Written by Sister Rose Marie with guidance from Sister Paschal Maria Fernicola
I was the third girl of five children born to Benjamin Franklin and Besse Janes Dobyns on November 8, 1930 in Mexico, Missouri. When I was seven years old our brother Ben Jr. was born, and six years later our little sister Sharon came along. We three oldest girls -Betty, Jo [Jo Ann] and myself- got the privilege of naming the new baby. I remember the three of us sitting on the daybed together thinking up names. We decided that if the baby was a boy he would be named Johnny after our Grandfather, my mother’s father. If the baby was a girl we liked Sharon Lee for Our Lady, the Rose of Sharon. Sharon Lee it was.
I had a happy childhood. Jo was only two and a half years older than I so we played together often. We also had our share of squabbles, but always made up quickly. Our family had a large back yard which became the neighborhood playground. If the group got to squabbling my mother would send everyone home until we could “play together nicely”. Everyone went home. Gradually we returned one by one and played together peacefully. As long as my mother knew where we were, we had a lot of freedom to go to the park, just two blocks away, or ride our bikes wherever we chose. The only time I got into trouble was the day I rode around the clay pits at the brick plant. I was with a friend so I felt perfectly safe although we did do some foolish and risky things.
Benjamin and Elizabeth Dobyns, Sister Rose Marie’s parents
My father and his brother owned and operated the Jefferson Hotel, Café, and Tea Room. When we ate at the restaurant we had to be “on our good behavior”. My favorite part was going to the restaurant in the summers to pick Daddy up from work— around 9:00 or sometimes 10:00 p.m. — especially when we were there when the doughnuts and sweet rolls came over from the bakery. Of course, we had to sample them, and sometimes we took some home for our breakfast the next morning.
The Dobyn’s siblings in 1976 arranged in order (left to right) from the youngest to the oldest: Sharon, Ben Jr., Sister Rose Marie, Jo Ann, and Betty
I attended St. Brendan School, Grades 1 through 12, taught by the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood from O’Fallon Missouri. Our school was small and we had two or three grades in one room, depending on the numbers in the classes. My favorite teacher was Sister DePaul who taught us in the seventh grade. After graduation from high school in 1948 I attended Nazareth College, Nazareth where I met the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. In the Spring God called me to become an SCN, so I talked with Sister Frances Ellen Ellis, the music/chorus teacher, Father James McGee, and Mother Bertrand Crimmins. When I went home for Easter break I was already accepted into the Novitiate and had said nothing of this to my parents or anyone at home. I remember Father McGee telling me to “Don’t get off the train and say, ’Hi, I’m going to the convent.” My family was very supportive of my decision, even if they were surprised, especially at the suddenness of it. My mother told me she “knew I would” become a Sister. She said that long ago, after my first day in first grade, I had come home and told her that I was going to be a Sister.
Our Novitiate class quickly bonded and we became and remain very special to each other. On March 25, 1950 I received the habit and the name Sister Rose de Lima. I had discovered the former Sister Rose de Lima’s grave one day while I was wandering in the cemetery. Since St. Rose had always been special to me, I requested and received her name. There was much learning to be done in the Novitiate, but we had a lot of fun also.
After making vows on March 25, 1952 I was sent to St. Vincent Academy, Kentucky along with a classmate, Sister Miriam Frances, a music teacher. I was to have grades 1 and 2. My impression was that I was more or less “permanent” while Sister Miriam Frances Smith was temporary – only until June. That summer I was surprised with a thin letter while Sister Miriam Frances remained at St. Vincent’s. I went to live in Newport, Kentucky and go out to St. Catherine of Siena School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. We had an early Mass in the convent where I was asked to play the organ, next we walked the several blocks from the convent to Immaculate Conception Church for a second Mass, then ate breakfast in the school and took a cab to St. Catherine’s. There I taught thirty-five youngsters in grades 3, 4, and 5. On our return trip in the afternoon we brought leftovers from the school cafeteria to a poor family in Newport. A young girl from the family would come to the convent to pick up the food. My principal, Sister Jerome/ Rachel Willett was very understanding and supportive. I appreciated and still appreciate her kindness and friendship.
As St. Catherine’s grew, class sizes and configurations did also. I taught grades 3 & 4 one year, grades 4 & 5 the following year, and grades 5 & 6 the next year. Therefore, I had one class for four years. They were a lovely group of youngsters to work with. Three of the girls became Sisters (2 SCNs, 1 Oblate of St. Benedict) and three boys went to the seminary although only one persevered to ordination. The enrollment grew enough to build the second floor onto the school. Unfortunately, most of the construction was done during the school year. Especially difficult were the times they used the jackhammer above our classrooms. The class and I shouted at each other and laughed when the noise suddenly stopped and we were in the middle of a “yell”.
The Sister Faculty of St. Mary’s Cathedral School in Covington, KY, 1961-1962 | L-R: Sister James Kateri (Ruth McAllister), Sister Rose de Lima (Rose Marie), Sister Timothy Joseph (Janice Campbell), Sister Ellen Curran, and Sister Joseph Francis (Mary Jane Rhodes)
After five years I was transferred to Covington, Kentucky where again I taught in an “out school”. I lived at La Salette Academy and taught sixty-five fifth grade youngsters at the Cathedral School—the first time I had taught a single grade. During my eight years in Covington, I again taught grades 4, 5, & 6 in varying combinations. I really enjoyed the year I had the fourth grade plus the fifth-grade boys – a total of forty-eight boys and seven girls. There was a relatively large number of young Sisters living at La Salette at the time, as well as some older Sisters. In addition, there were three or four “retired” Sisters so those of us going out to school were part of the workforce when we returned to the Academy. We worked hard, but we had a lot of fun along with it. Our superior, Sister Linus Mary/ Velma Roof, and later Sister Mary Angelica Oborne were good to us. I remember laughing a lot during Constitution classes on Sundays and one Sunday the Academy second grade teacher, about forty years professed, came to join us to see what was going on that we were having such a good time about.
After eight years I was transferred to Pine Bluff, Arkansas as Superior, Principal, and Eighth Grade Teacher. That first year we formed a School Board – the first for the school. Also the Community negotiated with the parish to buy the school and property. The parish agreed and Annunciation Academy became St. Joseph School.
After three years in Pine Bluff I received my last thin letter and moved to St. Margaret’s in Lowell, Massachusetts. There I taught one of the eighth grades plus math to a class of seventh-grade boys. Sister Frances Howard taught the other eighth grade. We walked several blocks to school except in bad weather when the janitor picked us up and drove us to school. One snow that winter was deep enough to cover the picnic table in the backyard. We had several days off after that one. During that Spring Sister Winifred Ann Morgan. Provincial, asked me if I would take the principalship of St. Peter’s School in Waldorf, Maryland. I agreed and after summer school moved there.
The four Sisters who had taught in the school the previous year had all left, so the four of us were all new. The lay teachers who had been there the previous year were very reluctant to tell me anything about activities that had taken place before. They “didn’t want to tell me what to do,” they said. We were very fortunate, though, because we had a cook! a luxury few convents had.
At the end of the previous school year the school bus office had “gotten wind” of a planned disruption on the buses that would take the children home for the summer dismissal. Late in the day word was sent to the schools that school would be out for the summer a day earlier than scheduled. The students were given no explanation, just told to leave all their books there and be sure to take all personal belongings with them. As a result, classrooms did not get the usual last day cleaning. The Sisters must have left shortly afterward because the classrooms were quite disorderly when we arrived in August. We got to work, turned a closet into a book storage room, gathered library books from classrooms and converted the former storage room into a central library. I remember Mrs. Leaf, one of the eighth-grade mothers, who was invaluable in this.
That year was the first year local superiors were not assigned and houses were free to elect a coordinator, or not. We decided that with only five of us we did not need a coordinator; we could work together as a team. That system worked very well for us. I had eight happy years in Waldorf. The pastor and parents were very supportive and the children very cooperative. Our student body was quite diversified. We had children from the farming community, most of whose families had come to Maryland on the Ark and the Dove, the two ships which brought the first settlers to Maryland. We had children from families whose parent or parents worked in D.C. or in northern Virginia, and some local very poor youngsters.
When the SCN Community adopted four priorities for the schools to work on the faculty felt overwhelmed with the idea of working on all four at once and decided to concentrate on “Christian humanization of values” which they felt would include the other three (elimination of poverty, promotion of peace, combatting racism). Apparently this was an unacceptable response as the Sisters were later withdrawn from St. Peter’s.
In December of 1974 Sister Juanita Wiley found her mother very ill. In fact, she was dying of cancer. Sister resigned during the Christmas holidays and stayed at home to care for her mother and her sister Shirley who was mentally challenged. Their mother died in February 1975 and Juanita remained in Virginia to care for her sister. When the Sisters were withdrawn from St. Peter’s after the 1976-1977 school year, Sister Juanita invited me to come live with her and Shirley. That way I could be a Community presence and support for Juanita. We agreed on a year’s trial which would become permanent if Shirley was comfortable with the arrangement. She was and the arrangement lasted until Shirley’s death in 2003.
While living in Virginia we commuted a half-hour to Norfolk to teach in Blessed Sacrament School which was originally staffed by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. By 1977 there were only two SNDdeNs in the school – the principal, Sister Mary Fennell and the third-grade teacher, Sister Mary McFadden. When I walked in the door for my interview, I could feel a very special spirit there. There was a very definite spirit of welcome, of love, and of respect for others. Juanita had already taught first grade there for one year and I was hired to teach fourth grade. During my eleven years there I taught grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, -one at a time, not in that order- and the last year and a half I was principal. Our students were mostly poor, many from the neighborhood, a large percentage were African Americans. A few affluent students from the parish and some students from military families stationed in Norfolk also attended. There was an Officers’ Training School in Norfolk, so twice a year we had new “military” students for a semester, then they moved on and a new group came in for the next semester. In 1987 our pastor was changed and the new pastor seemed to have no desire to have a parish school. He considered it a drain on parish finances. As a result, the school closed in June of 1988. Our enrollment had dropped, but a demographic study done in 1985 showed that the number of school-age children in the area was low, but that by 1988 that number would again be larger. It’s too bad we could not have held on for a couple more years.
Sister Juanita and I applied for teaching positions at Walsingham Academy in Williamsburg, VA, approximately a half hour commute the opposite direction from Norfolk. Sister Juanita was hired for one of the third grades, I was to teach one of the sixth grades. My grade partner, Gale, was a big help to me and we remain good friends even today. Again we were teaching with lay teachers as well as another religious community. Sister Michael, Principal, and fifth-grade teacher Sister Rose Morris were the only Sisters in the grade school, and there were several Sisters in the High School across the campus. This was my least favorite teaching situation. It was an “elite” school, the student body was well off financially, the teachers, while friendly, seemed to be higher on the social ladder. We never felt truly “at home” there. In December of 1991 I had a TIA while I was at home for Christmas. My health required me to resign from teaching in February of 1992. Sister Juanita also resigned at the end of that school year.
We both took a much needed Sabbatical. I had spent a week at Nazareth in April where I talked with Sister Marilyn Shea who gave me a list and description of several Sabbatical programs that were available. I took the list home with me and without telling Sister Juanita which one I had chosen, I gave the list to her and she chose the same program. The program at Kingstree, S.C. sounded like just what we needed at that time – and so it was. Because Shirley would not be left alone for an extended time, I went in the Fall and Juanita went in the Spring. We both profited from the program and made many good friends from different religious communities.
Since by now all the other SCNs had left the Tidewater Virginia area we were encouraged to move to a location closer to other SCNs. In the summer of 1993 we moved to Hollywood, Maryland. Sister Juanita taught first grade at Mother Catherine School and I taught fourth grade that year. However, my health was not good and by 10:00 a.m. my energy was gone, so I resigned at the end of that year. I took a year off while Sister Juanita continued to teach at Mother Catherine School. In 1994 we had to move to Leonardtown, Maryland. Shirley got sick, had a surgery, nearly died and spent seven months in the hospital, most of the time in an induced coma. Her recovery was amazing, although she remained in a weakened state. Juanita retired at the end of that school year.
We realized we needed a house with only one floor, so we again went house hunting. We found a nice house with a large yard for rent in La Plata and moved there at the end of the school year when Juanita retired. In 1995 I got a part-time job as Librarian and teacher of a small group of math students at St. John’s in Hollywood. In 1997 I retired again. The half hour commute was just too much for me.
Sister Juanita’s Golden Jubilee was in 2001. We celebrated in her home parish (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Newport News, VA) on Laetare Sunday. Sister had wanted a small celebration with some friends from Norfolk and Newport News in the daily Mass chapel, but when we discussed this arrangement with the pastor, he wanted the whole parish to celebrate with her at a Sunday Mass. It was, indeed, a grand celebration and reception afterward. We celebrated again with the SCN Community at Nazareth in July. My Jubilee was the following year and we had been given a trip to Hawaii to celebrate both occasions. We decided to make the trip between the two jubilees and planned to leave September 15, 2001.
I was admitted to the hospital on September 8 with pneumonia, came home September 10, and awoke the next morning to the chaos of 9/11. We canceled our trip and because we had taken the trip insurance we got our money back. We began to plan for the following year. In April 2002 I celebrated my Golden Jubilee with my family in my home parish of St. Brendan in Mexico, Missouri. I renewed my vows at a Sunday Mass and the Ladies’ Sodality had a lovely reception for the parish afterward. We celebrated with the SCN Community at Nazareth in July and were looking forward to Hawaii in September. In August I found a lump in my breast which turned out to be cancerous. I tried to talk the surgeon into letting us take our trip before doing a mastectomy, but he said the cancer was very invasive and very aggressive so instead of leaving for Hawaii on September 5, I had the surgery. We were again fortunate to cancel and retrieve our money. I had chemo from September 2002 through April 2003.
Parish Directory photo for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Newport News, VA | L-R: Sister Juanita Wiley, Sister Rose Marie, and Shirley Wiley
Shirley continued to decline and in the Spring her doctor called Hospice for her. Shirley died peacefully at home on July 17, 2003, with Juanita and me by her bedside. The wake and funeral were in Newport News, VA and she was buried there beside her parents. In August Juanita and I decided we had better go to Hawaii before either one of us got sick again. In September we flew five hours across the country, spent a week with my niece and her family in Ontario, California, then flew on to Maui. We toured one day and rested the next. By including rest days we were able to enjoy our time without exhausting ourselves.
By 2005 we were ready to retire to Nazareth. We began to clean house and dispose of furnishings, etc. which had originally come from Juanita’s family home in Virginia. Our neighbor Lois told us her new pastor and wife with six children were “dirt poor”, so we gave them much of the furniture. Some things went to Lucille Butler who had worked so hard for so many years for the Sisters at St. Mary’s Academy in Leonardtown. Many of our decorations went to another neighbor, Shirley Scott, who had been so good to us all the years we lived in La Plata. Our final week in Maryland we spent the days at the house and the nights with the Sisters (IHMs) at Archbishop Neale School convent in La Plata. Lois’s pastor’s wife and their girls gave the house its final cleaning for us, Shirley Scott and her daughter and her husband loaded a Uhaul and brought our things to Nazareth for us. We spent a week at Virginia Beach, then drove to Nazareth, arriving September 10, 2005. Sister Marie Anne Ballard had flown to Newport News to assist with the driving, which was a big help.
Going from living in a community of three to a community of nineteen on the floor of Carrico Hall and more than eighty on the Nazareth campus was quite an adjustment. The biggest adjustment I have had, however, is to realize that I am eighty-five years old and can no longer do the things I did when I was forty-five. That was a hard-learned lesson to learn. I thank God for the many things I can still do, for the Sisters/SCN Community, and for the time and space for prayer here at Nazareth. We are indeed blessed by all our employees: groundskeepers who keep Nazareth looking so beautiful, for maintenance, housekeeping, food service, and our dedicated nursing staff. God bless us all!