By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Photo | COURTESY SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY, SYLVIA THOMAS
Holy Family Sister Angela Smith, a 24-year principal of Holy Ghost School on Louisiana Avenue and recent campus minister at St. Mary’s Academy, had slogans she recited daily to teachers and students.
“Treat others with respect.”
“Display yourself with pride and dignity and respect.”
“Do what Jesus would do.”
“Treat others the way you would like to be treated.”
On Sept. 22, the 67-year-old nun lost her battle with leukemia. At her funeral Mass, long-time friend and teacher Sylvia Thomas described her as loving like Jesus, thoughtful, a bridge over troubled waters, a mentor, caring teacher and principal as well as “the dancing nun,” who danced the electric slide this August at the sisters’ Heavenly Host of Stars Gala.
“She loved music and loved to sing and dance” and was a big Saints fan, said Thomas, who attended home games with her as well as Mass with Gayle and Tom Benson. She attended a few games out of town and accompanied Thomas to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV, which the Saints won 31-17 over the Colts.
“The highlight of her life, besides being a sister, was attending the Super Bowl,” Thomas said.
“Angie was a Saints fan,” said Sister Jennie Jones, principal at St. Mary’s Academy. “Even when she was sick, she would rest, get dressed and go to the game. She was a Saints fan.”
Teaching in her blood
Sister Angela was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, to educators. Her mother, Ida T. Hawkins Smith, was an English teacher, and her father, the late Arthur Frazier Smith Jr. of Alexandria, was former superintendent of the Rapides Parish School District. A middle school was named after him in Alexandria.
Sister Jennie entered the Sisters of the Holy Family a year after Sister Angela and remembered her as “a sweet little person.”
They attended Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans together, where Sister Angela earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Sister Angela later earned a master’s degree in school administration from UNO and, more recently, a master’s in pastoral ministry from Loyola University New Orleans, something she was proud of.
“I know that she loved being principal at Holy Ghost,” Sister Jennie said. “She was a super, clean person, and after the old janitor died, she couldn’t find anybody to take over, so she would clean the school after hours from 4-10 p.m. every day.”
Thomas was her co-conspirator in everything related to Holy Ghost School and the Saints. She mentioned how they fled temporarily to Sister Angela’s family home in Alexandria after Hurricane Katrina and drove to Holy Ghost to clean the school every day for two weeks so it could reopen in November 2005.
“She even swept the streets and emptied the refrigerator,” said Thomas, who now teaches middle school religion at St. Mary’s Academy. “She cleaned everything up. She had a passion and drive to reopen the school after Katrina. The people in the community respected her and protected the school for her after Katrina.”
Sister Angela remained at Holy Ghost School until it closed in May 2013, when she was reassigned to St. Mary’s.
“She had the most beautiful prayer services at faculty meetings before school opened, and coordinated a beautiful opening school Mass,” Sister Jennie said. She was preparing for a senior retreat when she died, before a plasma transplant match was found.
“The girls took it hard,” Sister Jennie said. “The archdiocese sent counselors to the school for the girls and teachers.”
“They all remember her for how she treated, loved and protected them,” Thomas said.
“I think she made the school a much kinder place,” said ninth-grade student Calcea Johnson, who was taught English by Sister Angela in sixth and seventh grades. Johnson led the rosary at her Sept. 27 funeral Mass at the Holy Family Sisters’ Motherhouse Chapel.
“Whenever you were having a problem, you could go to Sister Angela,” Johnson said. “It taught us how to be kind to and respect others. As a spiritual leader, she taught me to be humble and how to love everyone. She was a beautiful soul.”
Johnson said students knew she loved the Saints and would ask her, “You’re going to see the Saints?” And she would say, “You know it.”
Senior Tia Bishop remembered her as always having a smile on her face. She plans to emulate that happiness.
“She was a great teacher,” said Bishop, who read at her funeral Mass. “She was gentle and kind and ready to help any and all students.”
One to emulate
As a principal, she imbued professionalism and was so patient, Thomas said.
“She was an outstanding principal,” Thomas said. “She was kind to all of us all the time and gave us a good example on how to be good teachers. She was giving of herself to others, including family and friends, and she had deep love for the children.
“If someone was in need, she would visit them in the hospital. If a child needed something to attend school, she looked out for them. No child would go without clothes or uniforms. They had what they needed even if a parent couldn’t afford it. … If she could be a saint, she would be a saint. She was an angel for children.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.