Sr. Roberta Tierney; directed education

By Rob Cullivan/Catholic Courier    |    01.26.2004
Category: Obituaries

School Sister of Notre Dame Roberta Tierney, who served as the Diocese of Rochester's director of education from 1978-89, died Jan. 21, 2004, at the age of 65.

At the time of her death, Sister Tierney was serving as parish-life coordinator for St. Cecilia Parish. Father Kevin E. McKenna, pastor at the Irondequoit church, remembered her fondly in a statement released by the diocese.

β€œShe touched so many people's lives,” Father McKenna said. "People were her first love. It's such a tremendous loss for all of us."

A 1952 graduate of St. Michael's School in Rochester, Sister Tierney completed her high-school education at Holy Angels Academy in Fort Lee, N.J. She entered the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1956, and began teaching in 1958 at St. Matthias School in Brooklyn.

In 1962, Sister Tierney returned to the Rochester Diocese to teach at St. Margaret Mary's School in Irondequoit. She was named principal of St. Philip Neri School in Rochester in 1968, beginning a long career in administration.

In 1973, Sister Tierney was named assistant superintendent for curriculum of diocesan schools. A year later, she was promoted to deputy superintendent of diocesan schools. In 1976, Bishop Joseph Hogan named Sister Tierney superintendent of schools, a position that included oversight of diocesan religious education. In that position, she established diocesan offices for youth ministry and of communications.

At the time of her appointment as superintendent, she was the only woman attending meetings of the New York state Catholic schools' superintendents association. In a 1989 interview with the Courier-Journal – the Catholic Courier's former name – Sister Tierney credited Bishop Hogan and his successor, Bishop Matthew H. Clark, for easing her acceptance as a female administrator.

"I never felt that because I was a woman and not ordained, I couldn't participate," she said.

After being named education director in 1978, Sister Tierney facilitated the transfer of the Department of Continuing Education from the diocesan personnel office to the education division. During her tenure, she also helped established the Diocesan Board of Education.

Tim Leahy, currently an administrator at Siena Catholic Academy in Brighton, was deputy superintendent and later superintendent of Catholic Schools under Sister Tierney.

"She was a quiet, yet effective leader and a passionate advocate for Catholic education," Leahy said. "She led in a subdued, dignified manner and always had the students' and teachers' interest at heart. She will be missed."

Sister Mary Ann Binsack, diocesan vice chancellor and administrator of the bishop's office, served under Sister Tierney as diocesan director of religious education from 1981-1989, and succeeded Sister Tierney as education director in 1989.

"I was honored to be chosen to follow someone that I admired so much," Sister Binsack said. "She was gentle but firm, visionary yet willing to do the small tasks. Roberta was my supervisor, but more important, she was a mentor and a friend."

Sister Tierney shepherded the diocese's schools through a challenging time, Sister Binsack said.

"She loved Catholic education, and her talents and commitment were greatly needed and used in a time when Catholic schools were on the decline," Sister Binsack said. "I remember how hard she worked to form the diocesan Board of Education so that there would a broader group of people -- lay, priests and women religious -- who could offer their skills and expertise as we addressed educational concerns and issues."

After resigning from her position as education director in 1989, Sister Tierney took a one-year sabbatical. Following its conclusion, she went to work for St. Cecilia's. She served on the Catholic Courier's Board of Directors and Editorial Committee from 1995-2001, and was a member of the newspaper's Strategic Planning Committee in 2000.

Father McKenna celebrated a funeral Mass for Sister Tierney at St. Cecilia's on Jan. 24. Internment took place at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester.

Memorial donations may be sent to the School Sisters of Notre Dame Development Fund, 345 Belden Hill Road, Wilton, CT 06897.

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