When I read Margaret Sullivan's Viewpoints article about nuns, I was overcome with an odd combination of nostalgia and intrigue. Her reminiscence confirmed a half-serious idea that I had been formulating in response to an earlier News article, which had invited citizens to provide innovative ideas about turning Buffalo around. The first idea that came to mind was to hire some good sisters as city consultants.
While reading "Indelible in memory, the sisterhood fades away," I couldn't help but reflect on my own early memories of the Sisters of St. Joseph and Sisters of Mercy. I also went to Our Lady of Victory School until the fifth grade, and most of my teachers were nuns.
My aunt, Sister Mary Bruno, fondly referred to as Sister Saint Bruno, lived at the Ridge Road convent in Lackawanna. In those days, we thought all sisters were saints. On Sundays, Sister Bruno and her Mother Superior regularly came to our house for dinner. My siblings and I were never thrilled about these visits, because they were always preceded by a mandatory house-cleaning and the wearing of our Sunday best.
Once the sisters arrived, we took turns reading and demonstrating our math and social studies skills. After several hours of being tested and a formal dinner in the dining room, the long day finally came to an end.
Often as a child, I visited the convent where my aunt worked with the orphan boys. Thinking back to that time, I marvel at the talent, dedication and hard work of these women. As a youngster, I wondered what the nuns did all day; now I marvel at all they accomplished. Their nondegreed administrative skills were more than sufficient to oversee an orphan facility, run a school and manage a hospital.
Later, I attended St. Ambrose School and Mount Mercy Academy, where I was introduced to the Mercy Nuns and witnessed the same quality of dedication. Although I didn't appreciate it at the time, I realize now that lifelong values had their roots in certain basic lessons -- your homework had better be done on time; if you're late for school, you had better have a good excuse. I can still recall the panic while ringing the bell after the doors were locked.
"No excuses" was their mantra. You need to work to the best of your ability and, most importantly, you need to take responsibility for your actions.
It was deja vu all over again when I went to work at St. Thomas Aquinas School as a teacher. Since that time, I've held administrative positions in various jobs, but I have never been as impressed with the leadership skills of any one person as I was with those of Sister Mary Austin, the principal there.
The teachers worked around the clock for her. We were a team and she was our leader. We felt a responsibility to the children and to her. We attended meetings and open houses after hours without compensation. Classrooms were painted at her request -- and we never asked for overtime. We did it for the love of the profession and a love for her. Go figure, it was the most satisfying job of my life and I made $6,000 a year.
I am saddened to think that my grandchildren won't ever experience being taught by the nuns. They were true pioneers in their professions as CEOs, administrators, educators, social workers and nurses. Wherever they went, they left the indelible trademark of quality. If only the nuns were available as consultants, our city's problems would be solved.