Sr. M. Alvera O’Grady: Watching Children Blossom Is Highlight of 62-Year Teaching Career

| January 20, 2010

Now working as a volunteer after 62 years of teaching, Sr. Alvera still shares lessons in faith with the younger students at Bishop’s Academy at Holy Family.

By Caroline K. Reff

Ask almost any of the hundreds of students who have passed through the halls of the Bishop’s Academy at Holy Family in Fairmount (formerly Holy Family School) over the past 19 years what they remember and most will certainly recall some pivotal experience that involved Sr. M. Alvera O’Grady, OSF. Some give her credit for their ability to print perfectly formed letters of the alphabet. Others remember fondly their stage debut in “Ten Little Indians,” a Thanksgiving classic; or can still recite their poetic job description from Sister’s annual vocation play. Most bring to mind her influence on them as they prepared to receive their First Communion, and a few even recall “Sr. Al-bear-a,” a stuffed Build-A-Bear one first grade class presented to her complete with signature wire-rimmed glasses, black habit and crucifix.

Given all the memories, the community of Holy Family had mixed emotions when Sr. Alvera announced her retirement in June of 2009 after 62 years of teaching. However, while she no longer teaches first grade (in what has since been dedicated as “The Sr. Alvera Room”), she still returns faithfully every Monday to give a religion lesson to the younger grades and share the same qualities that have made her such an outstanding gift to the Syracuse Diocese for so many years.

“Children need some guidance. The Lord knew that,” she said, citing the passage “Let the little children come to me” from the Gospel of Matthew. “I taught first grade through most of my career, and I love that age because each is like a bud just opening up. I always tried to make parents understand that each will blossom in his or her own time — and only the Lord knows just when the right time is.”

Sr. Alvera has tried to instill that deep sense of faith in all of her students and credits Catholic schools for “educating the soul and body together.” She acknowledges that the fast-paced lives of today’s families are very different from her early days as a teacher, but she takes that as a sign that Catholic education has become that much more important. “It’s difficult for some of today’s parents to make the time for religion, so I’m honored I can assist with that,” she said. “Sometimes it’s up to those of us teaching in Catholic school to lead the children to the presence of God.”

Through six decades of teaching, 40 years of which were in the Diocese of Syracuse, Sr. Alvera said she never dreaded a day of school. A two-time cancer survivor, even when she was ill she “couldn’t wait to get back there. I knew my students were eager and wanted to learn.”

That strong spirit certainly made an impression on students and parents alike. “Everyone loves Sr. Alvera,” said parent Karen Connell Wheeler, whose two daughters, Emily, a sophomore at Bishop Ludden; and Casey, a freshman at Providence College and the 2009 Bishop Ludden valedictorian, both had Sr. Alvera in the first grade. “I credit her for giving my girls a solid foundation that helped them take full advantage of the opportunities our Catholic schools have to offer. That’s not something you can find just anywhere. Sr. Alvera is special, and we have been so fortunate to have her at Holy Family.”

For now, that good fortune continues, at least on Mondays when Sr. Alvera heads into school to give students in kindergarten, first and second grades a brief religion lesson and then volunteers in the library until the end of the day. And, while she is officially “retired,” Sr. Alvera hardly schedules herself any down time during the rest of her week, as she also volunteers at St. Camillus Health and Rehabilitation Center and St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center.

Still, Sr. Alvera enjoys her greater sense of flexibility and is comfortable with her decision to retire. “The Lord told me it was time, but I am pleased that He still allows me the ability to spend a few hours with these wonderful children,” she said.

The students at Bishop’s Academy at Holy Family wholeheartedly agree.

Caroline K. Reff is a free-lance writer and public relations consultant in Syracuse, NY.

Category: Catholic Identity, Featured

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