Sister Genevieve Merrick of Rugby’s Little Flower Parish still receives an occasional letter or phone call from a former student.
A small reminder of the many lives she has touched over the years.
For over six decades Genevieve taught school, including the past 30 years at Rugby’s Little Flower.
A rewarding and remarkable career that has come to an end.
“I guess I’ve finally hit retirement age,’ quipped the 85 year old. “I always enjoyed seeing that sparkle in a student’s eye when they would catch on to something new. I’m going to miss that.”
Faculty and students are going to miss her presence and experience.
“She had great love for the children and their families,’ said Sister Jean Louise, school librarian.
She had the ability to connect with the students, especially in reading and math subjects, that was impressive. “Her vast experience helped her to know just what to do (to reach a student),’ Jean Louise said. “And she had such praise for the kids.”
Little Flower Principal Bruce Gannarelli said Sr. Genevieve has been a godsend, noting she brought a great spirituality to the school.
Retirement was not in the plans at the beginning of the school term, but when Sr. Genevieve suffered a minor stroke following surgery to treat a cerebral aneurysm, it was clear this would be her final year at the school.
An MRI last fall detected the aneurysm, which is described as a weak or thin spot on a blood vessel in the brain. Surgery was conducted this past January and was successful, but Genevieve suffered a stroke to her lower body following the operation. She spent several weeks undergoing physical therapy in Hankinson.
“I was very fortunate to have so many praying for me and many people sent cards and visited me while I was recovering,’ she said.
She eventually graduated from a wheelchair to a walker and now is able to move around with a cane.
The school held an appreciation social for Genevieve following school mass on Friday morning, May 14.
Sr. Genevieve grew up in a
devout Catholic family in Kent, Minnesota, a small town between Moorhead and Breckenridge. She had an older and younger sister who also became nuns.
“We would recite the rosary every night,’ she recalls. “My parents stressed the importance of being strong in faith.”
Answering God’s call came at an early age. “I remember being in grade school and one time in recess the girls were gathered around saying the names of the boys they were going to marry,’ Genevieve said. “Mine was J.C. The other girls thought it was the name of a boy in school, but I had purposely switches the initials around,’ she quipped.
She then enrolled at the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Hankinson. It was there where she decided on a career in teaching.
“I always enjoyed school and thought I would be good at teaching others,’ she said.
Following a year and a half of college, her first teaching post oddly enough was at Little Flower in 1945. She taught for just a year and a half there, however,
Since there was no convent built at the time, the sisters lived in the lower level of the school. “The present day music room was our living room and bedroom,’ Genevieve said. “We had eight living together.”
A few years later a permanent residence for the sisters was established.
Following her brief time at Little Flower, she taught eight years in Selz, but since it was a public school, was not permitted to wear her Habit. “I taught grades five though eight in one room,’ she said.
She then taught nine years in Hankinson, teaching algebra and biology among other subjects in the upper grades. She moved on to Holy Family school in Grand Forks and to St. John’s school in Wahpeton before returning to Little Flower in 1981.
For several summers, Genevieve would remain in the classroom, but as a student attending college summer school to obtain her teaching degree and continuing education credits. She majored in elementary education with a minor in math and science. Among the colleges she attended: Alverno College in Milwaukee; Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska; and Regis College in Denver.
Seventeen of the 30 years at Little Flower were spent teaching third grade and the highlight was always teaching religion to the children.
“That was what I enjoyed…helping them recognize the central role Jesus Christ plays in their life,’ she said.
In 1997, she left her full-time classroom position to serve as a reading and math tutor for the next 13 years.
“The parishoners, parents and staff have been very supportive,’ she said. “A Catholic education is so important and I was fortunate to be part of that for many students.”
Her longevity in the classroom enabled her to teach three generations of students in school.
Her teaching duties also extended to Sunday School for several years as well as with Cursillos at Little Flower and other parishes in the diocese and bible study groups.
While she is retiring from teaching at Little Flower, Genevieve will remain at Little Flower, serving as novice director at Little Flower Convent, a role she has also held for many years.
She teaches first and second-year novices at the convent as they prepare to take their temporary and final vows.
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