The Broadway run of Sister Venard and her former student

The Broadway run of Sister Venard and her former student

For 14 years Joe Quigley of Haddon Heights and his former teacher, Sister Mary Venard (now Sister Jane Dever), went to Broadway shows, returning after each trip with fresh flowers for the nuns at the motherhouse.

It had been 40 years since Joe Quigley graduated from Saint John School in Collingswood where he had been taught by the Sisters of Mercy. And now, while scanning the room at an event the sisters were attending, he wasn’t seeing nuns wearing the floor length black habits and starched white bibs and rounded veils he remembered from his childhood. Most of the women were dressed in business suits and none of them looked like Sister Mary Venard.

She had been one of his favorite teachers, which was a good thing because he was in her class three times, for fifth, seventh and eighth grades.

He asked around and Sister Venard, now going by Sister Jane Dever, was pointed out. So the boy who had grown up to become a professional baseball umpire and the woman who had devoted her life to Catholic education sat down to talk. About old times; about the school and its faculty and staff; about Quigley’s classmates, his work and family; about Sister Jane’s other assignments. And when they stopped talking, three and a half hours had passed. The room was mostly cleared out, the food put away, and they left to go their separate ways. But with an agreement to meet again.

Quigley has a passion for theater, so when he learned Sister Jane had never seen a Broadway show, he gave her a homework assignment: go on Broadway.com and pick out a show she would like to see. He would do the rest.

Later, when Quigley showed up at the motherhouse in Watchung, N.J., where the retired sister now lives, and checked on her homework, she joked that “the dog ate it.” But he drove her and another sister into Manhattan, took them to TKTS booths in Times Square for discount theater tickets and paid for three tickets to “Les Miserables,” one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history. The seats were not together and Quigley, who was in the balcony, still remembers the image of the two sisters in box seats, watching the show from opposite ends of the stage.

Thus began a tradition that lasted for 14 years. Quigley would pick up Sister Jane, sometimes with a companion and sometimes not, and they would go to Broadway for a show, always a musical. She loved them all, Quigley said. After the show, they would eat at Sardi’s Restaurant at West 44th Street, and then pick up a bouquet of flowers for all the sisters at the motherhouse to enjoy.

They did it four times a year, in January, April, July and October. And with practice, Sister Jane got pretty good at another aspect of theater-going that Quigley enjoys: getting autographs. “She became good at elbowing in,” Quigley said.

But the Broadway run, like even the most popular productions, had to come to an end.

Quigley, 73, who lives in Haddon Heights, still umpires at high school and college games. And he still goes to Broadway, but nowadays accompanied by his daughter, who also has a passion for the theater.

The trips to Manhattan became too difficult for Sister Jane, now 91. But Quigley still visits her occasionally, and he encourages other former students to contact her also. (Mount Saint Mary, 1645 U.S. Highway 22 West, Watchung, NJ 07069-6588. Phone, 908-754-3663) “She likes dark chocolate and fresh flowers,” Quigley said.

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