Favorite teacher stories

The ‘Big Bear’

Sister Virginia Cleary of the Sisters of St. Joseph was a wonderful example of what I wanted as a first grade experience for my children. She was strict yet fair and kind, and she instilled in them the foundations of the Catholic faith as well as a strong basis for reading and math.

The first time my husband and I went to hear her speak at back to school night she told the parents that she was the “big bear” that our children told us about and that whatever they had told us about her was probably true. She then went on to explain why it was so important to lay a good foundation in first grade. She also spoke about the fact that religion was the most important subject she taught as they could get the other subjects in any school.

Being a public school teacher myself, her “scurvy elephant” story really hit home. Basically it said that she would believe half of what the children told her if we would believe half of what they told us. I used that story myself in many back to school nights, and it always got the parents to think before acting.

Sister Virginia left her mark on my son and daughter in different ways but both of them are better people for having had her, and I am very thankful that they did.

Pat Carson


Arriving in America 1960

It was the year 1960. My sister and I along with my mom had just landed in the New York harbor aboard the Christopher Columbus ship. As immigrants from Italy and pretty young at that, we thought of this journey as an adventure, Nonetheless, a fearful one, for we had no knowledge of English whatsoever.

How blessed were we to have enrolled at St. Michael’s School in Atlantic City, where we encountered two holy souls, both of whom bore my name, Gaetana. One taught fourth grade, the other sixth.

What made these heavenly angels so great was not only their affectionate motherly care but their beautiful smile. Their tender concern and generosity of spirit were reflected in their words and actions which inspired and encouraged us during our struggles and trials. We were truly blessed to have such treasured and dedicated Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco.

They immediately put us at ease by speaking our language and welcomed us with open arms. They also assigned us classmates who would assist and familiarize us with the schools’ procedures and surroundings.

Soon these became our first friends even though we communicated by gestures, these spoke clear message of sweet kindness.

That first summer, the sisters reassured us by teaching special classes to advance our studies and learning of English. I have learned the song to St. Dominic Savio which I managed to teach to my grandson who bears the name of his patron saint.

Gaetana Sclafani


Share a memory

Do you have a favorite Catholic school teacher? What did he or she do that inspired you? Tell us about it. Contact via email at peter.feuerherd@camdendiocese.org or via post at Teacher Memories, Catholic Star Herald, 15 North 7th St., Camden, NJ 08102. Please keep your reflections to under 300 words so that we can share them with Catholic Star Herald readers and on our diocesan website.

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