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Once a Saint Mary’s woman, always a Saint Mary’s woman

Nikki Taylor | Friday, November 20, 2009

Behind Holy Cross Hall, at the end of the Avenue, is the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Sr. Miriam Eckenrode is one of the retired sisters living at Saint Mary’s, where her own college days were spent.

The Sisters of the Holy Cross are the founders of Saint Mary’s College and operate the order out of their headquarters on campus. Sr. Miriam lives on a floor of the convent that resembles a hospital or a nursing home, which houses the older retired sisters. She is in a wheelchair, and very frail but still has a vivacious spirit.

Sr. Miriam was born on January 30, 1913 in Lancaster, Pa. and is one of six children. As a little girl in Pennsylvania, she attended a local parochial school and then an Academy run by the Sisters of the Holy Cross.

 “In the third grade my mom saw lice in my hair, and said no to going back to that school,” Sr. Miriam said. “So I went to Sacred Heart Academy run by the Sisters of the Holy Cross.”

After her graduation from high school she was considering becoming a sister. She was looking into the Sisters of Mercy when her father asked their priest advice on whether or not to send his daughter to college. The priest advised him to send his daughter to college.
When it came time for Sr. Miriam to choose a school, she had no doubt in her mind that she wanted to attend Saint Mary’s College.

 “The Sisters always came [to Saint Mary’s] for the summer and always spoke so highly of it,” Sr. Miriam said. “I never heard anything but good things about Saint Mary’s.”

In 1930 when Sr. Miriam entered Saint Mary’s as a first year the College had only one lay teacher.

 “I went to ‘old Saint Mary’s,'” Sr. Miriam laughed.

She lived on the fifth floor of Le Mans and walked to Notre Dame for football games with her friends. She studied speech and drama and graduated in 1934. After graduation her plans of becoming a nun were on the back burner but not entirely out of her mind.

 “When I was in school we never had any contact with the young sisters. It would have been a wonderful opportunity,” Sr. Miriam said.

After college, Sr. Miriam was offered a teaching position at a private school in Washington D.C. She went to the Academy of the Holy Cross to teach English, French and coach basketball. It was during her time at the Academy of the Holy Cross that her interest in becoming a nun was rekindled.

 “That year as a lay teacher I noticed how contented [the sisters] were and I thought that the life of a sister looked very good,” Sr. Miriam said. “1936, that very summer I came to the novitiate.”

Novitiate brought her back to Saint Mary’s.

Before she even took her vow she was sent out into the community to teach fifth grade, which, she admits, was not her strongest suit.

 “I never was a good disciplinarian,” she said. “They never really taught how to teach, and I was only postulate.”

She came back to Saint Mary’s for a couple months to prepare for and take her first vow. She then went back to Washington D.C, a “real sister” to teach high school, which was her passion.

Sr. Miriam taught at three Holy Cross schools in Washington D.C. She worked at Saint Cecilia’s School during the time of racial integration in the late 1960’s and was the principal of the Academy of the Holy Cross during their relocation, which she describes as one of her favorite experiences. With a young, excited staff they taught the new freshman class and started a school paper.

 “We were pretty stylish,” she said.

Sr. Miriam also taught and acted as principle in the Boston area for five years and spent time in Austin, Texas and Norfolk, Va.

In 1973, she requested to go back to her hometown of Lancaster to take care of her parents. There she found an ad for volunteers in the paper, which led to her favorite service opportunity.

Sr. Miriam offered her services reading on a radio station for the blind, teaching older people how to read and running activities at the county home.

 “My work at the county home was one of the greatest experiences I ever had. I loved the people and was able to entertain them,” she said.

Sr. Miriam is now retired and resides yet again at Saint Mary’s, a place that played an important role throughout her life. She spends her time reading and writing. She writes letters to her siblings and nephews and nieces whose pictures adorn the walls of her small room.

Once a Saint Mary’s woman, always a Saint Mary’s woman, she said.