Sister Roberta is woman religious of the year

COLUMBIA — Sister Roberta Fulton, SSMN, believes in Catholic education as a way to spread the Gospel and improve the lives of children.

A member of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, Sister Roberta has served as principal at St. Martin de Porres School in Columbia since 2006. Her work there, as well as in other areas of the parish and community, earned her the Woman Religious of the Year award from the S.C. Council of Catholic Women. Sister Roberta was honored April 12 during the council’s 78th annual convention in North Charleston.

Joan Mack, a member and past president of the SCCCW, presented the award to Sister Roberta.

“She is a woman of faith who has placed her trust in the belief that nothing is impossible with God,” Mack said. “That is why she was asked to come back to South Carolina to teach us that education is still a tool for Catholic evangelization. She wholeheartedly believes that the education of our children is a ministry of love.”

Sister Roberta is a native of Kingstree. Although she was not raised Catholic, she was drawn to the faith during her youth by the work of sisters who led ministries in the Kingstree area. She became a Catholic and joined the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur in 1967. Since then, Sister Roberta has worked in Catholic schools in Texas and Alabama, as well as an earlier stint in the Diocese of Charleston as a teacher and principal at St. Jude School in Sumter, which has since closed.

Prior to her return to South Carolina in 2006, Sister Roberta was teaching at Niagara University in Buffalo, N.Y.

Since coming to St. Martin de Porres, Sister Roberta has been working to promote reading strategies and skills, and to get all of the school’s 80 students actively engaged in reading.

Recently, the school held a “Poetry Slam” that featured a spaghetti supper where both students and parents read their own poetry aloud in an “open mic” format.

“We do things like that to get better parent involvement,” she said. “We’re really encouraging the parents to really be part of the school.”

“She is probably one of the hardest working principals I have ever known,” said Franciscan Father Paul Williams, pastor at St. Martin de Porres Church. “Her car is in that parking lot early in the morning and usually one of the last to leave at the end of the day. Plus there are Saturdays where she is in that office working. She’s a very traditional sister in many ways, very disciplined. She really loves the school and the children, and she’s an advocate on their behalf.”

Father Williams said Sister Roberta not only oversees the daily workings of the school and handles discipline, but also takes part in fund-raising and grant-writing to address the school’s needs.

Sister Roberta said she and faculty members strive to embody the motto, “Everyone is a shining star,” by focusing on each student’s academic and spiritual needs.

She said other successes at St. Martin include bringing in a nutritionist to help students learn about healthy eating habits, adding art classes, and working to develop an after-school program where students can take part in a variety of activities ranging from tutoring to sports.

The school’s focus on Catholic faith and values also is important to her. She proudly notes that students gather together for daily prayer, study religion and attend Mass weekly, and that Christian values are part of every facet of the curriculum. She said this is especially noteworthy at St. Martin, where the majority of students are not Catholic.

“Through the outreach, the students can’t help but know of the Catholic faith — they get solid training in the faith,” she said. “They learn the traditions and teachings of the church, and no matter what subject we’re teaching, we talk about Jesus.”

Sister Roberta said she works closely with St. Martin de Porres parish to help the school fulfill its needs. Current priorities include more playground space and renovations to their buildings, which were built in 1936.

“My ministry has always been education, and it’s been a wonderful experience for me to come back to my roots in South Carolina, and to be able to give back a lot of what I received as a child,” Sister Roberta said. “I see it as God working through me.”