SISTERS OF THE RELIGIOUS OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION INSPIRED AND ENCOURAGED STUDENTS FOR EIGHT DECADES
by Patricia Anderson
For the nearly 80 years that the St. Genevieve schools thrived in Asheville, Sisters of the RCE dedicated themselves as life-loving scholars and teachers. Their example inspired thousands of students at SGP, Gibbons Hall, the School for Secretaries, and the independent St. Genevieve/ Gibbons Hall to appreciate diversity and acceptance and to learn by developing a questioning attitude.
Several of the nuns are represented in the information offered below. We invite and encourage you to submit further information about these influential Christian educators as well as names and details about those not yet included here.
Mother Clementine Bertrand taught at St. Genevieve’s from 1913 – 26 and from 1950 – 66. In February 1968, she died in Echauffour, France, in the house of retirement for sisters of the RCE.
Mother Annie Colclough, a member of the SGP faculty from 1908 until her death in November 1942, was born in Dublin, Ireland, July 20, 1869. Mother Colclough studied under the Sisters of Christian Education and later joined the Order. She was connected to Hillside Convent in England before coming to the United States. Mother Colclough was known for her kindness, thoughtfulness, and self-forgetfulness.
Sister Marie Day was “a mainstay in Pinto Hall,” as Joe Lalley has written. When she retired from SG/GH in 1980, she had taught first and second grades in the SGP grammar school, Gibbons Hall, and SG/GH for 38 years. Before she joined the SGP faculty in 1942, Sister Day had taught at Immaculata School in Hendersonville and at West Asheville’s St. Joan of Arc. Prior to entering the RCE in 1932, she had taught in the public schools of Boston. Following retirement, she continued as a substitute teacher until the school merged with Asheville Country Day in 1987; she also worked with the parishes of St. Lawrence and St. Margaret Mary as well as tutoring at the Reid Center on Livingston Street.
Born in Boston on June 13, 1902, Sister Day died August 26, 1996 in Lowell, MA. She moved from the SGP Convent in 1992 and resided in Lowell until her death. Mary Jane Maloney Leone fondly remembers “Mother Day’s gentle and firm way with children, which brought respect from all who worked with her.”
In the 1920’s, Mother Marthe Delamare, a French woman whose desire to enter the foreign mission field was not fulfilled, joined the nuns at SGP as a French teacher. She began to teach African-American employees of the school and their families. She directed them in a Christmas pageant each year, teaching them songs and the narrative – all performed with a French accent. Throughout the year, Mother Delamare secured and made gifts – caps, mittens, clothes – to present to the children at Christmas.
From the initial work of Mother Delamare with these staff members and their families - teaching religion and French, in 1935 the Diocese of Raleigh established St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church and in 1936 formed St. Anthony School on Walton Street for the African-American community. The church and school were active until1969, when the congregation was combined with that of St. Lawrence Catholic Church and the school was discontinued.
Sister Patricia Dolan, who entered the order of the RCE in 1943, was one of the four remaining sisters living in the SGP Convent when it closed in December 1996. A lifelong resident of Asheville, she was a graduate of the SGP Prep and the School for Secretaries and later worked on her Master’s degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. Mary Jane Maloney Leone has noted that “her jovial spirit lightened many community gatherings.” Sister Dolan served as a secretary in the school office, taught at St. Joan of Arc in West Asheville, and taught first grade in the Prep in the ‘60s.
Mother Mary Monica Gannon came to St. Genevieve in 1908, ten months after Hillside Convent had opened. She taught at St. Genevieve for most of her life, while spending three years as Superior at Immaculata School in Hendersonville from 1934 – 37 and a short tenure at St. Joan of Arc School, which she opened in West Asheville in 1927.
In addition to teaching sixth grade for more than twenty years, Mother Gannon was responsible for the Sunday school and Sodality of the Children of Mary at St. Lawrence Church. In 1951, Mother Gannon observed her Golden Jubilee. The many students and families who knew and loved Mother Gannon remembered “her twinkling Irish eyes and her ever-present smile.”
She was born in Galway, Ireland, in May 1875 and received her early education in Ireland, France, and England. After earning her teacher’s diploma at Oxford University, she taught in Farnborough, England. Mother Gannon died in January 1958, survived by one sister, a member of the Convent of Mercy, Galway, Ireland.
Mother Celine Gossin taught at St. Genevieve for nearly 30 years, having arrived at the school in 1910 to teach French. Known for “her kindness and sincerity, she was devoted to her community.” Mother Gossin was born in Normandie, France, in 1854; after graduating from L’Ecole Superieure de Fontenay aux Roses, she was recognized as a brilliant professor in France. Under a repressive government in the early twentieth century, Mother Gossin, as well as hundreds of other religious teachers, fled France and practiced their faith and their profession in freer environments. She had been a member of the RCE for sixty-two years when she died in October 1939.
Sister Yvonne Haché was one of the four remaining sisters living in the SGP Convent when it closed in December 1996. “She and her sister, Sister Irene Haché, still living in Boston, were dedicated and talented teachers and devoted community members,” states Mary Jane Maloney Leone. In her retirement, Sister Haché became a ceramicist. Sister Haché taught kindergarten and later became the third grade teacher at Gibbons Hall.
Sister Marthe Heuze, one of the six nuns who founded Hillside Convent in Asheville in1908, was born in France in 1868. Sister Marthe took her vows in 1892 and served with the Order at Hillside Convent in Farnborough, England, before coming to the United States in 1907. After three years of declining health, Sister Marthe died in September 1946.
Mother Anna Joubert received the Valley Forge Freedom Foundation Classroom Teacher’s Medal in 1963; she had taught first and second grades since 1916, first in the girls’ Prep and later in Gibbons Hall. She “inspired children… loved them…and was ingenious” in her presentation of her love and her lessons.
In January 1980, Mother Joubert was honored by St. Genevieve for her 62 years with the school; an editorial in The Asheville Citizen-Times noted, “At the age of 84, still able and alert, she teaches two kindergarten classes… Ostensibly, she is teaching the youngsters oral French. Actually she is teaching life… with love and dedication.”
After she retired in 1982, with a career of sixty-two years behind her, Mother Joubert remained a vibrant and spirited “regular” in the hallways of St. Genevieve/Gibbons Hall until the school became part of Carolina Day School in 1987. Mother Joubert died in Asheville January 10, 1996, four days shy of her one hundredth birthday.
Sr. Helen Latour, a native of Lowell, MA, served on the faculty of Gibbons Hall. She died in North Wilkesboro, NC, on January 4, 2011. After graduating from high school, she joined the RCE and later received a BA in English from Emmanuel College, Boston, MA, and a masters degree in English from Boston College. Later she received grants to study mathematics and physics and earned a Ph.D. in comparative languages in 1972 from UNC Chapel Hill. In addition, she also received a Masters in religious education from St. Johns University, Collegeville, MN.
She taught English, Latin, French, math and biology at schools in Massachusetts and North Carolina and became a Civil Defense instructor in Asheville. After receiving her doctorate, she taught foreign languages at Appalachian State University, where she was the co-founder of the General Honors Program and its first director. After retiring in 1990, she taught English for one year at North Ossetia State University in Vladikavaz, Russia.
She founded the Watauga County Literacy Association in 1987. After she moved to Wilkes County in 1989, she founded the Volunteers for Wilkes Literacy, was a charter member of the Wilkes Literacy Consortium, and served as chair of Northwest Literacy United. While a resident at Rose Glen Village, Wilkesboro, she established a rose garden, which was named in her memory. In 2009 she was one of 20 in North Carolina awarded the Medallion for Outstanding Volunteer Service.
Mother Johanna Leible came to Asheville in 1914 and taught languages at St. Genevieve, St. Joan of Arc and Asheville Catholic High School. Born in Baden, Germany, in 1892, she died in December 1968 following a long illness.
Sister Ethel Lunsford, native North Carolinian, earned a reputation as an outstanding teacher of piano and choral director in the Prep. A niece of Bascom Lunsford, who originated the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville, Sister Lunsford carried on the family musical tradition. “She directed the nuns’ choir for all the festive services and special masses at SGP,” Mary Jane Maloney Leone recalls. “Her enthusiasm and talent brought out the best in those she mentored.”
Elaine Fitch Scagnelli notes, “Even today I find myself singing Mozart’s ‘Alleluia,’ which she taught us in eighth grade. Sister Lunsford was one of the four remaining sisters living in the SGP Convent when it closed in December 1996. Kitty Johnson, who also taught piano at SGP from 1957 – 87, fondly remembers her friendship with Sister Lunsford.
Mother Margaret Mary MacSwiney began teaching in 1910 at Hillside Convent when it was located on North Main Street. When the school moved to Victoria Road, Mother MacSwiney established the senior college and served as dean from 1910 until 1930. In 1912, she was awarded a Ph. D. from Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, the first nun to receive a doctorate at Catholic. Mother MacSwiney was responsible for the development of college courses at SGP and affiliated the college with Catholic University.
In addition, Mother MacSwiney established SGP’s French lycée, affiliated with the Sorbonne. When the senior college was discontinued, Mother MacSwiney continued to teach in the junior college and the academy until 1960. Mother MacSwiney, who was born in Cork, Ireland, in April 1881, died in September 1964.
Mother MacSwiney's brother, Terence MacSwiney, an Irish playwright, author, and politician, died in Brixton prison in England after a hunger strike of 74 days following an Irish uprising in 1920. His protest brought international attention to the Irish struggle; he remains an important figure in Irish history.
Sisters Anaria Masse and Orpha Masse, both members of the RCE, taught together at St. Genevieve’s for many years. Mother Anaria, born in Berlin, NH, in November 1886, was the first American Sister to enter the Order. She came to SGP in 1912, remaining there until 1931, when she founded Immaculata School in Hendersonville. After she served as Superior at St. Peter’s School in Waltham, MA, Mother Anaria returned to St. Genevieve’s in 1957. She died June 23,1961, following a long illness.
Mother Orpha, born in Westbrooke, ME, in October 1892, entered the Order of the RCE in 1914; in addition to teaching and serving as principal at St. Genevieve’s grammar school, she was principal at St. Peter’s in Waltham, MA. Mother Orpha was also Supervisor of the Elementary Schools of the Diocese of Raleigh from 1957 – 60. Mother Orpha died November 10,1965. The 1966 Victorian staff wrote of her: “…we can remember Mother Masse as determined, yet tempered with understanding… her enthusiasm awakened our minds and refreshed our daily lives. Her interest was unfailing… We were assured of her love for us and her devotion to her work as a teacher.”
Mother Jane McGarraghy, a native of Chicago and a college student at SGP, was the first girl to enter the SGP novitiate, established in 1926. The short-lived program – it lasted only two years – made it possible for young women in the US to avoid the long and expensive trip to Belgium for training.
“I’ll never forget Mother McGarraghy,” says Mary Alice Powell Adams, SGP ‘56. “She was the kindest, most loving person I have ever known. She was the guardian angel who helped me over a raggedy road in my very young life. She taught me about wonder and magic and imagination and understanding and about how it was important to be kind to everyone - even if the ‘everyone’ were different. Mostly, she taught me about love.”
Joe Lalley says of her, "Mother McGarraghy was a living saint who suffered most painfully from crippling rheumatoid arthritis for many years. Her body shrunk significantly from the disease. Yet she was always cheerful, never complaining. Everyone who knew her loved her. After I was made Head of St. Genevieve, she could somehow sense when I was having a difficult day. She would call me, saying something like, 'Mr. Lalley, I feel you are in need of prayer and I am praying for you especially today.' And the issues were resolved. Although her mind was clear, pain was evident yet replaced by a broad smile as she thanked all our teachers for their dedication."
Sister Barbara L. Morrison died Monday, July 26, 2004 at Sancta Maria Nursing Center, Cambridge, MA. She was 68.
Born in Philadelphia, PA, on February 25, 1936, she graduated from Boston College. Sister Barbara entered the Religious of Christian Education congregation in August 1957, and professed her final vows at Jeanne d'Arc Academy in Milton, MA, in August 1964. Sister Barbara taught at Marycliff Academy, Winchester, MA, St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines, and Immaculata School in Hendersonville.
Mother Noemi Mouquet came to the US from France, where she had become a congregant of the RCE. One of the founders of Hillside Convent, which became SGP, Mother Mouquet was born in 1871. She celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1945. Mother Mouquet taught at SGP for more than fifty years, including special classes in advanced French in both the college and academy. Talented in needlework, Mother Mouquet held annual sales of handmade articles. She donated the proceeds from her final sale in December 1959 to the SGP Prep Building Fund. An equally gifted artist, she painted often.
Mother Johanna Muller retired in 1962, after teaching in Asheville for more than fifty years. She was associated with SGP and St. Joan of Arc from 1909 until her death in November 1967. In 1963, Mother Muller celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, commemorating her sixty years as a member of the RCE. Mother Muller taught first grade at St. Genevieve’s from 1909 through 1928; after several years at St. Joan, she returned to work in the SGP grammar school again from 1942 to 1962.
Sister Nancy Schwoyer was headmistress of the SGP Academy from 1962-68. A native of Allentown, PA, Sister Schwoyer spent several years of her childhood and youth in Asheville and graduated from the SGP Academy in 1954; as a student leader, she served as class president for three years and president of the student body as a senior.
Sister Schwoyer entered the Order following her high school graduation and earned her BA in journalism from St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana. She returned to SGP as a teacher in 1956 and became headmistress two years later. Students said of her, “As a teacher, Mother Schwoyer captures our attention and impresses upon us ideas which will serve as resources in future years. As a friend, Mother Schwoyer brings happiness to all of us in various ways. As a religious, Mother Schwoyer takes a few quiet moments from her busy schedule to pray and meditate upon ideas to benefit her students.”
Sister Schwoyer served on the U.S. Provincial Council for the RCE, as president of the North Carolina Catholic Guidance Association and as a member of the Pastoral Advisory Council for the diocese of Raleigh. After her tenure at SGP, Sister Schwoyer became Superior of St. James Convent, Arlington, MA, where she supervised a grammar school and secondary schools staffed by the RCE in the Boston area. Read more about Sister Schwoyer at Nancy Schwoyer.
Mother Regina Stelling initiated the physical education program at SGP, after studying at Columbia University. Her skills and enthusiasm created the Field Day traditions. Mother Stelling was a keen ham radio operator and a passionate Boston Red Sox fan.
Sister Kathleen Winters was born in 1911 in County Galway, Ireland, and joined the Order of the Religious of Christian Education in Tournai, Belgium, at age 19. She taught in the grammar school at St. Genevieve-of-the Pines from 1933-1945, was transferred to Waltham, MA, for five years, and was principal of St. Genevieve's Grammar School from 1950-56. In the following years, she taught at Asheville Catholic High School and served as principal there, when it became the first integrated school in the Diocese of Charlotte. Sister Winters later taught in South Carolina and Ireland, and at St. Eugene's School. She told an interviewer that she enjoyed the weather in Asheville.
A graduate of SGP Junior College and the first Catholic nun to graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill, Sister Winters was certified to teach history and physics.
When she entered the Order, Sister Winters particularly hoped to teach students of color, but was unable to do so until schools were integrated in Asheville in 1970; as principal of Asheville Catholic High School, the first integrated school in the diocese, she taught African-American students.
She was one of the four remaining sisters living in the SGP Convent when it closed in December 1996. Sister Winters died April 13, 2001, in Cambridge, MA, after seventy years of devoted service to the RCE.
Sister Ann Zeleznik entered the Order of RCE in February 1927, as a novitiate of the SGP chapter. During World War II, she was responsible for managing the ration books, which controlled the use of sugar, meat, flour, and many other goods. She was applauded for “accomplishing miracles” regarding food supplies. Mother Potts writes, “We had good, well-rounded, well-balanced meals, and we were not deprived of very much.” Read more about Sister Zeleznik at St. Genevieve School for Secretaries.Back To Top