Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

Feb. 4, 2002

One hundred fifty years ago, four young French women came up the Mississippi from St. Louis, Mo. to open up a school in St. Paul at the request of Bishop Cretin, also a native of France.

They were members of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet. The timing was bad, because typhoid fever had just broken out in St. Paul.

Because of all the sick and dying, the young women forgot about their school, rolled up their sleeves, and overnight, these teachers went into the hospital business. They did have some struggle with the English language, however.

The French nun who was to become the first president of St. Mary's Hospital told one bewildered Swedish carpenter who worked for her, "You are more dear to me than when first we were engaged."

What she meant of course, was that he was charging her more than when she had first hired him. She soon thereafter put up a sign in front of the hospital which read, "We harbor all diseases. We have no respect for religion."

The Order grew during those 150 years. In all, they numbered over 2,400.

At their peak in the 1960s, there were 1,300 nurses, teachers, and social workers all wearing the reassuring black and white habit. Today, their numbers have dwindled to 411, with 135 of them living at Bethany Convent, their combination retirement home and nursing home.

The Sisters I know are remarkably free of any sign of angst at the low numbers. They still roll up their sleeves.

They certainly left their mark on Waverly, and I don't mean a mark from a ruler. During my 12 years at St. Mary's, I never once saw a sister of St. Joseph strike any child or even lose her temper.

The sisters all gave the impression they had found their favorite assignment in Waverly, and some of them used to tell us that.

In addition to running the grade and high school, the sisters were up praying before dawn each day and, of course, attended daily Mass. They also taught adult religion courses evenings, and some adult education classes in secular subjects, all for free.

The overall result was that the whole town of Waverly respected them for their intellectual competence, and not just for the habits they wore or the dedicated life they led.

Berni Reardon, who graduated from St. Mary's in 1961, says in her St. Mary's parish centennial book, "A lot of people have forgotten how much and how long the Sisters would work. They always worked on Saturday afternoons. There were no copy machines.

"The Sisters duplicated material on these gelatin trays, one sheet at a time. All work was immediately corrected and returned, often with remarks about the performance. They worked long, long hours behind the scenes and never complained to us about it. It was done for our benefit and not for theirs."

Sister Bonaventure Ridge, when she was asked to recall her Waverly days, wrote, "I taught in Waverly for six years. I had about 60 students in the first and second grades.

"Some of my fond memories included the lovely home baked bread, rolls, and cake that were sent in all the time by the women in the parish, as well as all the produce from the farm people, the fun we had skating on Tom O'Connell's rink, and skiing with the students on snow days when school was cancelled."

Sister Angela Arens remembered: "I taught from 1937 to 1940 in Waverly. The school building was rickety, but the school and community spirit were excellent.

"We were poor, but I have never known a happier school. I remember the yearbook we typed out by individual copy. John O'Leary was my chief helper in producing 11 copies of this great masterpiece.

"I recall with joy the all-school parties and caroling all over town under the leadership of Sister Cyril Clare Casey."

Sister Mary Micheas (who taught me to love Shakespeare) said "I had to get the seniors ready for the state boards, get out a graduation issue of "The Waverly Star," and teach some kind of geography, an endeavor which taught me about the platypus of all things.

"I loved that little school. There were about 40 of you youngsters and you were a delight to work with."

She also said, "Our Order has been Waverly-oriented for four generations, ever since the Galvins started joining us."

I keep running into sisters from Waverly. In September when I went to visit Sister Margaret Galvin, my high school classmate, who is now at Bethany, I got on the elevator with Sister Ancelle Gagnon, who immediately knew who I was. She said hello, even though I didn't recognize her.

She had graduated from St. Mary's in 1934, and still looks like her graduation picture. She, as well as Sisters St. Luke Copeland, John Ellen Rogers, and Sister Bonaventure were among the mourners at the funeral of Sister Ellen Joan Malone, another "Waverly nun."

Sister John Ellen wrote me that Sister Ellen Joan had brought a breath of fresh air to Bethany Convent, because of her wonderful sense of humor and constant good nature.

She kept the Malone freckles and red hair right up until the day she died.

I have a tip for you. If your faith in God ever starts to flag, go visit some of the sisters at Bethany. You will walk out of there whistling and looking up at the sky with a smile on your face.

And if Rome didn't want us Catholics to yearn for the ordination of women, they should never have allowed us to attend Catholic schools, where we were likely to run into the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Local girls make good by doing good

The National Lawyers Guild of Minnesota recently honored Sisters Rita, Kate, Brigid, and Jane McDonald for their work in the areas of peace and justice.

The biological sisters are also members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Paul Province. They were honored at a dinner at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul Nov. 2.

"They've spent a lifetime working for peace and justice," the Guild said. "No strangers to civil disobedience, these activists have steadfastly rallied against the tools of war and oppression from the School of the Americas to Alliant Tech's production of land mines.

"Their advocacy for the poor has taken them from the kitchen to the capitol steps. Together they have more than 120 years of combined effort."

All four of them are also involved with Women Against Military Madness (WAMM).

The McDonald sisters, of course, are from Hollywood, Minn., and Waverly is more than proud to claim them, although they didn't graduate from St. Mary's in Waverly. Some of them attended (gulp!) Holy Trinity in Winsted. They are four of the children of Mr. and Mrs. K. F. McDonald.

In a 1933 Waverly Star under "News Notes from Hollywood Township," we were informed that a lovely farm, "the old Sexton place," had been purchased by Mr. and Mrs. K. F. McDonald. Little did they know what was to come - 11 Irish children turned loose on the world.

At Christmastime this year, they gathered back at the old farm, 10 of them. Their brother Pat passed on over 30 years ago. Ewan, the oldest, retired and living in Watertown, was there, along with Flip (Phillip) and Ed Joe, also retired from farming.

K. J., who had paid his dues in the Minnesota House of Representatives, now runs a photo studio with his son in Delano. Mag and Dot are also retired. Sister Brigid, in telling me about this gathering, described it as "just some old nuns hanging out with their family and having a lovely time."

The four "old nuns" are not retired. Sisters Brigid and Kathleen both teach English as a Second Language to immigrants in Minneapolis. Sister Brigid had taught first grade for years and years.

Sister Kathleen worked 24/7 at St. Mary's Hospital in Minneapolis. When I knew her there (Yes, Waverly people always got special treatment), it seemed to me that she was, as my mother would say, "the head of it."

She seemed to be in charge of the switchboard (from where she led evening prayers over the loudspeaker). She also ran the emergency room and the admissions office - in her spare time.

Sister Rita now works at the "Rewards Store" at Incarnation House (aka "Inky House," a shelter for women and children who are down on their luck.)

Sisters Rita and Brigid were two of the founding members. Sister Jane's current ministry is mostly in nursing homes, but she has been "empowering women and children for years" by her example and counseling.

According to Brigid, Jane did her internship as a peacemaker by spending years on grade school playgrounds as part of her teaching duties. Her current campaign to stop wars and make peace is easily compared to the difficulty of maintaining law and order during recess on the playgrounds.


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