By Monica Morrey Bayer
Recently I was saddened to receive the news of the death of Sister Bertha Fischer, known to her students at St. Pius X in Festus, Missouri, as Sister Mary Austin.
Though she figured in my life for only two years, her inspiration has lasted a lifetime. When she attended our St. Pius X High School Class of 1966 50th reunion, I hope we grads conveyed that we loved and respected her tremendously.
She was sweet and dear, and never had a discipline problem. She modeled for students like me a grace and dignity that we could emulate.
I majored in French because of her, went to France on a Rotary scholarship and taught French in Catholic schools for 10 years.
Sister Mary Austin (we never knew her baptismal name) taught French, but I was in a track to take Latin. But as a 16-year-old, I dreamed of speaking French and visiting French castles, and that would not happen studying Latin.
So, during my junior and senior years, I was “allowed” to take French with the very kind and gentle Sister Mary Austin. I loved French and subsequently majored in French and English Education (thanks, Sister Gabrielle Rowe) and taught both for 10 years before becoming a school counselor.
I was blessed to visit France many times. I still love castles.
We were all impressed with Sister Mary Austin’s loving kindness and gentle nature. I remember her dark brown eyes (which were green when I saw her two years ago!), and the fact that she was so patient with all her students, especially the boys who didn’t do their homework. More than one boy had a crush on her.
When I read her obituary, I realized Sister Austin was only 13 years older than we were, which means she was only 30 when she taught us! How young to have such confidence and grace! At our reunion, I praised Sister Austin for being so very clever that she learned Italian and lived in Rome for many years representing English-speaking Adorers. She just smiled.
Upon hearing of Sister’s death, I dug out an old photo of Sisters Gabrielle and Austin skating with my little sister, Ellen, on the pond behind St. Pius X. Considering that my Mom had just had her seventh child at age 44, I suspect that the Sisters were in fact helping to babysit and to teach Ellen to skate. I remember driving all my siblings out to the pond to skate while Mom took care of our surprise baby.
I am sure she skates with the angels now.
Rest in Peace, Sister Mary Austin, and may you abide in His presence forever.
Know that you were loved and remembered by your students.