As the saying goes, it takes a village to educate our kids, and our national system of education comprises a wealth of public and private schools, both secular and religious, serving students K-12 and beyond. Our public school students enter Jesuit universities. Our religious high school alumni go to state colleges. Educators, in whichever school they teach, strive to educate students for college and career success. We all work together. I am writing this piece to honor a specific group of educators because last month a treasured teacher died. She was my Aunt Donna, and she was a School Sister of Notre Dame.
Sr. Donna Fischer lived on the grounds of Sancta Maria in Ripa campus of the Central Pacific Province of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) in St. Louis, Missouri. The SSND Central Pacific Province includes the state of Washington. According to Sr. Mary Kay Ash, the local archive contact for the SSND Mankato Province, the Sisters founded many schools in Washington: in Chewelah, Omak, Colton, Clarkson and Spokane. The school in Spokane, Trinity Catholic School, is still in operation.
These educators are partners with us in many profound ways. According to Sr. Ann Marie Bonvie, a dear family friend, they teach the same national standards that we do along with additional religion-based standards. When I look back at the teachers that most inspired me, they are those who were most passionate about their subjects, encouraging me to follow their example. A friend of mine had Aunt Donna as a teacher when she was in high school and now teaches First Grade herself. Sr. Mary Flick of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph had this to say about my aunt:
Sr. Donna Fischer was one of those “significant teachers” we all (hopefully) have at just the right time in life. She taught me Sophomore English at Rosary High School in North St. Louis County… I was a fledgling writer and she had a good eye for the written word. I trusted her as a teacher and editor. Fortunately for me, she liked my writing! Her affirmation and encouragement, sprinkled with helpful hints and rules of the English language were just what I needed as I moved toward my college career in communications and my profession as a public relations specialist and freelance writer.
Elsewhere, I have written about my experience teaching in a Catholic school. While the experience was not universally positive, the negatives had nothing to do with the school itself. My Aunt Donna, along with her Sisters, served her students faithfully. She was a constant sounding board for me as I developed my skills and commitments as a teacher. I have a vivid memory of the day that she spent in my music classroom, talking with all of the students in the school as they came through my room. She shared with them her experience of having worked in Sierra Leone, Africa. I still have the memento from Africa that she brought me that day- a piece of fabric with the image of Africa dyed on it.
So whatever your belief system, if you would, please take a moment and share my appreciation of these extraordinary women who have made the courageous commitment to dedicate their lives, in a special way, to education. Like all the best educators and systems of education, their reach is world-wide, impacting many countries and embracing many cultures. I never had Aunt Donna as a classroom teacher, but she taught me much. Her example of love, acceptance, courage, patience, kindness and determination continues to impact me, and through me, the lives of my students. She was an English teacher, so I will close with a quote from OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder:
We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.