"So often people say that we should look to the elderly, learn from their wisdom, their many years. I disagree, I say we should look to the young: untarnished, without stereotypes implanted in their minds, no poison, no hatred in their hearts. When we learn to see life through the eyes of a child, that is when we become truly wise."

- Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The end of a school year means many farewells, not only for the members of the graduating class of a high school or elementary school, but also for teachers who are retiring after decades of educational service. Sister Jeanette Maria Keszkowski, IHM, and Barbara Eiche at Trinity Academy at the Father Walter Ciszek Education Center, Shenandoah, are ending their teaching careers this month. Their combined teaching experience is more than 100 years.

Of course, many retired teachers are only "officially" retired. Once a teacher, always a teacher. A room with a blackboard, whiteboard or Smartboard does not a teacher make. They will continue to teach one way or another in years to come.

I had to throw in all those "board" references since things have changed so much since I've been in school. I remember at St. George Parochial School in Shenandoah going outside near the end of the school day to "clean the erasers" by hitting two of them together to get the white chalk out of them for the next day. The most important tip in doing the job was doing it slowly enough that you didn't go back inside too quickly.

Sister Jeanette, 82, and Barbara, 68, have been at Trinity Academy since it was formed in 2006. I'm sure it will seem odd as the 2014-15 school year begins not to see their smiling faces in the school every day. Barbara and her husband, Edward, will be doing some traveling, taking advantage of going places at times that were not available due to school obligations. Sister Jeanette will be moving to Camilla Hall, which is the Convent Home and Healthcare Center of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Malvern. According to Sister Mary Ann Spaetti, IHM, principal at Trinity Academy, Sister Jeanette's penchant for "A place for everything and everything in its place" will truly make Camilla Hall a divinely orderly place.

In my news story on the retirement prayer service, I mention that a "Bag of Essentials" was given to Sister Jeanette and Barbara as they sat in the front of the church. I provided a list of items given to them by students to fill the bags, but space did not allow the purpose for each gift. Here are the explanations.

"A bag of essentials is what we'll pack for you, Sister Jeanette and Mrs. Eiche. Let's begin.

"Of course, you each will need a bag. Remember the bag for what it does - It helps keep stuff together. May you, too, be granted God's peace to keep it together when things around you fall apart.

"Shampoo is next on the list. Let shampoo remind you that every hair on your head has been counted by the God that loves you soooooo very much!

"Here is some soap to encourage you to continue getting your hands dirty in the service of others.

"You have to have some tissues. We give you these tissues with the wish that your tears will be few.

"Also, some aspirin if needed in the hope that there will be less pain than joy in your future endeavors

"Add some Band-Aids to the bag. Band-Aids remind us to try to fix what hurts, sometimes by saying, ''I'm sorry,' and other times just giving our boo-boos to God.

"And now a flashlight. Let this flashlight remind you to shine brightly for Jesus in all you say and do.

"Here are some batteries. Sometimes in helping others so much we forget ourselves. Let the batteries remind you to recharge yours by being extra good to yourself once in awhile.

"Lastly, some food for the trip. Here are some mints. Never forget that you are worthy more than a mint to God!

"God bless you, Sister Jeanette and Mrs. Eiche."

As each child brought their gifts, they received a hug and later the students stood, faced the honorees, extended their right arm and said a blessing over them. Beautiful!!!

A reception was held in the school cafeteria/gym/social hall, and gifts were presented to them. Sister Mary Ann said a scholarship is being established in Sister Jeanette's honor.

"We came up with the plan because Sister Jeanette does not need anything," said Sister Mary Ann. "When she goes to Camilla Hall, everything she wants and needs will be there because basically her needs are few and her wants are simple. We talked to her and got her permission to establish the Sister Jeanette Memorial Scholarship Fund. We'll give a scholarship to a child in one of our younger grades, particularly for a family who could use the financial help so that they could continue their education at Trinity Academy."

Sister Mary Ann said letters about the creation of the scholarship will be sent to parishes near schools where Sister Jeanette served to place in the Sunday bulletins so anyone taught by her can have an opportunity to donate to the fund.

"Hopefully we can do some good for some children because that's what she would want," said Sister Mary Ann.

Both women have family connections to Shenandoah. Sister Jeanette's parents were Polish immigrants who settled in Shenandoah for a time, although she was born in Beaver Valley, the youngest of 10 children. She attended public schools, and afterward worked as a nurse's aide at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, where she attended Mass every morning. A mission priest came and spoke about vocations, which got her to thinking about the idea.

"I learned after my father passed away that he had prayed that one of his children would be a religious," said Sister Jeanette. "My family was religious, and I think that priest nudged me on."

With the help of a friend, she went to Mount Carmel to visit a convent there to inquire about becoming a sister.

"This is kind of funny. We went to the Polish sisters because I'm Polish," she said. "It was in the afternoon and I rang the doorbell. I think I rang it too many times. Nobody answered right away. I didn't know that sisters rested in the afternoon. A sister answered and scolded me for ringing the doorbell so many times. She said, 'I know there are Immaculate Heart sisters who live up the hill. I forget the name of the convent.' She introduced me to one of the IHM sisters. One sister spoke with me and I told her I wanted to be a sister. She offered to be my sponsor and that's how I got my vocation."

Sister Jeanette began teaching young children and did so at many schools in this part of the state since she came from here.

"I've had a good and simple life. I've met many wonderful sisters and people," said Sister Jeanette. "And this coming Sunday (Pentecost Sunday, which is today) I'll be celebrating 60 years in religious life with the other sisters who entered the order at the same time. Many of them have passed away."

On her retirement, Barbara Eiche is leaving home for a the second time in a sense. She leaves Trinity Academy after almost five decades in Catholic education, but the building she is leaving is where she received her elementary education (Annunciation BVM Parochial School) and secondary education (Shenandoah Catholic High School).

Barbara lives in Frackville, but she was born and raised in Shenandoah Heights.

"I went to this school in grade school, high school, graduated, a member of the parish and so forth," said Barbara. "When I went to college and didn't like it, I left and my parents were very unhappy about it. I had to get a job in the cigar factory (in Mahanoy City) and I hated it. I had no idea what I wanted to do. One day, someone said why don't I try cadet teaching because it might put me on the right path. I did and I loved it. A cadet teacher is where you went into a classroom and taught but was under the supervision of a nun. You had to take college courses, which got me back to college."

She continued, "I feel like God intervened and told me to do something worthwhile and serious. I loved it. I got my degree at Alvernia, and master's degree at Penn State. My first school was St. Francis of Assisi School in Minersville, then I went to St. Mauritius School in Ashland and through consolidations move to Immaculate Heart School in Girardville and then came here. I was a young 17-year-old girl who had no idea where she was going and I believe it was divine intervention that put me on the right path. There was a plan for me and I just had to make sure I followed it."

I began this column with a quote from Blessed Mother Teresa, who made a very good point about learning from children. Teachers have much information to give to students in their educational careers, but hopefully they also continue to learn valuable lessons from those children in their charge. I believe that Sister Jeanette and Barbara have done so in their 100-plus years in teaching. God bless both of you.


Once upon a time there was a famous sea captain. This captain was very successful at what he did. For years he guided merchant ships all over the world. Never did stormy seas or pirates get the best of him. He was admired by his crew and fellow captains.

However, there was one thing different about this captain. Every morning he went through a strange ritual. He would lock himself in his quarters and open a small safe. In the safe was an envelope with a piece of paper inside. He would stare at the paper for a minute, and then lock it back up. Afterwards, he would go about his daily duties. For years this went on, and his crew became very curious. Was it a treasure map? Was it a letter from a long lost love? Everyone speculated about the contents of the strange envelope.

One day the captain died at sea. After laying the captain's body to rest, the first mate led the entire crew into the captain's quarters. He opened the safe, got the envelope and opened it. The first mate turned pale and showed the paper to the others. Four words were on the paper, two lines with two words each:

Port Left

Starboard Right

(Staff writer Usalis can be reached at jusalis@republicanherald.com)