Monday, January 01, 2001

Obituary: Sister Mary Jacinta Shay

Mercy nun founded Montessori schools

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a lifetime of Montessori education, a highlight for Pauline Childs was a recent dinner with Mercy Sister Mary Jacinta Shay.

        Ms. Childs and classmate Theresa Roehrig listened raptly as their childhood teacher recounted highs and lows as founder and principal of Mercy Montessori Center in East Walnut Hills.

        Only this time, they could respond as peers, having followed her into Montessori education.

        “It was wonderful,” said Ms. Childs, who emulated Sister Jacinta by founding Oak Tree Montessori downtown.

        “That was very enjoyable to talk together as adults,” said Ms. Roehrig, a social worker and teaching assistant in a Montessori program at Stepping Stones Center in Indian Hill. “It was no longer as a child looking up at Sister Jacinta.”

        Sister Jacinta, model and mentor, died Sunday of cancer at McAuley retirement home in College Hill. She was 67..

        So powerful was Sister Jacinta's influence that Ms. Childs repeats the nun's words. For instance, Ms. Roehrig, then a second-grader, was worried because she couldn't read.

        “This is the year you're going to learn to read,” the nun responded, “and I'm going to help you.”

        That's an assurance Ms. Childs hears herself using a quarter-century later.

        Founder of Montessori schools in Cincinnati and Louisville, Sister Jacinta evoked the best from children she taught and from adults with whom she worked.

        “She had a special gift of being able to communicate with children,” colleague Maureen B. Babbitt said. “The children, as children often do, knew a real thing when they saw it. They knew that she respected them, and she always treated them with dignity. They responded with a sincere and deep affection for her.”

        Cincinnatian Sister Jacinta began teaching for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and made her final vows in the mid-1950s. She earned a bachelor's in education at Edgecliff College in 1959.

        Her creativity as a kindergarten teacher prompted a superior, Sister Imelda Lee, to suggest the young nun take up the Montessori approach.

        Sister Jacinta earned a master's in Montessori preschool education at Xavier University in 1964 and two years later founded Mercy Montessori in Louisville.

        Industrialist-philanthropist J. Ralph Corbett agreed to help create a Montessori elementary school in Cincinnati and supported Sister Jacinta's preparatory studies at the Centro Internazionale Studi Montessoriani training center in Bergamo, Italy.

        In 1969, with further Corbett backing, she founded Mercy Montessori Center, Cincinnati's first Montessori preschool in the facility her order had used to prepare women to become Religious Sisters of Mercy.

        Five years later, the growing Mercy Center became the first Montessori elementary school chartered in Ohio, adding a Montessori junior high in 1992. It initially had 45 students. Today, 260 students are enrolled.

        This fall, when students learned Sister Jacinta was seriously ill, they assembled a binder 3 inches thick of poems, drawings, photos, collages and exhortations to get well and come back.

        “You have taught me to love life, shown me how to care for people through your image,” one youth wrote.

        “Sometimes grown-ups don't have time to listen because they are busy. That's why we're so glad we have you,” a brother and sister wrote.

        An entire family's contribution quoted the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord ask of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

        XU gave Sister Jacinta its Presidential Citation in 1989 and she was chosen as an Enquirer Woman of the Year in 1990. She was a former president of Delta Kappa Gamma, an honorary society for female educators, and a teacher-trainer in South Africa at various times from 1986 to 1995.

        Surviving are two sisters, Victoria “Patty” Kirchner of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Mary Ellen Foley of Oakley.

        A wake will be 4-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Sisters of Mercy Center, 2335 Grandview Ave., E. Walnut Hills. The wake will continue 8:30 a.m.-10 a.m. Thursday at St. Francis De Sales, 1600 Madison Road, Walnut Hills. Services will be at 10 a.m. at the church.

        Free shuttle service to the church from Sisters of Mercy is available.

        Burial will follow in St. Joseph Cemetery, Price Hill.

        Memorials may be made to the Sister Mary Jacinta Shay Scholarship Fund, or the Retirement Fund for the Sisters of Mercy, 2335 Grandview Ave., 45206, or the American Cancer Society, 11117 Kenwood Road, Cincinnati, 45242.


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