Learning From Sisters

William R Kelly and Sister Marie Angela Natoli, IHM

Click here for a Spanish translation of this episode.

Rocky Pierson shares the story of William R Kelly. Kelly grew up a Catholic studying at Catholic schools all throughout his adolescence. In his interview with Rocky, he reflects on his experiences with the women religious who taught him and how they left a lasting impression; continuing to inspire him to this very day.

Transcript:
Bill Kelly:
Hello.

Rocky:
Hi, this is Rocky from SisterStory and National Catholic Sisters Week.

Bill Kelly:
Hi, Rocky. Good morning to you. And, good afternoon from here.

Rocky:
I'm Rocky Pierson and this is SisterStory Presents. In this episode, I will be sharing my interview with William R. Kelly. Kelly has shared some of his experiences as blogs on SisterStory.org. Seeing his excitement around sharing his stories. We offered him the opportunity to share those in interview for this podcast. He was glad to do so. So I called him and I asked him to share some of his stories about sisters he knew growing up.

Bill Kelly:
My name is William R. Kelly, better known as Bill Kelly. I grew up in West Philadelphia back in the 50s. And, I was very fortunate to be growing up there because for the eight years of my grade school I had sisters from the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Order. For the first three years I was at St. Louis school. Then, from Grade 4 to 8 I was in Transfiguration School in West Philadelphia. The sisters that I had were all memorable, each in their own way. And, they were just a joy. Some people say that they thought they were harsh or hard on you, and, you know, not easy to get along with. I never found that to be the case. My mother used to say that she always thought that sisters were the happiest people in the world. And, I tend to agree with her on that. One of the most interesting sisters I have was Sr Rose Angela, my fourth grade teacher. She was very old at that time, at least to me, and we were on the third floor of the Transfiguration School with no elevator. And, this nun had all boys. So, you can imagine she had her hands full with us. But, she was she was strict and she commanded the respect of all the boys in the room, and there were a lot of us. I think there was like 80 kids in our class. That's the number I remember anyway. Then, in grade 5, I had one of my all time favorite nuns Sister Marie Angela. Sr Marie Angela was very young at that time. I figured it out, she was probably about 27 years old. All these guys wanted to be in her class and I got lucky and got in there.

Interestingly, since our school was growing at such a rate back then, and that would have been around 1953 or so, they had to double up some of the classes. So, this young sister was tasked with teaching grades four and five simultaneously in the same room. Originally we were down in the auditorium. Then, finally, we got separated and we got our own our own grade 5 class. But, I used to think to myself, “Wow this sister must be pretty smart if they want her to teach two grades at the same time.”

Also, she turned out to be the alter boy sister, at least that's what we called her. She was the sister who taught the prospective altar boys our Latin for the Latin Mass. And, she assisted our pastor in managing the, I don't know, 70 or 80 order boys that we had at that time. And, it turns out that, I found out that, she later became superior general of the order and she was down there in South America opening up schools and did all kinds of stuff. So, interestingly for my 70th birthday my sister found out that Sr Marie Angela was still alive and out at the retirement home at Camilla all in Malvern, Pennsylvania. I couldn't believe it. So, I called out there thinking, “Boy, I'd love to go visit her.” I asked the gal that answered the phone if sister was taking visitors and she said, “why don’t you just call her on her number?” So, I did. I called her and I introduced myself. And, you know, she must have taught 25,000 kids in her career. But, anyway, she consented for my wife and I to go out there and we had the most delightful visit with her. I brought my fifth grade report card, and I brought my diploma, and I brought a picture of me as an altar boy, just to prove that I wasn't kidding. And, she was so great. Unfortunately, she passed away about two years ago. And, we were able to go to her funeral. It was an unbelievably solemn and great event. There were so many sisters there I couldn't believe it. And my other most memorable sister was my eighth grade teacher, Sr Mary Adelaide. Sr Adelaide was also really young at that time, probably about 28. It was the first year Transfiguration. She was a very personable sister and everybody liked her. She was kind of sentimental about all those kids, you know, getting ready to leave and graduating. She also held the college preparation classes for folks like me who were taking classes to try to pass the entrance exam for LaSalle High School and St. Joe's Prep, where I eventually went. She brought a lot to the class. And, when I got to the Prep I used to stop by and show her my report cards. And. one of the things about sisters was that you always wanted to make sure that you were doing the right thing. And, I always wanted to kind of prove it to Sr Adelaide. I would visit her from time to time and we would talk. The sad thing was... she ended up leaving the order, which was a real loss for everybody because she was really one of the most terrific people. These nuns were all dedicated and hardworking and concerned for the kids but they also expected us to toe the mark and do the work. And, it was inspiring to see are some 26 sisters walking up the street to go to morning mass at Transfiguration. And, since I was an altar boy, I got to see that quite a bit.

Another memorable thing was being invited to serve Mass for the nuns in their convent in the chapel. So, it was just me, and the priest, and all these nuns. Needless to say, I was on my best behavior as an altar boy and wanted to make sure I didn't mess it up. But, they had so many impacts. They were great teachers. They were great motivators. And, in both ways, if you didn't toe the mark you knew about it pretty quick. But, I found they had a very limited use of force. You know, once in awhile the yardstick came out, but very limited. They expected good behavior. They expected your homework to be complete. They expected you to have a good appearance. One day in sixth grade Sr Marie Carmel commented that all us guys were buying these big clunky looking engineer boots. And, she thought we were motorcycle riders or something. But, we heard about that. And, they expect us to be there on time. So they had an incredible impact, I think, on myself, and all my friends, and the kids that went to Transfiguration. It's a sad thing that they're not around anymore. But, my wife and I were very happy when we went to her funeral to see hundreds of Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary there. And, a lot of young ones. So, maybe things are going to turn around and we'll be able to have our grandkids enjoy the same opportunity we had to have these nuns teach us.

And, you know the other thing that's interesting about these nuns? You go see a little old lady, little old nun, 87 years old. You just say, “oh here's a little old nun.” You don't know what accomplishments they’ve made and what they did. Opening up orphanages, schools and stuff down in Peru. Being the head of the whole order. We had a nun that was in our parish, I think she's a Carmelite. She died recently. Her obit was unbelievable! She was an interpreter for Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul the second. Taught school in France. And, here she is, they’re wheeling her in a wheelchair, coming to mass. And, you know, you say, “she’s a nice little old nun,” but she was a powerhouse. They are powerhouses and you don't know it. And, they don't really care if you know it you know. And, they're so happy. We do have some nuns in our parish now. We had the Sisters of Jesus Our Hope and they were they were just great. They have some dwindling enrollments in their order now. So, we have some new sisters and one of the sisters is Vietnamese, and she's delightful. And, my brother was in Vietnam back in the 60s and he is fluent in Vietnamese. So, I asked my brother to tell me how to say “good morning sister, God bless you” in Vietnamese. Well, Vietnamese is a really difficult language. So he drilled me on it. I don't really do well at it. And, I saw Sister I told her all about my brother and I said I asked him to teach me how to say good morning to you and I hope I don't get excommunicated in case it comes out wrong. And, so, we have a lot of fun with that. And, now, she and my brother write back and forth in Vietnamese, which is pretty cool.

Rocky:
Oh that is so cool.

Bill Kelly:
So, you never know, huh?

Rocky:
Right!

Rocky:
Bill Kelly obviously had many great experiences with sisters he knew growing up and learning in Catholic schools. So, inspired by Alicia Beyer and Pa Ying’s work on Here's My Secret, I asked him to simply state, in one sentence, how meeting sisters has inspired him.

(to Bill Kelly): So for one of my coworkers podcasts she meets with all of the people who did the oral history project and she asked them to talk about their experiences. And, then, she finishes the interview by asking them to finish a sentence for her. I was wondering if I could have you do that too.

Bill Kelly:
Okay.

Rocky:
The sentence starts off with “because I met her sister” and then she leaves it open for them to finish the sentence.

Bill Kelly:
Because I met her sister (pause) I never lost the faith.

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