Teacher memories from our readers


Following are some of the stories received to the Clarion Herald's question: "Was there a teacher in Catholic elementary or high school who deeply influenced your life? The Clarion Herald would like to hear your story (in 150 or fewer words) about the teacher who went the extra mile to help you when you needed it most."

Although I had a great education in grammar school at Mater Dolorosa, I can never forget Benedictine Sister Mary Johnette, my eighth-grade teacher.
 
She was young, inspiring and ready to listen and help in any way she could.
 
Her enthusiasm for teaching was what prepared us to move on to high school. Imagine trying to teach 13-year-olds algebra!
 
She was awesome as an individual and a wonderful role model. I thank God for her because she was, indeed, a gift.

 – Marilyn Turner


I recall pretty Mercy Sister Mary Madeleine, at Holy Name of Jesus School. We were her first class. She was eight years older than we were and always a favorite.

As a disciplinarian, to keep order when she was out, she would ask a student to note the girls who broke silence. That trait impressed me so much I still remember the surprises it caused. She was principal of several schools. Later, her nursing degree guaranteed a prominent place on the staff at Mercy Hospital. I recall Madeleine briskly walking, climbing fences and riding an ATV in Covington, her veil flying. I loved her dearly, and her memory remains in my 95th year. God bless her and the Sisters of Mercy!

– Irma Marie Stiegler, author


I was an incoming pre-freshman at Jesuit High in 1969, and my parents heard about a one-week summer enrichment program for new students. The idea was to brush-up on math, reading and study skills.

The first teacher I met was Mr. Bill Brown, whose gray hair and yat-like accent instantly qualified him as a person of interest. He told us, “In the next 10 minutes, I’m going to teach you how to memorize a list of 25 things at the grocery store so that you never have to write it down again.”

To me, that was an unbelievable claim. In the next few minutes, Mr. Brown told us how to dream up wild, technicolor images in our heads that would play out like a cartoon episode. “Bananas” was a movie clip of me slipping on a pile of banana peels; “milk” was someone pouring a gallon of milk on my head; and so on.

The sequence went from “Shot No. 1” to “Shot No. 25.” As crazy as it sounds, it worked. It was more foolproof than tapping out a note on an iPhone.

The only problem is now I have no excuses when I actually forget the milk. Maybe I should have kept this my little secret.

– Peter Finney Jr.


I enrolled in De La Salle High as a freshman in 1963 and quickly found myself in a behavioral and academic tailspin. Brother Bernard, a Christian Brother, was an old, silver-haired, quiescent bear of a man who was my homeroom advisor and religion teacher. For some reason, even though I liked no adults at the time, I liked him. So when he asked for a volunteer to sell football tickets on Saturday afternoons at the brothers’ house, I did.

Saturday after Saturday, dealing with all that money (to a boy who got a $2 a week allowance) took a moral toll on me, so I hatched a scheme to skim a few dollars. About an hour before closing on the afternoon of the heist, Brother Bernard showed up and sat down next to me.

He looked at me in a kindly manner and said, “You have been so generous to do this job. Why don’t you take off early, and I’ll finish up for you? And, here, take $5 for yourself.”

I had never felt such guilt or mortification. Now retired after teaching for over 40 years, I realize he was one of many Catholic educators who chose the perfect time to be kind and insightful.

– James F. Roth, Ph.D., Covington



There are two teachers at the Catholic schools I attended that influenced my life in ways that may not have happened had I not met them – and for which I am forever grateful.

I attended grammar school at Immaculate Heart of Mary. In my eighth grade year, I had Sister Victoranne, a Sister of Christian Charity (no last names back then), who introduced us to classical music, most memorable of which was an album she played for us called “The Firebird Suite” by Igor Stravinsky.

The sounds created such a vision in my mind’s eye and a love of instrumental music, which made my heart sing, that from then on, I developed a love of all types of music.

I became involved in glee club in high school, chamber choir in college and continue to be involved in church music in my adult life. My life is enriched by music, particularly church music, and the friendships made. I pray that love of Christ is carried by my vocal chords when I cantor at Mass from time to time.

Then I attended St. Joseph Academy which was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille (now the Congregation of St. Joseph), which, little did I know, was considered a “progressive” school because they accepted all who applied – black, white, Hispanic, etc. – and assisted with tuition to enable us to attend.

I had several favorite teachers, and one was Sister Kathleen Pittman, who taught us civics, whom I met again working at the Clarion Herald in her capacity as pastoral assistant at St. Gabriel the Archangel Church. She opened my mind to the inequalities of the times (1967-68, my freshman year) not long after desegregation had taken place.

We were a small student body, so everyone knew everyone, and it was very conducive to learning how to live as life was intended to be lived – with caring and love of all.

Our class is still close, and I have admired Sister Kathleen’s involvement with her parishioners at St. Gabriel over the years, observing how much they also loved her.

Both the buildings “ain’t dere no more,” but the life lessons I learned within their walls by these teachers have enriched me. And I will always be thankful to Sisters Victoranne and Kathleen. God bless you both.

– Jonelle LeBlanc Foltz, Immaculate Heart of Mary Class of 1967; St. Joseph Academy Class of 1971


Eddie Toribio was my football and track coach and also my math teacher at Jesuit High School.

Coach Toribio demonstrated genuine interest and compassion when, as a young, immature adult, I developed some outside issues unrelated to school. His counsel and advice were instrumental in helping me resolve my issues.

Coach Toribio never forgot his students.

Years later, while serving in the military in Europe, out of the blue I received correspondence from him, still interested in how I was doing and inquiring about my overall welfare.

Coach Toribio was not only a coach and teacher but also an individual who had the capacity to show empathy and patience in understanding his students. Eddie Toribio died an early death in 1958.

– A.J. Ruiz, Mandeville


 

I am forever grateful to Marilyn Heap, my seventh- and eighth-grade religion teacher at St. Angela Merici School in the 1970s. 


Mrs. Heap is truly amazing – strong, smart, caring and loving.


One day there was a fight brewing among some of the boys at recess. Immediately she was there; first defusing the situation and then holding hands and praying, right there in the middle of the playground!


Wow! It was a powerful moment!


Mrs. Heap gathered us for prayer meetings after school, taught us how to pray and serve the community, gave us a shining example of how Jesus wants us to live. She encouraged me to play guitar, and I became a part of the music ministry throughout my school years.


This devoted teacher is still at it today! It has been almost 45 years since grade school, and I am again blessed to be her student in Bible study at St. Angela Merici.


Love always to my beloved teacher, Marilyn Heap. 

 

– Beth Licciardi Schwander 

 

At a time when schools  had just integrated, I went to St. Anthony School in Gretna. There resided the sisters, who taught the younger grades. 


I was a Native child, from a tribe that had claims of hiding and was coming out from the swamps of Louisiana.


The nuns were always smiling and kind and had a classroom that rivaled modern school environments.


What caught my attention in particular was their knowledge on local culture, history and customs. I brought a crawfish, and they shared with the class, without outing me, the tribal customs and symbolism of it.


They also shared religious teachings in complementary ways to ourselves.


One day I heard in church how they worked out of love and did not receive equal stipend to that of a lay teacher, and I felt moved to pray for them.


I believe they still need prayers.  


Bryant Billiot 

Talking Leaf

 

Sister Pauline of St. Agnes School, which opened in 1941, was my favorite teacher. She gave me the courage to get before my classmates and sing my favorite song “Amapola,” sung originally by Jimmy Dorsey, at least once a month.


She always said, “Give it all you have.”


God bless her.

 


– Victor Gallo

 

 

A group of students in St. Ann’s eighth-grade graduating class of 1985 requested Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” to be our class song.


Msgr. Duke considered it, but after listening to these lyrics – “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all” – he said, “I’ve heard enough. This song is inappropriate. Learning to love the Lord is the greatest love of all.”


And that was it.


I don’t remember what our class song was or if we even had one, but this simple lesson deeply influences me every day. 


Msgr. Duke is one of my heroes.


May Eternal Light shine upon him.

 


Jerry Christopher Jr. 

 

My teacher and mentor in life is Mrs. Mae Hallaron. She exemplified Christianity by instilling compassion, love and spirituality in her students at Mater Dolorosa.  Her enthusiasm flourished as she bounced around the classroom from one student to the next, making sure they understood as she taught.


She adamantly encouraged us to look up to Jesus during the consecration, not down! She seized every opportunity to expose her girls to life. We were invited to a segment of “Open House at the Monteleone” (a TV show), using the experience to teach us to dress like a young lady.


The school paper drive was an opportunity to teach competition and life lessons. She warmly welcomed her students into her home and drove us all around Uptown picking up paper. We won every paper drive! She was also an amazing wife and mother. 


God Bless Mrs. Hallaron!

 

Felicie (Phyl) Lobello Cornman      

 

Sixty-four to 65 boys and girls made up the first fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes of Immaculate Heart of Mary. Sister Adele was our seventh-grade teacher, and she enriched our lives by sharing her childhood.


She was the only girl in a family with eight boys and often shared her memories with us. Besides her love of the World Series, she inspired us all by reading aloud a chapter of a good mystery as a reward for good behavior.


Her desk sat atop a large plywood platform, so she could see to the back of the class.  Despite her petite 4-foot-9 frame, she managed to corral all 32 of the seventh-grade boys to do what they were supposed to.


Today, with emphasis on small classrooms, I often think about us sharing five years of our lives in one classroom, under the firm, but loving discipline of Sister Adele.

 

– Karen LeBlanc Castjohn, Slidell, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Class of 1961
 

 

I attended St. Frances X. Cabrini Elementary School in the Oak Park neighborhood from kindergarten through eighth grade. Three teachers come to mind who had a lasting impact on me.

 


First is Mrs. Josie Folse, my kindergarten teacher. She gave me the basic information: to pay attention, think before you act or speak, and be respectful to all. Once you learned these three things, everything else was easier. Mrs. Folse also taught four of my five children.


Second is Mrs. Sarrat, my seventh-grade science and math teacher. She instilled a sense of order and wonder in my life of what mankind had accomplished and had yet to be discovered.


Third was my eighth-grade English composition teacher, Sister Louise Augustine. Everyone knows her today as Sister Helen Prejean. I always dreaded English composition, but Sister Louis Augustine was passionate about it. Through her persistence I developed an inquiring mind and an appreciation of it, though I still struggle with it.


– Michael V. Foltz

 

Sister of the Holy Family Alicia Costa, my eighth-grade teacher at All Saints School in Algiers, deeply influenced my life. Sister Alicia was amazing. She taught math and science (long before STEM was popular), played guitar, sang beautifully and required journal writing.

 


During this time, I had no ideas about my future. It was through journaling that I unveiled my strength in writing. I looked forward to receiving Sister’s comments each week. Her words were always encouraging. As a result of her positive feedback, I continued writing throughout high school. I was comfortable selecting mass communications as a major at Xavier University. I served as editor of the Xavier Herald newspaper and earned my degree.


My career has spanned more than 20 years in the communications industry. I attribute my success to many great teachers; however, Sister Alicia is one who affected my life when I had no clear path.

­
–  Eurydice Bush-Harrison, All Saints Parish, 
New Orleans


 

Holy Cross High School, 1979, my Junior Prom.


My teacher, Mike Noonan, strayed from the everyday routine of English class to have a purposeful and much-needed discussion about etiquette.

 


Picking up your date, walking to the door, meeting the parents, making eye contact, shaking hands with a firm handshake and being respectful.


Walking your date to the car, opening the door, exiting the car at the restaurant, again opening the door and opening the door at the restaurant.


Pulling the chair out for your date and allowing her to order first.


Standing up when she began to exit the table.


Knowing the layout of the silverware and how and when to use it.


Chewing with your mouth closed, elbows off the table – the gentleman stuff.


Things that come naturally – at least they come naturally now.


If none of my other classmates got it, I certainly did. I’d like to think I still have etiquette, and for that I thank Mike Noonan!


– Doug Eckert, Our Lady of the Lake Parish, Mandeville

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