By Maryann Osmond
I met Sr. Audrey – Sr. Mary Kenneth – in January 1961, at St. Lucy School in Campbell. For my classmates and me school had been a dreary affair with a successive line of teachers, and the most recent one a 65 year-old grandmother who was a postulant. That’s right. A 65-year-old postulant. She left mid-year, thank God, to begin her canonical novitiate in Saratoga.
The arrival of Sr. Mary Kenneth rescued me from “the two bad rows.” The grandmother/postulant had some very odd ideas about discipline: She removed from “the general population” what she described as “the problems” and relegated us to the two bad rows. I was one of the founding members, and the first female member, I might add, and I remained happily ensconced in the bad row (second row, first seat) for most of the first semester.
And then the grandmother-turned-postulant left, and my 4th grade class welcomed the most wonderful teacher imaginable – Sr. Mary Kenneth. I don’t think that the movie, “Mary Poppins,” had been made yet, but we got our very own Mary Poppins – a magical presence, who swooped into our classroom and into our lives, and loved all of us unconditionally. I think her teaching philosophy really was “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down….” One of her first acts was to dismantle the two bad rows, and return the prisoners to the general population. “Bad” was not a word in her vocabulary.
At that time, the St. Lucy convent had not yet been built, so the Sisters who taught there commuted from the Villa in Saratoga. They drove an old green and wood station wagon – a woody – and most of the girls in my class hung around the parking lot every morning, waiting for them to arrive. We pushed and shoved each other to get to Sr. Mary Kenneth so we could carry her brown leather brief case. We each felt so special when Sr. Mary Kenneth handed her bag to one of us.
Sr. Mary Kenneth was a storyteller. Yes, she taught the academic subjects, but her teaching always included stories to illustrate a particular point, or maybe something just reminded her of a story. We didn’t care what the reason was, we just loved her stories:
- The one about her grandfather, who lived in the Mission District, who would walk blocks and blocks for a deal;
- And the hangar at Moffett Field – I remember her telling us that the space was so big that once a cloud formed inside of it — an image I have never forgotten, I think of her and that cloud every time I drive by;
- And I will never forget her story about Jose and the National Anthem (O say can you see). I found this story particularly interesting because I didn’t know anybody named Jose.
And Sr. Mary Kenneth’s best stories of all were the ones she told our class about Julie Billiart. St. Julie – Blessed Julie at the time – was introduced to us through a story. I remember, in particular, her telling us how Blessed Julie was cured of her paralysis and walked down the stairs, to the amazement of her Sisters. I even wrote a play about her walking down those stairs. Secretly, it was a play about Sr. Mary Kenneth because, seriously, who better embodied all that we loved in St. Julie?!
But my most enduring memory is one that happened every day after lunch when we returned to the classroom, pulled out our missals, got on our knees and prayed the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
That experience and that beautiful litany have stayed with me for years. I’ve thought about the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary many times since then, and some of those lyrical phrases still are with me today: “tower of ivory,” “mother of good counsel,” “cause of our joy.” And that last one is it: From 1960 – 1962, when we had the pleasure of her company, for the fourth and fifth graders at St. Lucy School, and the many hundreds of other children she taught – from Santa Barbara to Seahurst, Washington – Sr. Mary Kenneth was the “cause of our joy.”
May you rest in peace, Sr. Mary Kenneth, Sr. Audrey, and thank you for being such a loving presence to me and hundreds of other children. You are loved and you will never be forgotten.