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

Want to set up a class website?

I recently received an email from Zac Davis of ClassReport.org. If anyone is interested in setting up an individual class website, this might be a good option. Also, if you would like anything (reunion notices, class news, human interest stories, etc.) posted on bishoporeilly.org or our Facebook page, email me.

Those of you who aren’t fans of Bishop O’Reilly High School on Facebook might have missed a fascinating post. Last fall, a recording of the 1988 commencement exercises were posted on Youtube. If you haven’t seen it, do check it out. It will be a great trip down memory lane for many graduates, I’m sure.

A New September Inspires Heart, Mind, and Spirit

A few back to school memories from the ’73 Queen:

Entering Central Catholic for the first time since June, we noticed a significant change. The walls smelled of fresh paint, the first floor corridor boasted of a new terrazo covering, and the new gym floor was covered with a tarp. As we looked again, however, nothing really changed. Old friends returned and the spirit of Central Catholic sparked anew. The opening assembly ushered in the school year as it had many times before. Soon we were walking through the halls, fumbling with lockers, and making the most of a few moments of study. September was here and with it a challenging beginning.

1986: New Beginnings

September 1985 ushered in a year of “new beginnings” for Bishop O’Reilly High School. Faced with near closure the year before, students looked forward to another year at their beloved school. With August usually comes some sadness at end of summer vacation. But in 1985, Queensmen were grateful to return home to Bishop O’Reilly. Nearly losing the school must have been quite a wake up call to students, parents, and teachers alike: count your blessings. The 1985-1986 school year, however, was a joyful time. A time of new beginnings, yes, but cause for celebration as well. “Bishop O’Reilly will stay open.”


Click on the thumbnails to see the yearbook images full size.

As we come to the end. . .

Could you believe that it has been one year already? It seems like yesterday we stood outside of the Bishop O’Reilly High School building and said our final good-byes, or for some it may be the moment you first walked into your freshmen homeroom on the first day of school all those years ago. And with the end winding down, for some, it marks the start of their new lives such as going off to college, or new jobs, and for others, with only final exams left, their just glad that summer vacation is here. 

This past year has been hard for most of us, starting at a new school, new teachers, with people who we saw as our rivals on the playing field, and at the start, many thought that a Queensman and an Argent or an Eagle could never become great friends. But as the year went on friendships were formed, rivals became teammates, events were planed, cheered for the red and gold, dances were attended, report cards were sent home, games were played, test were taken, detentions were given, and we said our good-byes to the graduating class of 2008.

 So as we hold our memories and friends from Bishop O’Reilly or West Side Central Catholic dear to our hearts, we can now share those memories with our old and new friends and the enjoy the new memories we have made over this past year. We will always be Queensmen or Queenswomen but for some we can also say we are the Royals.

Mr. Lynch Stories Request

I received a request for some stories about our favorite English teacher, Mr. Lynch, and was hoping that members from various BOR classes may be able to help.  Mr. Lynch is retiring at the end of this school year and his daughter Amy has set up an email address here to send your Mr. Lynch stories:

mr.lynch.stories (AT) gmail.com

(Please note, you’ll need to edit that address to replace the _(AT)_ with an @ sign)

Mr. Lynch’s wife and daughter (Ada and Amy) are asking those who know Mr. Lynch to send stories, memories, etc… Ada says if you don’t have a story, at least send a joke because he needs new ones 🙂 by May 31st. They plan to have the stories bound and will present them at his retirement dinner.

Here’s a story that I had sent and Ada’s response to it:

One of my favorite memories about Mr. Lynch was when we were trying to get him to make a funny face that we could catch on film. Someone came up with the idea to have Mr. Lynch describe the word ‘scowl’, knowing full well that he would demonstrate it rather than try to describe it. At the moment he did that, someone popped up and snapped a picture of him. I think it made it into a publication, possibly the yearbook….?

After sending in that story, I received this response from Ada:

“Thank you so much for helping spread the word about Jim’s booklet. I had to write and tell you that you have solved a riddle that Amy and I have wondered about for years. One of her favorite pictures of her Dad is the one you described. She thought it was such fun that she had it enlarged and framed after finding it in a photo album. She owns a restored farmhouse and when you walk into the vestibule there hangs Dad in all of his scowling glory. It is in black and white and of course is a real conversation starter. Your class was one of his favorites and again thank you for taking part in this surprise. I know that this will be the best gift that we could give him. When my grandaughters were home at xmas, I took them to Holy Redeemer to visit him and took their pictures with Jim behind his desk. This will be the cover of the booklet.

It was great hearing from you.

Ada”

So please feel free to pass along any memories you have of Mr. Lynch to the email above, and if you wish to share it will other class members, please copy me on the email and I’ll either post it here or on our Class of 1977 weblog.  My email address is:

lee810@yahoo.com

Thanks,

Lee Devlin
Class of 1977

Definitely a conversation piece

Good morning and welcome to WBOR. Today is Thursday, September 20 and it is Day 4…

O’Reilly grads from the 90’s and 00’s will surely remember that line, used daily by a cheery WBOR announcer (Deviation from the official text was frowned upon by Sister Magdalen). You may be surprised to learn, however, that WBOR is not only the station of choice for the Queensmen, but that Garfield enjoys the programming as well. Check out this video:

Funny, I don’t remember Binky the Clown following the annoucements. Wait, didn’t Channel 1 come on next?

Okay, I admit it’s a little lame. But lately there haven’t been any comments on the website. So I have a good excuse; the fact that Garfield is one of my favorite cartoons is just sheer coincidence. That being said, I guess it’s okay for Lee to post about his favorite rock groups now. But seriously, the fun part about having a blog is that anyone can comment and share a story, memory, or rant. So go ahead, click below and add a comment to this post. Let’s get the ball rolling!