It was not unusual years ago to find people who were in the same line of work for a long time. People worked 30, 40 years at the same place or doing the same job.
Nowadays, it’s not as common.
That might have caused Dialog readers to stop and take notice in the Jan. 19 issue. In a “congratulations” advertisement, the Office for Catholic Schools sent out well-wishes to staffers marking milestones in careers in Catholic education. Two Sisters of Mercy stood out at Christ the Teacher Catholic School: “Sr. LaVerne King, RSM, 50 years” and “Sr. Rosalie Pronsati, RSM, 50 years.”
That’s right. The two have a combined 100 years dedicated to Catholic education and they’re still going strong.
“Having two sisters in a Catholic elementary school is pretty amazing these days,” said Sister LaVerne, who is in her 17th year as principal at Christ the Teacher, having started before school construction was completed. Sister Rosalie joined her a few years later.
Sister Rosalie’s passion is social studies, but she has taught math and language arts at the school, Sister LaVerne jokes, “because of that last line of your contract that says ‘and anything else the principal asks you to do.’”
Having lived in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, each entered the convent directly from high school. Like many religious, they have moved to different assignments over the years. Sister LaVerne spent eight years in Peru. Sister Rosali had stints in Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They had parish school assignments early in their careers and neither strayed far from elementary education.
Sister LaVerne went from the classroom to the main office after some encouragement from a colleague.
“A principal was retiring and she tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘I think you could do this job.’”
Sister LaVerne had returned from Peru and with the explosion of technology lived at Gwynedd Mercy University while brushing up for what would become a career in administration. She had been principal at St. Alphonsus School in Maple Glen, Pa., before coming to Delaware to live with her aging mother. She saw a classified ad in The Dialog seeking a principal for the new school in Newark and applied for the job. The rest is history.
She recruited Sister Rosalie, who was finishing a sabbatical.
Their combined 100 years in education make them a rarity and they’ve seen plenty of changes.
Sister Rosalie remembers her first teaching assignment in South Philadelphia where the school had 24 faculty members, and 17 of them were sisters. And classrooms had as many as 70 students, she said.
“Some of the things that really matter, like having the Mercy charism and a school rooted in the gospel, have not changed,” Sister LaVerne said. “Maybe the way we present it has changed, but the basic fact of who we are and what we want to do in schools with children is the same.”
Long gone, however, are the days they remember early in their vocations when religious accounted for better than half the staff.
“I think back then we didn’t realize that we were planting seeds and it would go on without us,” said Sister LaVerne. “We just kind of did our job and thought that we would always be. Now, I think it’s a very strong reality that we have to work hard planting those seeds because we want them to endure.”
Sister Rosalie agrees and believes Catholic education is in good hands.
“One of our teachers here is a graduate of Merion Mercy Academy, and so she has been instilled with the Mercy spirit,” she said. “I think the teachers that I see here that have had Catholic school backgrounds, you can see how they carry that training that they had in their lives and they bring it forth into the teaching that they’re trying to do.”
Sister LaVerne believes it also flows to other faculty who may not be Catholic.
“They see something in the mission that they want to be a part of,” she said. “It’s hard to put your finger on what that is, but you ask any teacher that is here. They’re here because they want to be in a Catholic school. They see something different that is not existent in other schools, and parents choose the school for that reason because they want their children to be part of that mission.”
“The good part of it is laypeople have taken a more active role in the church, and that’s good.”
Not all is lost, they say, even if it doesn’t lead to a full-time life in vocations.
“Young people want to be of service, but not as a committed religious,” Sister Rosalie said.
Catholic education will continue, both agree, but not with a large number of religious.
“It will continue with dedicated laypeople who are probably the children we are teaching now,” said Sister Rosalie.
“And, parents who want a faith-based education for their children,” Sister LaVerne said. “I believe there is no better investment for your children than the investment in Catholic education.”
What’s next for them?
“We’re winding down,” Sister LaVerne said. “We’re not sure, exactly. A goal of mine and Sister Rosalie’s is to prepare the people who are here for when we leave, because when we leave there’s not going to be a Mercy replacement.”
Until then, this combination of Mercy nuns will begin work on the start of their second century.