A Tribute to Sr. Regina Kehoe, OSU
by Nancy Waters '65 on the occasion of the the first anniversary of the TR Scholarship
|My name is Nancy Waters, and I am a graduate of The Ursuline School, Class of 1965. That means that this June 13th my class and I will gather for our 50th Reunion…I am 67 years old now…just as I was 17 years old then…when we received our diplomas on June 25, 1965. Each of us wore the same long white dress from Shulman’s—or was it Milgrom’s—in White Plains, and each of us carried one dozen roses.|
Our class spent one year in the old school under Mother Francis Shanahan, the forbidding (to us at least) principal. Our second year, we moved into the “new” school, where we are now, and which will always be the “new” school to us. It even had a public telephone booth just outside the cafeteria. And, far more importantly, in September 1962, we sophomores had a new principal, Mother Thomas Regina, to go along with the “new” school.
She was so TALL…well, everyone to me is tall…but everyone noticed how TALL she was. She didn’t wear those black-heeled, laced-up shoes; rather, a soft black shoe that was flat to the floor. She waved her long black rosary in a similar way to Charlie Chaplin’s twirling cane…and her stiff white bib, part of her habit, seemed more in her way than not. She whipped, unexpectedly to say the least, around corners…she was suddenly THERE. Her face was unsmiling but not unkind. She didn’t miss a trick.
Only as an adult did I realize…did I figure out…that she was only 33 years old when she became our Principal, and we were 15. The responsibility must have felt ENORMOUS.
Young Mother Thomas Regina was following an icon in old Mother Francis. Twice in my life, I, too, have replaced an icon; once in my career, once in my retirement as the volunteer President of the Ladies of Charity of the Archdiocese of NY. In either instance, very few trusted that I could do it. And believe me, when you replace an icon, they become even more ICONIC. We young girls did not react this way, but I’m sure TR had to struggle with, say the Mothers Club, and their holding up the icon she was daring to replace. I don’t know; I’ve never discussed it with her; but I do know, from my own experience, how difficult being put in that position can be.
Mother Mary John, then Mother Bridget, then Mother Monica developed and honed our foundation in English and encouraged our literary pursuits. Mother Charles threw her hands up in disgust and rapped my knuckles in despair over my inability to understand what was then called Geometry. Mother Gerald played endless recordings of Debussy; Mother Barbara despaired of our every learning French; Mother Francis Borgia enraptured so many of us with Latin…”All of Gaul is divided into 3 parts.”
Our minds were filled with Advent Angels…Freshman/Junior sisters…Mission Days…very solemn Ring Days…Gold Bows…wrist length white gloves worn at certain times often with a pearl closure…the annual Poetry Contest…the annual SINGLE basketball game…the annual Father/Daughter dance…the annual play…the Christmas Dance as opposed to a prom…Sodality…clubs. And our Senior trip was a day in New York City…not five days in Italy! No one drove…and I laugh as I say this because of the sea of student cars at Ursuline every day…one girl in my class drove…the rest of us wore our REQUIRED UNIFORM camel’s hair polo coats over our school uniforms and took the public bus to our destinations. Back in the day, we spent two years in a navy gabardine number and two in gray plaid. And still sweltered in our so-called “summer” uniforms.
A time of innocence in an age of innocence until one afternoon in November 1963…I was standing in the Library of the new school, and Mother Anastasia was at the main desk. Suddenly, the overhead loudspeaker came on…but with a lot of static…and a couple of false starts. Very unlike Mother Thomas Regina, our principal, who was the only one who ever used that system. Years later, I learned she was frantically consulting with Miss Dempsey who was monitoring the radio. TR announced to us the death, the assassination, of Pres. John F. Kennedy…and our innocence was over…the world’s innocence was over…and it was the first of so many things that we had been told would or could never happen again in America. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated…no President ever would be again…until he was. World War I, the war to end all wars, except it didn’t. The Stock Market could never crash and burn again, as it had in 1929…safeguards were in place…except it did…in 1987 and again in 2008. Our homeland could never again be attacked as it was at Pearl Harbor in 1941…except we were--on September 11, 2001.
The afternoon of the Kennedy assassination, I couldn’t get near the public telephone booth I mentioned to you earlier. I feel as old as Alexander Graham Bell remembering that.
But through it all, like my Catholic faith, Mother Thomas Regina was my lynchpin, my continuity, my true north, my very compass. She and all the Mothers she led, and I mean the nuns of course, were the mothers many of us never had but deserved. And like any good mother, she remembers every girl who attended this school. No matter whose name is mentioned, she forms a connection and can enlighten you. Such amazing recall.
And I have never relinquished the part that she played in my life: then or throughout the intervening years. She has morphed from Mother Thomas Regina to Sr. Regina Kehoe, and this old throwback has had to accept that. But inside she remains the same, no matter what you call her.
I still chide her about the removal of the graceful serpentine Communion rail from our blue chapel, but she just scoffs at my pre-Vatican II sensibilities. Nor have I accepted that it belongs now to the Eastern Province and not to me.
Mother Thomas Regina will be a part of Ursuline forever, through the Scholarship established in one of her many names…and to which I proudly pledge my support.