Tuesday, August 24, 2021


1868 - 1952


Saint Theresa Academy, in my home parish of Saint Theresa of Avila near Rhodelia, Kentucky, was founded in 1868 by our pastor, Father Patrick MacNicholas. It opened as a boarding and day school operated by five  Sisters of Loretto. Their stay was short but effective. In 1870, the original six Sisters of Charity of Nazareth arrived to take over the education of eighteen boarders and forty-five day pupils. (Sister Generose O'Mealy (Superior), Sister Demetria Carey, Sister Marcelline Fleming, Sister Alma Cannon and Sister Raphaella O'Brien). Various Sisters of Charity Nazareth stayed for a total of one hundred and twenty-three years. Two Sisters of Charity of Nazareth died while missioned at the old Saint Theresa Academy and are buried in the old Saint Theresa Cemetery: Sister Hortulana Mahan (October 20, 1903) and Sister M. Loyola McNulty (January 28, 1919).  

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth served our parish faithfully for another forty-one years even after the old Academy building was torn down and a "new" smaller Saint Theresa School and Convent were built. The Sisters of Charity finally had to leave our parish in 1993. What a tremendous loss! 

At some point in it's history some of the overflow orphans from Saint Vincent Orphanage in Louisville were sent to Saint Theresa Academy as part of the group of boys who were "boarders." Together, they were locally called the "boarder boys."  That was before my time. It was surely about the time my father was a "day student" at the Academy. 

I went to the first and second grade in the old Saint Theresa Academy. My classroom was on the ground floor on the front right side of the bottom photo above. Each Sister taught two classes at the same time. Sister Mary Ancilla taught me in the first and second grade. 

The classrooms were heated with pot-bellied coal stoves. Each classroom had a woodbox to hold kindling used to get the fires started in the mornings by a janitor. There was no running water. All of us, including the Sisters, used an outhouse. Before lunch, one bucket of water and one empty bucket would be carried into the classrooms. With a dipper, each child would wet their hands with one dipper of water and wash them with a bar of soap. Then another dipper of water would be poured over them to rinse them off. Each child would be given a half of a paper towel to dry their hands. There would be a couple of outhouse beaks each school day. Emergencies were highly discouraged because you would have to put on your coat and walk through the rain or the snow to the outhouse.  If you were a good student, you would be "rewarded" with the job of sitting on the woodbox behind the stove to cut paper towels in half with a pair of dull scissors. 

I remember the classroom had a large crucifix, a picture of a Guardian Angel and two children, a picture of the Holy Family (a favorite of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth) and of course an American flag.  There were probably more religious pictures, maybe one of Pope Pius XII, but I do not remember them. The large printed alphabet cards to help us remember how to write them lined the walls above the blackboards. 

I remember one smell in particular - alcohol! That was when Mrs. Goddard, the nurse from the County Health Department, came to give us shots for this or that disease prevention. She would set up shop in a little room right outside our classroom, so we could not only smell the alcohol, but hear the screaming of other kids in the upper grades resisting the needle! 

The Chapel was right down the hall from from our classroom (first floor, first three windows on the left, in the photo above). I can't remember going to Mass there too much. Maybe it was because I had not yet made my First Communion or maybe I was just a "little heathen" with a poor memory.

The two windows to the left of the front door was the "Sister's Parlor," a dark serious room with large paintings that one never entered unless one was in trouble - and that trouble usually involved your parents.) Inside the front door was a beautiful, highly polished, wooden staircase to God-knows-where! It must have been up to the Sisters' private quarters. I did ascend it one time, just to the top step, and the only thing I remember was a chest of drawers with a large jar of Necco Wafters! I also remember no one offering me even one wafer nor an opportunity to simply help myself since the jar was out of reach and spying eyes seemed to be everywhere. Honestly, I think we all thought that Sisters came with eyes in the back of their heads! I just couldn't seem to wrap my mind around the fact of a whole jar of Necco Wafers just sitting there un-eaten! 

I do remember being invited into the Sisters Parlor (first window to the left of the front door in the photo above) on one special occasion in the second grade. It was a Saturday. Sister Mary Ancilla thought my "fire prevention poster" might be a "winner," so she invited me to come in and "touch it up," before she entered it in the County-wide poster contest. I thought that day would be the end of my "being honored," until a few weeks later my Dad told me that Sister Mary Ancilla had called to tell me that I had won the contest! I was presented a "Parker Pen and Pencil Set" by the County Superintendent in the lunch room in front of the whole school. That was the last time I remember being honored like that for a long, long time! 

I remember a few odd things like a classroom game of throwing corn into a hallowed out pumpkin for a prize around Halloween one year. I remember playing "baseball" in class. If you answered a question correctly, you got to move around the classroom to "bases" until you made it back to "homeplate." I am sure there was some small reward like a gold star glued to a piece of paper. Gold stars were the most traditional rewards one could earn back then. I remember all of us getting a free Coca-Cola pencil and writing tablet once a year. They brought as much joy as winning a lottery! 

I remember two events in the lunchroom when I was in the first grade. One was when I was going through the lunch line trying to balance a bowl of soup and a muffin on my tray. Sister Mary Ancilla was trying to help us manage the task  when my muffin rolled of my tray and onto the floor. She bent down to pick it up. I looked down and my bowl of soup slid off my tray and hit her in her starched bonnet. With vegetables all over it, the bonnet "melted" around her head and neck. This caused her to run out of the lunchroom and up the steps to her room to retrieve her "spare." Back then, seeing Sister's hair would have blinded a child for life - at least we thought!

The other event was the day they served liver, ground into a paste and rolled up in a ball. I couldn't stand liver then and I still detest liver today. I wasn't about to eat it, but I was too little to fight Sister over it, so I slipped it into a couple of borrowed paper napkins, put it into my pocket ever so carefully knowing that my turn to go to the outhouse was coming up immediately after lunch! Thank God for outhouses, I thought!

My last memories of my old classroom, with its pot-bellied coal stove, were the big rough sawn 2 X 10 beams they brought in to hold the ceiling and the seventh and eighth graders from crashing down on us and crushing us to death below them. The building was literally on it's last legs. 

In the 1951-1952 school year, we could watch the "new" school being built out on the lawn from our classroom. Then we could watch our old school being torn down from our classrooms in the "new" school. As young as I was at the time, I remember a great hole in the psyche of the whole community, once the majesty of the old Academy building was gone, that the "new" school could not fill.

Be sure to check out the second issue of the SAINT THERESA HERITAGE PARTNERS NEWSLETTER at the top of this webpage. 




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