderful celebration.
Also in July of 1972 for two weeks, I visited Valenza, Italy, my Dad’s homeland. His nephew, Pietro, was my contact. We visited nearby villages to meet several cousins and went to some interesting family cemeteries. I then made the trip to Rome for a few days, where I stayed at a convent near the Vatican. They gave me a room where the college girls lived. I met a Sister Gertrude there, who knew some of our Sisters in India. She took me on a tour of the Vatican, but the Pope was on vacation, so I didn’t get to see him. When I left Rome, Gertrude – affectionately called Trudy – took me to the train station to go to northern Italy. I made a diary of this two weeks’ travel which I still have. I sent Dad post cards every day since he had given me the trip. It was a dream come true and the high-light of my life. I had prepared for it for three years! All this happened while I was still missioned at the orphanage in Memphis.
Later, I discerned with our Provincial, Mary Reisz, and went to Chattanooga, TN from 1974 to 1996. I had a very interesting bus ride from Memphis to Chattanooga, arriving at seven-thirty in the evening. It was a welcoming sight to see Srs. Thomas de Sales Bailey, Frances Josephine Smith and Therese Arru waiting for me at the bus terminal to take me to our convent. They had beautiful music playing in the car all the way home! We arrived at a fenced-in compound of four houses where nineteen Sisters lived and worked at Memorial Hospital on De Sales Ave. I lived on Derby Avenue in a house of five; Rita Angela Zani, Frances Josephine, Denis Ann Sullivan, Therese Arru and I. The next day, I was taken around the hospital to meet people in their different areas of work. I was to work in the Business office with Sr. Thomas Ann Dolan, posting payments of hospital bills and keeping patients’ files in alphabetical order, which remained on the shelves for five years. Soon I was diagnosed with rectal-colon cancer in its advanced stages. The surgery was performed by a surgical specialist who cleansed me well of the disease, then I recuperated for a month in the hospital. I became very weak, lost weight and stayed home to recover. Fortunately, I had enough sick-leave to also visit my sister in Florida for a week.
When I returned to work, I was placed in the Volunteer Department to do various duties. I worked in the Lifeline Department, keeping records of people who asked for Lifeline help for a family member who lived alone. Lifeline was a new program that came out to give security to people living alone. A team of seven men helped to install these units in their homes which were checked once a month to make sure they were performing well. I also worked at the Information Desk on weekday mornings, patrolled the hallways of the Doctors’ Building in the afternoons and worked in the mailroom for patients on Saturdays.
In 1991, I took advantage of an advanced course in CPE from January through May at Erlanger Hospital. This group consisted of six men – one was the instructor, three were pastors of churches – and me! It was intense work, but I liked it.
Members at 1991 Chattanooga Area meeting displaying Derby party winnings. Sisters Anita, Ann, Mary Imogene, William Ann, Betty V., Maria Cecilia, Joan, Barbara Joseph, Betty S., Frances Elizabeth, Mary Zita, Frances Josephine, and Dolores.
After completing the CPE Course, I asked Fr. George E. Schmidt at St. Peter’s Parish for a list of homebound parishioners I could visit. He gave me a list of twelve persons, some in the nursing home and some in their own homes. I usually visited them on Sunday afternoons. I took them Holy Communion and prayed and meditated with them.
Our parish church in Chattanooga, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, offered enrichment opportunities to its members. I chose Spanish Language classes held every Thursday from five to seven in the evening. There were ten mature adults in that class. I also joined the choir of our church and sang with them at the first Sundays’ noon Mass.
During my mission in Chattanooga, once a year I visited my sister, Frances in Miami, also my Aunt Sadie and Uncle Bill in Memphis and my brother, Louis and his wife, Bea in Dyersburg. I also took a few bus tours. A friend from our prayer group accompanied me on these tours which were a combination of sight-seeing, prayer and faith-sharing. She too, enjoyed traveling by bus and seeing new places. The trip to Colorado was most extraordinary and memorable for us. Another special tour was to the Carmelite Fathers in Niagara Falls, Canada. We each took the opportunity of making a private retreat there, with Fr. Jim, who celebrated Mass with us in the afternoon.
I retired on May 28, 1996. Cullen and Carolyn Davis packed me up in their small blue and white covered truck. We were fortunate to have good weather and were on our way to Nazareth, KY. The Housekeeping Department was expecting me at two o’clock in the afternoon and we got here just in time. We all took something from the truck to my room, and soon everything was in place. Cullen and Carolyn, before returning to Chattanooga, visited Sr. Thomas de Sales who was here at Nazareth at the time. I relaxed in my beautiful home at Nazareth, enjoying the use of binoculars and a small telescope which were my retirement gifts. Another gift was wild-flower seeds which I planted. They grew fast on a plot of ground near David Hall. I also did oil painting and ceramics and was pretty successful at them.
I was asked to be a driver for the Sisters which I liked, and joined the choir and became a Reader at Mass, all of which I enjoyed. I continued the bus tours, going to Branson, Missouri three times and to other places often accompanied by Sr. Ruth Babbitt, who was a wonderful traveling companion and friend.
In 1995, I had hoped that the remaining five members of our Novitiate class would celebrate our fiftieth anniversary of entrance into the Novitiate. For different reasons, though, only three of us could make it work. We spent a week at Camp Maria which was delightful, but we did miss our other members. On July 19, 1997, our whole class joined several others in celebrating our Golden Anniversary of Vows at Nazareth. Needless to say, it was a beautiful time!
50th Anniversary: Sister Maria Cecilia and others celebrating their Golden Jubilees in 1997
Later when Sr. Rose Kathleen Durbin retired as postmistress here at Nazareth, I took that position. Working in the campus mail room was a good experience for me.
Age-related macular degeneration crept into my eyes these last three years and changed my life somewhat. This situation is compounded by several other aging handicaps that limit my activities. I am grateful that I can still correspond with my sister and with my cousins in Italy, my extended family in Texas and a few friends. I send birthday cards to the Sisters on campus and keep up with the news. I am able to care for myself, my clothes and room; and am the contact person for my floor; I donate to my favorite charities. Occasionally, I go out to eat and to shop. I am very happy here at my beautiful Nazareth home.
Interviewed by Paschal Maria Fernicola, SCN, 7-14-2016