The Irish eyes of Incarnate Word Sisters Imelda Moriarty and Marceline O’Connell were indeed smiling and, at times welling with tears, as a special Mass and reception in their honor were held July 13 at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie.
“God, thank you for blessing us with these Irish nuns,” Father Gene Jacques, St. Catherine pastor, said at the opening of Mass.
The two were lauded in a letter from Archbishop Gregory Aymond – read by Office of Catholic Schools superintendent Dr. Jan Lancaster – for their incredible commitment and decades-long dedication to St. Catherine School. Sister Imelda was first to arrive in 1969 as a teacher, and then served as principal for 29 years and finally library assistant.
Sister Marceline taught at St. Catherine since 1979 and ended as a fourth-grade reading teacher. Archbishop Aymond gave his heartfelt thanks for the lives they touched as they shared their faith and wisdom.
Father Jacques presented the nuns with flowers, money and unveiled two framed photographs of the nuns to be placed permanently in the school so they will not be forgotten.
“They gave their whole life to this parish,” Father Jacques said. He called Sisters Imelda and Marceline the building blocks, the foundation of the school for bringing the “love of Jesus to the children of this parish.”
Thanks for the memories
After Mass, many attended a reception to offer a hug, express appreciation and wish them well.
“She was a wonderful administrator,” Maria Siebenkittel, former St. Catherine cooperative club president, said about Sister Imelda. “I always told her she was quite the president of a corporation. … She was part of our lives for so many years. Both were sweet. Sister Imelda orchestrated everything (at the school) while Sister Marceline kept it going. They take care of each other, and their personalities complement each other.”
“My daughter (Olivia) loved the school and will remember it forever,” said Chandra Chifici-Scarber, a Cooperative Club representative on the parish council and the one who coordinated the reception with the Men’s Club and the Cooperative Club. Both nuns made the school a welcoming place, she said, and were loving, fair and respectful to everyone.
“Sister Imelda and Sister Marceline will be very missed,” she said.
Fellow teachers assembled at the reception and posed for a group photo with the nuns.
Teacher Peggy Fernandez, a St. Catherine graduate, recalled Sister Imelda being a tough math teacher. When Sister Imelda hired her as a math teacher, she offered advice that Fernandez still recalls: “She said always be prepared. When you walk in that class you will not have trouble because the kids don’t have time to misbehave.”
Fernandez called Sister Marceline’s fourth-grade reading classroom a model classroom because her students were always doing what was asked.
“I think she provided the entire faculty with leadership, especially on the second floor of the ‘junior’ building,” Fernandez said of Sister Marceline. “She had a calmness about her that was catching.”
In addition to teaching and running the school, Sisters Imelda and Marceline were active in the community. Picture after picture of the nuns enjoying parish life with students, parents and friends flashed on the screen during the reception.
Longtime parishioner and Catholic Cooperative School Club Regina Matrum honoree Anne Maurin fondly remembered the nuns standing in line at her house on Halloween night in the 1970s to go through the spook house her sons would create.
“They were always there for the kids,” Maurin said. “They gave love and enthusiasm and faith in God.”
Sister Imelda and Sister Marceline will spend their retirement at the Incarnate Word Motherhouse in San Antonio. The two were previously honored at the Ladies Cooperative banquet, and on Dec. 6, 2012, Sister Imelda received the Integritas Vitae Award from Loyola University in recognition of high moral character and a commitment to selfless service. She likened it to an Oscar. Another party also is planned at Rock ‘N Bowl on Aug. 11 from 4-6 p.m.
“I will miss the smiling faces of the kids and their parents,” Sister Marceline said. “It was a great parish and school to work in for 34 years of my 54 years of teaching.”
The caring atmosphere of the community – on full display July 13 – is what Sister Imelda will never forget.
“St. Catherine has been a very special place for us, for all of our sisters (of the Incarnate Word),” Sister Imelda said. “We’ve been blessed with thousands of outstanding students, had the pleasure of working with professional and dedicated parents and had total involvement of the community. The people in the community sacrificed so the children could reach their full potential. It’s a placed filled with the spirit of God.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.