The nuns wore habits filled with mystery. What lurked up those long black sleeves? What color was their hair, hiding beneath the helmet-like veils? And did all those rosaries hanging down from their waist slow them down? Not at all.
Inland Northwest adults who grew up in Catholic schools in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s have book bags full of nun stories. They can recite famous nun phrases: “You bold piece, go stand in the cloakroom!” They can still diagram sentences - a lasting legacy from sisters gifted in the teaching of the English language. They can still remember standing up in class to speak their answers in a clear voice.
Ah, the memories. So it came as a sort of shock to learn that only one sister now teaches in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane. Her name is Sister Jacqueline Welch and she teaches fourth grade at Assumption Catholic School. Staff writer Kathy Mulady’s profile of Sister Jackie ran in the June 19 North Side Voice.
When Sister Jackie began her teaching career, nuns in Catholic school classrooms were no big deal. “Lay” teachers were the exception. At least 90 percent of classes in Catholic schools were taught by sisters 30 years ago, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. Now, that figure is about 9 percent. And in the Spokane Diocese, Sister Jackie is it, although sisters do still work in some Spokane Catholic schools as principals, librarians and reading specialists.
But this “sole sister” certainly signals the near end of a long legacy. And it deserves a moment of silence (or prayer) of thanksgiving. Although there were some stern sisters with no real love of children in the Catholic school system, the majority were devoted to education and to young people.
They taught, in the ‘50s and ‘60s especially, under conditions that would crumble most new teachers. During the baby boom (and Catholics boomed the most) classes of 60 students were common.
The sisters did it all. They hired and fired, balanced the books, taught gym, handled the parents, helped raise money to keep the schools going. And they provided role-modeling for girls. They showed them how to be a woman in charge during a time when most women were in charge only in the home.
So an era draws to a close. The teaching sisters are almost no more. But their teachings live on in their grown students. In the adults who still can diagram a sentence and recite poetry by heart. And in the adults who know how to stand up, speak out and give their answers in a clear voice.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rebecca Nappi For the editorial board
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