You never hear me fuss about religious schools, or charter schools, or
most types of schools I have even taught in DODDS Schools and in a
school for dropouts. Teaching is sometimes a challenge but the nuns who
taught me were up to every challenge. So, that is one of the reasons I get fired up
when people like Michelle Rhee make fun of older teachers and do not realize that
these people and others stood in places where no one cared to teach and produced miracles.
My skill in teaching and being able to adjust to the learning landscape
came from observing and being in the schools of these nuns, the Oblate
Sisters of Providence who served in the urban, poor and ghetto
communities of the nation. I was surprised when I found that my school,
Saint Joseph’s was a missionary school. I remember looking at the
envelope for collection a long time. I could not understand why the school was a mission school.
But, it was.
I had no idea how the school was supported. I remember we did class
parties by asking people to bring in potatoes and such, but I never
thought of the finances. There were rummage sales. There were parent meetings.I
remember some students stole the milk by using straws to drink it out
of the bottle. The nuns just let them. They found ways to feed more
children. They also insisted that everyone learn . One of my friends
brothers was in class wth me, my sister and another sister, but they
made him learn. They did not take excuses. they thought a disability
was a chance to help students and they did.We did not laugh at anyone.
Every child was to be a learner. No one was
allowed to play around. If you could do a lot , they encouraged your giftedness.
My mother paid tuition to the nuns since we could afford it. The nuns
had 50 or more students in my time in two grade level groupings and not
a lot of resources, but lots of love. We were taught to be fearless
about learning. We learned our heritage. We listened to classical music
and our own spirituals and sang like angels. We did a play a month.and
we were a learning community. they took us to operas and we sang Irish
songs.. The Josephite Fathers were supporting our schools and the Kelly
Family of Philadelphia.
Most of all in these schools.. there was advanced learning. You could
be skipped I skipped three grades. They used tests to advance people and
to give them wings for learning more. They had a wonderful library. I
had elementary years in Catholic School, my high school was a disaster, but I survived on the
skills the nuns taught me. I went to a ghetto high school , my dad
taught there, shop. electricity et al. Not much was expected of us. I
was a pain in the butt to the other students because of my love of
learning instilled by the nuns. Even a substandard college did not harm my
Sister gave breakfast to those who ate syrup sandwiches because
there was no food in the home they came from. My mother and father were
teachers, they chose the school for academic purposes. I know lots of
successful doctors,lawyers and teachers who were taught by these nuns.
Mickey Proctor, Marvous Saunders, Arthur Bracey and my sister Barbara
who became a lawyer. That is from one school. There are many successful graduates.
They had standards and courage to stand in places where few dared to
teach and ask for excellence. Please read this article and know that there are older
black teachers who can teach and who do well. Sister Mary Alice was one of my teachers.
Michelle Rhee never met these ladies.
Amid downturn, tough financial times for Oblate Sisters
By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
These are trying times for the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first
Catholic sisterhood started by women of African descent in 1831. The
recession is drying up charitable contributions, and the meager income
they earn from teaching is being lost as aging nuns retire.
Construction of an infirmary at the Our Lady of Mount Providence
motherhouse, the convent just outside of Baltimore where about 50
elderly sisters live, was recently halted for lack of funds.
Earlier this year, the sisters fell three months behind on their
grocery bill; food delivery was stopped until the nuns paid up.
Not that anyone’s complaining.
“Don’t make it sound like we’re destitute,” said Sister Mary Alice
Chineworth, who is 92 and a former superior general of the Oblate
order. “We just had to plan our meals more carefully, eat as little as
Then there was the heating oil crisis. The Oblates might have ended up
sleeping in coats and gloves this winter were it not for an anonymous
donor who paid that bill.
“That’s what surprises most of us: God always comes to our aid in
seemingly miraculous ways,” Sister Mary Alice said, still in awe after
75 years as a nun.
Faith in divine Providence — the Oblates have been relying on it since
Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, who was born a slave in Haiti, made her
way to Baltimore and started a sisterhood devoted to educating black
Today, the sisters run St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, where 97
percent of high school graduates go to college.
The Oblate presence had been especially strong in the District, where
nuns taught at St. Augustine, Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, St. Benedict
the Moor and St. Vincent DePaul.
Sometimes working for as little as a dollar a day, they proved time and
again that any child could be properly educated, regardless of race,
family income, religion or lack thereof. Sister Mary Alice, who
received a doctorate in higher education from Catholic University,
taught fifth grade at St. Augustine.
The days of having nuns like her in urban schools have all but gone.
“We lost 10 sisters last year. . . . the Lord said it was time to call
them home. And we have no prospects to replace them,” Sister Mary Alice
The trend is widespread. Most sisterhoods are shrinking; the average
age of a nun in the United States is 70. For many young women, taking
vows of celibacy and poverty to become “brides of Christ” is just
asking too much.
A generation ago, there were 300 Oblate Sisters of Providence working
in 17 states and several missions abroad. Now there are about 75 —
including the 50 at the convent, which is the motherhouse for the
order. Their only remaining missions are in Buffalo, Miami and Costa
To make up for the lost income, the Oblates decided to modernize their
infirmary and make medical services available to the public. They also
planned to renovate the convent — situated on 46 wooded acres — and
rent parts of it for spiritual retreats.
Then the recession hit, and the plans collapsed.
“A lot of people think that we are cared for by Rome, but the
archdiocese mostly takes care of priests,” Sister Mary Alice said. “We
live on charity. But that doesn’t mean we sit back with our hands out.
We work hard to take care of ourselves.”
On Saturday, they held a yard sale at the convent and all but gave away
clothes and household goods that had been donated to them through the
To resume construction of the infirmary, the nuns asked family members
and friends to sponsor bricks at $25 each. About 96,000 bricks are
needed to complete the project. After six months, they had raised
enough to buy 3,000.
At that rate, it will take 16 years to collect them all. Sister Mary
Alice would be 108. “Whatever happens will happen in God’s time, not
ours,” she said.
The nuns pool the money they bring in, then divide it into stipends.
Each person gets $40 a month. “We haunt the thrift shops,” Sister Mary
Alice said. A pair of shoes she wears came from a nun who recently died.
Even with the tight budgeting, however, they don’t always have enough
to make ends meet.
“We’re thinking we could also make candy and sell that, like the
Carmelite sisters,” Sister Mary Alice said. “We can sew, too. We have a
lot of good hands.