ROCHESTER — When women used to enter the School Sisters of Notre Dame, they knew they were going to be teachers, Sister Yvonne Nadeau recalled.
“I wasn’t more than two hours in the classroom, and I knew that was where I belonged,” said Sister Nadeau, who spent nearly 50 years as a math teacher.
She is now a pastoral minister and bookkeeper at St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Honeoye Falls and an example of how the School Sisters of Notre Dame have branched out from the classroom into other forms of service.
Locally, sisters run Notre Dame Learning Center, which offers free tutoring to students in Rochester, and individual sisters serve at parishes and schools.
Yet according to Sister Nadeau and others, although the jobs have changed, the order’s mission of transforming the world through education remains the same. In fact, that mission was emblazoned on a banner that was used in Sacred Heart Cathedral Sunday during a Mass to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the order’s founding.
“We ask you to continue to share with us in our mission of transformative education,” said Sister Peggy Juskelis, a provincial councilor with the Atlantic-Midwest Province of the School Sisters of Notre Dame who spoke during the Mass.
In addition to making a mission statement, the Mass gave diocesan officials the chance to say thanks to the sisters for their 154 years of contributions in the Rochester Diocese.
“What a remarkable gift of service and friendship that you have offered us,” Bishop Matthew H. Clark said during the Mass.
The order was founded in 1833 in Bavaria by Blessed Mary Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, who used education to respond to the urgent needs of her day. In 1847, Blessed Mary Theresa became one of the early founders of the American parochial-school system when she traveled to America to help German immigrants. Today, more than 3,700 School Sisters of Notre Dame serve in 36 countries on five continents.
Locally, a few School Sisters of Notre Dame have recently changed jobs upon the closing of several Catholic schools that the orders had once staffed.
“Mother Theresa (Gerhardinger) said to be there to meet the needs, and there are different needs of our time,” said Sister Mary Smith, who now works at Notre Dame Learning Center. She had been principal at St. Boniface School until it closed this past June.
Sister Smith was reunited with several of her former pupils who dressed the altar during the Mass. These students said Sister Smith played an important role in their lives.
“She has made me more aware of what’s going on in my life in general, and how to act,” said DaKwan Bonnick-Tomlinson, 12, a seventh-grader at Nazareth Hall Middle School.
“Sometimes I’ll get in trouble and she’ll tell me what to do and not to do,” said John Carr, 12, a sixth-grader at St. John Neumann School.
Several area priests who took part in the Mass said the sisters were very influential in their lives as well.
“In addition to my parents, I owe my vocation to the great sisters of Notre Dame,” said Father Lawrence Gross. He said the sisters at Holy Family School taught him the catechism, among many other things.
“I gained a real sense of the beauty of study and using your talents and your ability to the fullest,” said Father John Gagnier, who attended Holy Redeemer School where he was taught by the sisters. He said he remembered the sisters teaching him perfect penmanship using the Palmer method.
“They love God, they love the people and they don’t say it, they do it,” remarked Father Peter Deckman, who was taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame at Ss. Peter and Paul and Holy Redeemer schools.