“She’s a tough teacher, she expects a lot from the kids, but not more than they can handle.”
Patty Kenetski is the third-grade teacher at St. James, where she’s taught for 28 years.
“Her kids could go right to fourth grade,” Kenetski said. She’s impressed by the way Sister Marilyn “sits back and listens to it all, then comes up with a reasonable, sensible solution to look at the problem.
“She’s with her kids all day long. She plays kickball with them, eats with them. The rest of us look for that 15-minute recess to get away.”
Sister Marilyn brings religious angles to the yearly theme for the school, and to solve problems, Kenetski said. “People can’t say no to her because she’s a sister.”
Rebecca Chell is the principal at St. James and calls Sister Marilyn the spiritual leader of the staff.
“She helps out with catechist classes, and teaches her peers,” Chell said. “The staff likes having a sister. She’s very good at what she does. The children learn discipline, she eats with them every day, she goes out to recess with them, helps them run and kick,” she said.
“She seldom wears a watch. If she has (her students’) attention, she’s not going to stop just because it’s 10 o’clock,” Chell said. “My first year, my daughter was in her class, and she enjoyed it.”
Sister Marilyn’s classroom on the bottom floor of St. James is wrapped in children’s art work, even though it’s not for art class. “Even my art has another reason,” she said. She disdains the move toward having specialists in the classroom.
“If we don’t learn to integrate, you don’t become a person of integrity,” she tells her students. “Everything we do has an affect on someone.”
She starts her day with math class with far more vim and vigor than her second-graders, but soon she has them out of their seats, singing and jumping to her lesson plan. “Four plus six equals 10,” she sings. “10 minus four equals six and 10 minus six equals four.”
Music is part of Sister Marilyn’s ministry, Chell said. “She brings out the music in the kids. The music fills the church.” There are 116 students kindergarten to eighth grade at St. James, 150 when counting preschoolers.
Her liturgical band members practice at 7 a.m., and enjoy the time with Sister Marilyn. “She helps a lot with music, that makes it a lot easier,” said Grace Fischer, a sixth-grader who plays the keyboard. “I don’t mind the early practice. I’m not late and I don’t have to wait for my brother.”
Morgan Hinkle, a sixth-grader who plays the flute, said, “She keeps us very organized.”
The liturgical band plays with the children’s choir, which sings on the third Sunday of every month. The other Sundays feature the adult choir, a 10-member group that practices on Thursday nights under Sister Marilyn’s tutelage.
“She’s very patient,” said Donna Krausz. “She works with each different section. She’ll work with us until we get it, even if it takes 40 times.”
The choir members obviously enjoy their time together, and with Sister Marilyn. “Our biggest fun is when we make her laugh,” Krausz said.
Brenda McManemy, another choir member, said, “Once we hear the song, she tells us the meaning behind it, so we can have the reverence.”