Eight seniors from Notre Dame High School are learning the finer points of Mandarin Chinese, marking the first time the language has been offered at the Elmira school. There is a new student in the class, too — Sister Edwina Butler, who is 94 years old.
“I am really a senior,” she said with a laugh recently.
The longtime French and music teacher at Notre Dame explained that she always wanted to learn a tonal language in which a single vowel in a word can have four tonal sounds and meanings.
“It’s a struggle,” Sister Butler admitted, but vowed to keep at it.
That passion for lifelong learning and her living of the Mercy spirit were reasons Notre Dame presented her with the 2009 McAuley Award on Oct. 20.
“She could be called a ‘Renaissance woman’ with many talents whose desire to follow knowledge … enriches the lives of others,” Bishop Matthew H. Clark said of Sister Butler when he presented her with the award. “She is a true daughter of Catherine McAuley in her service to others throughout her life.”
Sister Butler said she was humbled by the award and accepted it in the name of the first Notre Dame faculty, her pioneer companions who opened the school in 1955.
Sister Butler entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1932 and spent most of her teaching career at Notre Dame, where she taught five levels of French and provided special activities for her students and parents by directing French plays and organizing a French Mass at Christmas. She retired from teaching in 1997.