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On a visit to the Shrine of Knock in Ireland, Sister Rosario Delaney made up her mind to enter the convent with the Sisters of Mercy in Drogheda. She was prepared to go where God was calling her, but little did she know that it would involve moving to a little country parish thousands of miles away in Ballwin, Missouri.
Since her arrival at Holy Infant School in 1964, Sister Rosario has witnessed the booming growth of this vibrant suburban parish and school. First as a teacher for 15 years and then principal for the past 35, she's become known as someone who expects much of her students — but someone who fiercely loves them, too. Last week, Holy Infant celebrated her 50th anniversary at the school in grand style, with Masses, a luncheon and special program put on by students and teachers.
Special guests included former Holy Infant pastors and associate pastors; Sister Rosario's brother, Michael Delaney, and sister, Margaret Hearns, and their spouses; Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a graduate of Holy Infant School; Sister Rosaline O'Connor, provincial leader of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland; and Sister Clare Loughran, whom Sister Rosario has known since high school and together entered the community novitiate.
"I have so many friends with so many memories," she said, trying not to tear up at a school celebration Sept. 29. "Some of you go back 50 years, and some of you I have known more recently. But above all, I thank God for our children. I can honestly stand here and say there was never a child I didn't like. I wouldn't change one day of it."
At an outdoor all-school Mass on the feast of the archangels, Cardinal Dolan said: "God continues to give us angels. You've been an angel to us. The school that she has loved and cherished and labored for comes together to say, 'God is good,' because God gave us Sister Rosario."
"It's easy to spend 50 years here," Sister Rosario said. "It's such a vibrant parish, it's very family oriented and truly alive in Christ. I love the part of our mission statement (for the school) that says we strive to teach as Jesus did — in faith, with love and respect, helping each child to achieve his or her full spiritual and academic potential."
At her celebration, Sister Rosario's friends and family members shared their favorite memories of her. Here are just a few:
Michael Delaney, Sister Rosario's younger brother
"I think she had her vocation before she went to Knock. As a young lad, a visiting circus came to our little village of 600 people (Clogerhead, County Louth). They had for the first time a slot machine. And we as young lads discovered that if you put in a screwdriver just so, we didn't have to put in any money. So, we did very well with this new found wealth. But when I went back home, I couldn't conceal my excitement. So, I admitted to (Sister Rosario) and she sent me post haste back down to put every dime back into the machine. And to add insult to injury, as we were putting the coins back, we were winning occasionally. So we had to keep putting them back into the machine."
Eileen Quinlan, former first grade teacher
Quinlan was part of a group of lay teachers at the school when it opened in 1956. Holy Infant was one of the first schools in the archdiocese at that time to have a school staff totally comprised of lay women. In 1957, the first Sisters of Mercy from Ireland came to Holy Infant.
When Sister Rosario arrived in 1964, "she was young and full of life," Quinlan recalled. "She probably thought we were all a little bit weird ... a little bit American, you know. She liked to dance. She would show the girls the Irish dances, she and Sister Bosco" (Daly, the second grade teacher). The sisters taught them those dances "anyplace," said Quinlan.
Jim Silvernail, former chief of Metro West Fire Protection District
Silvernail has been a part of Holy Infant Parish since he was 14. As a young firefighter, he would help clean around the school and church on his days off. But Silvernail best got to know Sister Rosario as former chief with the Metro West Fire Protection District. "Sister used to call me during fire prevention week, and she'd say, 'Chief, you've got to let me know when you're coming out to do the fire drill,'" he said. When he arrived, Sister Rosario made sure the kids were standing straight in line. "Sister is probably the biggest motivator of discipline," he said. "She's got the respect from them, and she's really the one that made Holy Infant what it is."
“We have sisters.”
That was the happy news out of Holy Infant Parish in 1957, when pastor Father Robert Schwegel announced that four Sisters of Mercy from Ireland would be coming to staff the school that year. The school, which opened in 1956, originally had a staff entirely comprised of lay women.
The sisters — Mary Xavier O’Donnell, Mary Berchmans Digan, Mary Gertrude Duffy and Mary Bosco Daly — came from the Convent of Mercy in Drogheda, County Meath. Bishop Glennon Flavin made the arrangements to bring the sisters to the Ballwin school, which had 350 students at the time.
Father Schwegel had contacted more than 100 religious communities in the United States and several in Germany in an effort to find teaching sisters. Bishop Flavin noted that Ireland had one of the highest vocation ratios in the world and said that the country had an ability to provide priests and nuns for dioceses where shortages exist. Bishop Flavin made a 1,600-mile tour of convents during his visit to Ireland.
In 1964, Sister Rosario Delaney came to Holy Infant and started out as a first-grade teacher. She taught for 15 years before becoming principal, a role in which she has served for the last 35 years.
More Multimedia Slideshows
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