Sister Clara Reid, OSU: “Willing to take on any challenge”

Update:

Sister Clara Reid retired from teaching in 2012 and served at the St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Store in Albuquerque, N.M., until 2014, when she moved home to Maple Mount. She remains active in binding quilts for the Quilt Club.


Sister Clara and her principal, B.J. Rossow, gather outside Sister Clara’s classroom at St. Charles.

On Oct. 19, Ursuline Sister Clara Reid competed in the 5K Walk portion of the Duke City Marathon, a tradition in Albuquerque, N.M., that raises money for cancer research. Out of 324 women in the race, she came in 13th overall, and third in her age group of those 65-69.

It’s just one more piece of evidence that Sister Clara never slows down.

The pin she wears that honors her for teaching 30 years at St. Charles Borromeo School in Albuquerque is more evidence. Other than a year in 1980 when she ran a day care center, Sister Clara has spent her entire 49 years as an Ursuline Sister as either a teacher or principal.

“The day I don’t want to be here, I’m quitting,” she said with a smile from the school that opened in 1952. “But I still like it.”

She gets excited talking about the 16 third-graders in her class, who she describes as “wonderful kids.” Their red uniforms brighten the room as Sister Clara gathers them in a circle to read, or sends students to the board to work on math.

She first came to New Mexico in 1971, two years after the Ursulines arrived at St. Charles. Teaching in the Land of Enchantment isn’t greatly different than the schools where she taught in Kentucky. “They’re all kids,” she said. “I like the culture here, their spirituality, their food, their friendliness.” To explain the cultural differences, she said, “If you have a rosary rally here, it’s in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, every culture we have.”

While several sisters still in active ministry have left the classroom, Sister Clara never wanted to leave teaching. “I enjoy doing it, it’s what I’m trained to do. It certainly has changed,” she said. “It’s individualized more, there’s more technology, and everything is on the computer.”

B.J. Rossow, principal at St. Charles for the past 11 years, calls Sister Clara a “powerful factor” in the school.

“She keeps me young,” Rossow said. “She has a 21st century mind and is willing to take on any challenge. She’s embraced the latest trends and run with them.

Sister Clara smiles as she gives out assignments to third-graders in her class at St. Charles Borromeo School in Albuquerque, N.M.

“There are those people who’ve been teaching so long, they do the same thing every day,” Rossow said. “She just jumps in and gets so excited about new things. For a sister who’s older, she’s up to the latest and greatest.”

Sister Clara has been nominated for teacher of the year in the Santa Fe Archdiocese in the past. “She’s dedicated to each child,” Rossow said. For the staff, she brings a different talent, Rossow said. “She just makes us laugh a lot.”

Part of a family

New Mexico has become Sister Clara’s home, which will make the day she someday retires and moves back to Maple Mount a tough one, especially since she has such good friends as Charlie and Shirley Villa.

“She showed up on our doorstep in 1971,” Charlie Villa said. “She’s part of our family. I tell everyone ‘She’s my sister,’” Charlie said. Shirley Villa said the children at St. Charles idolize Sister Clara, and when she’s away in the summer, they always ask when she’s coming back.

Sister Clara is joined by her best friends, Shirley and Charlie Villa. They gather for dinner every Wednesday night.

The Villas owned a grocery that was burned during a riot in the summer of 1971, so Charlie credits Sister Clara with bringing light back into their lives that year. For the past 35 years, they’ve owned the High Noon restaurant in Old Town Albuquerque.

“Charlie taught me to swim,” Sister Clara said.

The Villas live down the street from the school, and have been members of St. Charles Parish for 41 years. They remember when some bad leadership left the school on the brink of closing. Fr. Henry Dery, a Blessed Sacrament priest, came to St. Charles Borromeo Church and asked Charlie to be on the parish council. When Charlie told him of his concerns about the school, Fr. Dery told him, “Don’t worry, we’re bringing the Ursulines in.”

Sister Elizabeth Ann Ray, who is retired to the Motherhouse, was the first Ursuline to be principal of the school in 1969, and Sister Clara arrived in 1971. “They really turned this school around,” Charlie said.

The Villas and Sister Clara share a meal every Wednesday night, and go to special events together, like parades and concerts. After the meal on Wednesday, they play baseball with the Villa’s grandson, Charlie Bickel. The Villa’s daughter, Carla, is so close to Sister Clara, she asked her to be godmother to her daughter Edie.

“We’re truly like a family,” Shirley said.