Sister Justitia: An Extraordinary English Teacher

I recently attempted to ascertain what ever happened to a very special English teacher I once had at West Side Central Catholic HS, in Kingston, PA, in 1964/1965. After several attempts elsewhere, the Alumni Inquiry Office at the Bishop O’Reilly/West Side Central Catholic Alumni Inquiry Office, graciously wrote back and sent me her obituary, along with a PDF of sister from one other former student of hers in Oregon. The obituary did indeed explain the facts about her life, and sadly her demise in 1984, but it really did not do Sister’s life, nor her life’s work, the “justice,” she surely earned and deserves. In my very humble endeavor to “right that ship,” I offer a few thoughts and memories about this exceptional English teacher.

Sister Justitia was born, Marie Gertrude Downes, on April 15, 1893, in Birmingham, England, and moved to the United States with her family as a child. One fond memory she shared with some of her students, took place in England when she was very young. She and her family were watching a state parade pass by when her father, who knew Queen Victoria in some capacity, picked his daughter up to wave, and the Queen gave the little two-year old a kiss! Of course, Sister did not remember that event herself, but it was a sweet and special story her proud parents were able to regale her with over the years.

We all knew Sister as a former English barrister, who actually earned her Bachelor of Law degree from the University of Oregon. Unfortunately, the number of years she practiced law is unknown. However we do know that she took her vows in the IHM religious community, in Scranton, PA, after which she was then trained as a teacher. During her very long teaching career, Sister Justitia taught in schools in Portland, Oregon, Syracuse, New York, and Scranton, Pittston, and Kingston, Pennsylvania. I’m quite sure I can vouch for the fact that she was a very powerful and positive influence on hundreds, if not thousands of students. If my math is correct, she was already in her 70’s when she was my teacher in 1964/65, and she did not retire from teaching until 1971!

I’ll never forget our first week in her English class, when we were all instructed to write the following quotation in the center of the first page of our new composition books: “If it befalls you to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well, that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper, who did his job well.” Sister Justitia was the consummate educator. She inspired all of her students in so many different ways. She taught and instilled in us some of the great and unforgettable Socratic maxims such as, “Know thyself.” “Everything in moderation. Nothing in excess.” She taught us so many great life-lessons in addition to a knowledge of, as well as a love of Shakespeare, many other great authors and poets, and of course, the English language. Among some of our assignments, were the required summer book reports (with covers we had to design ourselves depicting the plot!), as well as the memorization and presentation of lines from William Shakespeare’s plays and Robert Frost’s poems, among others, which have been burned into our brains, even to this day!

Sister Justitia was a most dedicated and hard-working teacher who expected nothing less than one hundred percent from all of her students, such that we had better be well prepared each and every day for her class! She instilled in us a motivation to always do our best and at least strive for, if not always achieve, excellence. There was never a disciplinary problem in her classroom because she was somehow able to quietly command our attention and our respect…talk about always using just the right words. Even the wise guys knew enough not to step out of line in her class! When you walked into her classroom, you knew she meant business!   You knew you were there to learn.

Lastly, Sister was very serious about telling her students countless times that we should make it a habit to read for at least fifteen minutes before falling asleep at night. As a result of that excellent practice, I’ve read and enjoyed hundreds of books over my lifetime!

I personally wasn’t one of the intellectuals in our English class (and there certainly were many), but somehow I always felt a little sharper when I walked out of Sister’s classroom every day. As a matter of fact, I’m sure other classmates of mine could have articulated this tribute to her, more eloquently than I…but from my heart, I say, thank you, Sister Justitia. You’ve enriched my life immeasurably, and it was a great fortune and honor of mine to have been one of your students.

Looking back, Sister lived up to every word she instructed us to write in our composition books that first week of school. I can honestly say that: Sister Justitia taught school like Michelangelo painted and sculpted, like Beethoven played and composed music, and like Shakespeare wrote poetry and plays. Here lived a great teacher, who did her job brilliantly!

There were many excellent teachers at Central Catholic HS, but our very own British-American English teacher, Sister Justitia, stands out in my heart and mind, as truly one-of-a-kind.

Adele (Jancik) Kaschenbach

Reunion Report: Class of 1969

Central Catholic Class of 1969, celebrated its 50 year class reunion on Saturday, August 17, at the Holiday Inn, East Mountain.  During the reunion, 35 deceased classmates were memorialized. On the day of the reunion, a Mass for the intentions of the living and deceased members of the Class of 1969 was celebrated at the Church of St Ignatius, Kingston.  On June 10th, fifty years to the date of their graduation, classmates toured Good Shepherd Academy, the former Central Catholic/Bishop O’Reilly High School followed by a memorial Mass at St Ignatius.

Class of ’69 planning fiftieth reunion

Central Catholic Class of 1969 will celebrate its 50 year class reunion on Saturday, August 17, 2019 at the Holiday Inn Wilkes-Barre East Mountain, Wildflowers Restaurant and patio.  Cost is $65 per person and includes a cocktail hour with hors d’oeurves, food stations, wine, beer and soda, dessert.  There will be a cash bar for mixed drinks.  Dress is casual, no sports jacket/tie required.  The evening will include a trivia game based on memories of Central Catholic.  During the reunion, thirty-three deceased classmates will be memorialized.  The committee is seeking contact information, either postal or email for the following classmates: Rita Kathleen Chisko, Mary Ann Kale, Rosalyn Ann Renee Kohne, Frank Jerome Polinsky, Margaret Mary Riley, Martha Mary Sakevich, Susan Ann Stash.  Contact information may be emailed to: cchs69@comcast.net.  Masses for the intentions of the Living and Deceased Members of the Class of 1969 will be celebrated at the Church of St Ignatius, Kingston at 12:10 PM on Monday, June 10th, the 50th anniversary of the class’ graduation, and the day of the reunion at 4 PM on Saturday, August 17, 2019.

Class of 1969 planning 50th Reunion

The Central Catholic Class of 1969, is planning its 50th reunion. Contact information is needed for the following classmates: Kathy A. Fisher (Rally), Dolores M. Gober (Carr), Michael W. Handley, Paul O. Hoffman, Mary Ann Kale, Susan V. Klekota (Haase), Rosalyn A. Kohne (Ostrowski), James C. Matusek, Lorraine A. Mesaros (Kanasky), Peggy M. Riley (Shocklee), Martha M. Sakevich (Taylor), Susan M. Stash (Miller).

Updated contact information should be emailed to cchs69@comcast.net.  The reunion committee requests updates of names, postal mailing addresses and/or email addresses.  The 50th reunion will be held on Saturday, August 17, 2019 at 5:00 p.m. in Wildflowers Restaurant & patio, Holiday Inn/Wilkes-Barre (formerly East Mountain Inn).

Class of ’68 Reunion Update

The Kingston Central Catholic High School Class of 1968 is planning a 50th Class Reunion to be held July 21st 2018. The committee needs contact information for several class members. If you or someone you know has not been contacted, please call John Gildea 570-287-0168 or Patty Kondrak Kopec 570-709-7203.

Class of 1968 Reunion Update

A note from John Gildea:

Patty Kondrak Kopec, John Menzel and I have begun planning the 50th Reunion of the Central Catholic Class of 1968! We don’t have many details at this time but we are pleased to tell you that the DATE will be JULY 21, 2018. And we are fortunate to get one of the few remaining Saturdays at one of the most popular venues on the West Side:

The AppleTree Terrace
4 Newberry Estate
Dallas, PA 18612

http://appletreeterrace.com/

Facebook: The AppleTree Terrace

We Need You
1. We are not asking for a commitment at this time, however, we would like to gauge your level of interest, as we had to guarantee a minimum number of participants to the caterer. So spouses and companions are encouraged to join us. During the next week or so, please email me just to give me a non-binding YES or NO.

2. There are many classmates for whom we have NO contact info. If you know any who have never been contacted about a reunion, please tell them they can leave a message for me at 570-287-0168 or Patty at 570-709-7203. I will send out a list of Addresses Needed well in advance of the Reunion. Encourage those you know to update their address with me.