When did you know you had a vocation?
My older sister was already in the community. I went to the Academy at Mount Saint Mary College and I had the sisters who were still teaching; I think I wanted to become a teacher because of them. I couldn’t recreate the best parts of them, but I just admired them so. I wanted to be like them.
But I hadn’t really thought of becoming a sister. Then, my high school principal said to me, ‘What about doing what your sister did?’ When, the principal brought it up, I said, ‘Sure!’ The vocation must have been there all along, but I never brought it up, even to myself.
On September 8th, the day I entered, there was a sister standing on the steps crying her heart out; she had just entered. And my mother was saying, “That poor thing.” In reality, in a few hours, that was going to be me!
Did you cry when your parents left?
When my mother left, I cried. But I knew that my family was close. On Visiting Sundays, someone would always bring them down because they didn’t drive.
Did you know you wanted to teach?
I knew I would teach, but I was delayed from it by studying for a couple of years. I got my first degree at Catholic University, and then they sent me on to get my Master’s there in math.
I liked teaching better than studying, but I did a lot of studying. I got the BA in Mathematics from Villanova University, the MA in Geography from Catholic University, and an MS in Earth Science from American University in Washington, D.C. I used math as a minor for both of those Master’s. Then I didn’t use the Geography or Earth Science degrees because I became a principal for twenty years.
Did you know that you liked teaching right away?
Not right away. I had little first and second graders; I only minded them, I think. I was better with the older ones! I taught seventh and eighth grades at Bishop Dunn. Now, when I go back for Alumni Day, there are women there that I had in class!
I retired from teaching in 1983, served as the Director of Religious Education at the Church of the Holy Family in Sewell, NJ, and I retired from that position in 2005. I stayed on as an associate at the same parish and started a group there for senior citizens. I wanted to start it to have something for them to do. We met once a month; we would have talks or otherwise we played Bingo, different things. At that time, they were like a forgotten group, but now they’re one of the clubs of the parish. It’s still there—they call themselves the Owls.
I remember meeting with them for the first time, and I used the example of Father Damien of Molokai, who worked with lepers. When he talked to the lepers, he’d say, “You lepers.” Then, when he contracted the disease, he said, “We lepers,” and that’s when they knew he had leprosy.
So I would say, “We seniors.”
What was the most joyful part of being a sister?
You had so much contact with people. It was nice dealing with adults through the children, too.
What was the most difficult part of being a sister?
The idea that you didn’t have your family, except on visiting days. But then you developed a different type of family in the sisters.
What advice would you give to people who are approaching old age?
You have to keep active. Even if it’s only in your mind, keep active that way. Maybe you can’t be active in walking or by mobility, but you can stay active in your mind. I do puzzles—all different types of puzzles. And it helps.
Sister Mary Aquin passed away on May 12, 2015. This interview with her is from October 2014. Find her obituary here.