Last Sister of Charity retires from St. William School
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The Catholic Telegraph
“It was a blessing and an adventure.”
That’s how Sister of Charity of Cincinnati Helen Attenweiler describes her educational ministry, which spanned 56 years. Thirty-seven of those years were spent at St. William School in Price Hill, where the members of her religious community taught generations of children for more than a century. Sister Helen retired at the end of May, the last remaining Sister of Charity to serve at the west side school, passing the torch to a new generation of teachers and leaving behind a tradition of Catholic education that formed the faith of countless children over the years.
Sister Helen’s role in that legacy was recognized at an all-school Mass at St. William on May 22. Approximately 30 Sisters of Charity, many of whom also taught at the school, were present, along with other guests. After Mass, the St. William PTO and faculty members served them breakfast in the school library. That afternoon, Sister Helen was also recognized at an all-school assembly, featuring music from the Elder High School Glee Club under the direction of Dave Allen, music director at St. William Parish. Guests also enjoyed a visit from Rosie Red, a special treat for Sister Helen, who is a big Cincinnati Reds fan.
A native of Troy, Ohio, Sister Helen entered the Sisters of Charity in 1955, drawn to the community by the sisters’ love for God and hospitality. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of Mount St. Joseph and later earned a master’s in education from Xavier University. Her teaching ministry began in 1957 at a Catholic school in Detroit. She also taught in Springfield and at St. Lawrence School in Price Hill before being assigned to St. William.
“I didn’t want any kind of celebration,” Sister Helen admitted. “I just wanted to walk into the sunset. They insisted, though, and I was humbled by and grateful for the whole thing.”
“I’ll miss the kids and the teachers so much”, added Sister Helen, who taught kindergarten, first and second grade at St. William, and for the last 10 years, did remedial literacy work with the children. “The students were just open, happy and friendly. I loved every minute of it. And, the teachers are the best, very dedicated and very considerate. They’re the glue that holds the place together. They don’t get half of the credit they’re due.”
Pam Schroth, who has taught kindergarten at St. William for the past 18 years, was quick to give credit to Sister Helen saying, “She was a wonderful example for all of us, teaching with a sense of humor and a manner that brought out the best in everybody. The children, teachers and parents respected her, and I feel lucky to have worked with her. We are definitely going to miss her. “
Sister Helen’s faith, dedication and love for her students were shared by the many other Sisters of Charity who served the school over the years. Members of the religious community were first assigned to teach at the newly erected elementary school in 1911, taking up residence at Cedar Grove (the present site of Seton High School) and welcoming 130 students. The number of Sisters serving as faculty members grew as the school did and they were an integral part of its expansion over the years. Past living principals include Sisters Mary Alicia Bomya and Annette Paveglio.
“I remember fondly my years at St. William,” Sister Annette said. “The SC spirit was alive in the parish and school and the sisters were always appreciated for their parents and leadership. Parents placed a great importance on their children receiving a Catholic education. I always felt connected, appreciated and engaged with all in the parish community.”
Sister Cookie Crowley recalls the friendly, neighborhood atmosphere and how the schoolyard seemed to be a gathering place for families who lived nearby. The faith of those families was “always very alive and they had great respect for the sisters,” she said. “We always welcomed them at the convent, day or night, and they knew where to come for a listening ear. “
While their presence will be missed, the sisters’ legacy at St. William will live on. Meanwhile, Sister Helen is looking forward to the next step on her journey of faith. She moved to the sisters’ Delhi Township motherhouse in June and said she has no big plans yet for her retirement. She would eventually like to return to ministry as a literacy tutor. “God will let me know what He wants me to do next,” she said. “He’s the only who knows what that will be, and He’s not telling me yet.”