GENEVA — St. Francis-St. Stephen School’s students, faculty members and parents had a lot to celebrate when they gathered at St. Stephen Church May 2 for the school’s annual May crowning and living rosary.
Most of those present knew Father Roy Kiggins, pastor, would ask God for a special blessing for mothers and for Sister Dolores Bachman, the school’s second-grade teacher, who this month celebrates 50 years as a Sister of St. Joseph.
There was at least one person, however, who was completely unaware of this last component of the event — Sister Bachman herself.
"This has been a complete surprise," she said at the end of the celebration. "Thank you so much."
Sister Bachman’s jubilee was just one more cause for celebration on an already joyful day, said Principal Elaine Morrow.
"I love this day. I love the living rosary and I love the May crowning because I’ve always had a dedication to the Blessed Mother, one that I learned from my mother and that she learned from her mother," Morrow said.
The students and their teachers began filing into the church around 12:45 p.m., and soon they had organized themselves into the shape of a rosary, with their bodies as the rosary’s beads. This "rosary" ringed the church’s altar and sanctuary and trailed partway down the center aisle. The children were not grouped by grade level but rather by family, and parents, grandparents and younger siblings were invited to stand with their families in the rosary lineup.
Living rosary participants then sang "Immaculate Mary" as the May Queen — eighth-grader Emily Babb — and her 14 attendants processed up the aisle toward the altar, upon which stood a statue of Mary. The attendants — seven kindergarten girls and seven eighth-grade girls — carried flowers in vases, which they placed around the statue. Emily, who was wearing a crown of flowers, carried a similar, smaller crown on a pillow.
After Emily and her attendants had taken their seats before the altar, student-council president Michael DeRosa welcomed everyone to the May crowning.
"We’re also here to celebrate with Sister Dolores for her 50 years of service to God as a Sister of St. Joseph," said Michael, who is in eighth grade. "Like the Virgin Mary, Sister Dolores has spent her life doing God’s work here on earth. Sister has been a blessing to us here at St. Francis-St. Stephen School."
The male student standing at the rosary formation’s tip in the center aisle then began the living rosary with the Apostles’ Creed. Students took turns leading the congregation in the Our Father and Hail Mary, their voices reverberating off the church’s walls as they recited the familiar prayers with youthful exuberance.
When they had completed the rosary’s five joyful mysteries, the participants sang "Oh Mary We Crown You with Blossoms Today" as Emily placed the crown on the head of the Marian statue.
"Thank you all. That was marvelous," Father Kiggins said at the song’s conclusion.
Father Kiggins asked God to bestow a special blessing upon all mothers and then called Sister Bachman to come up front. He said a prayer of thanks for Sister Bachman and asked God to continue to protect and guide her and her ministry.
"So many youngsters have benefitted from your teaching," he told her.
"She’s been teaching the children of Geneva for almost 20 years. Her love has been an inspiration. Her care and concern for her students over the years has been most eminent," said Morrow, who noted that her own son, who is now 27, still "declares her his favorite teacher ever."
Several students shared their favorite memories about Sister Bachman, then crossed the sanctuary to give her a hug. One student recalled the way Sister Bachman took students outside at recess every day regardless of the weather conditions. On one particularly cold day, Sister Bachman gave the students a 10-second head start before chasing them around the playground three times and then shepherding them back inside to correct their spelling homework, she said.
"These kids aren’t kidding, either," Morrow added. "I look out my window every lunch period. I have no idea where she gets her energy. She is jumping rope, walking, playing with the kids."
"Sister Dolores, we thank you for your many years of service to the many students of Geneva," she continued. "You are the last teaching sister in this city, and you have given us things that money can’t buy. May your light continue to shine among all of us. Thank you."
With that, the students, parents and teachers in the church rose to their feet and gave Sister Bachman a standing ovation before joining her in the school cafeteria for a reception.
"I thought it was very inspiring to see someone that’s been doing their job for 50 years," Michael said afterwards. "I just think it was beautiful how everyone got together."