A teacher of wisdom and faith: Sister Rosalyn O'Malley

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In the first installment of our special feature on "church ladies," Catholic women who inspire our faith, Emily Dagostino recounts her fourth grade teacher.

By guest blogger Emily Dagostino.

She wore glasses over ice-blue Irish eyes, and her skin wore the look and feel of clotted cream. Her head was a small white cap atop a fleshy body. She held her still hands folded, one inside the other, in front of her belly. She carried herself and her baby-powder scent in striped button-down shirts and long straight skirts, stockings, and taupe rubber-soled loafers.

With soft touch and strong calm, Sister Rosalyn O’Malley shushed my hormonal friends and me after our frequent fourth-grade spats, and shooed us to the bathroom to wash our tear-stained faces—and in the course of those short trips to become best friends again. She taught us multiplication, division and religion as we prepared for first reconciliation. In junior high, she became the school librarian; sometimes I helped her stock shelves during lunch break. She lived in the convent down the alley from our house and waved hello when she saw me throwing fast-pitch in the alley with my dad. When I went to high school and heard she had cancer, I avoided visiting her. Then she died and I wept in the middle of the night to my mom at the kitchen table, sipping warm milk, missing her, and wishing I hadn’t been so scared of her dying that I neglected to say goodbye in person.

Of all my parochial school educators, her influence sticks most. Not because of library books or multiplication or her proximity as my family’s neighbor. Writers sometimes are asked why they write. When considering this question, I’ve often turned to Rainer Maria Rilke: “…ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? … if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must,’ then build your life in accordance with this necessity…”

“I must” write because Sister Rosalyn told me to.

I have a vague recollection that she saw in me at the age of 9 the gift of writing and encouraged me to cultivate it. Since then I’ve attempted to do so; in fact, I’ve built my life on it, with her remembered voice urging me to “keep writing” every time I become discouraged.

Sister Rosalyn believed in me, which taught me to believe in myself. Moreover, her faith in me continues to foster my faith in God. When I become frustrated with working full-time while also attempting to snatch spare time for creative writing; with receiving rejections from publications; and when I rebel against the blank page, I question why God made me a writer if God didn’t want me to succeed at it.

Faith requires surrender of control and complete trust: It’s not for me to decide or even to understand what God wants and does with my gifts; it’s just for me to use them. So, per Sister Rosalyn, I act on faith and dutifully return to the page. Just as she lived her faith every day that she taught, using her gifts to abide and guide class after class of temperamental students.


 

Emily Dagostino is a writer who lives and works in Oak Park, Illinois, where she attended St. Giles School, grades K-8. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame and has a master’s degree in print journalism from Northwestern University

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.

For the month of January, we're asking readers and contributors about the Catholic women who inspire their faith. Have someone you think deserves some laud? Submit 500 words or less to onlineeditor@uscatholic.org.