GREENVILLE—Franciscan Sister Catherine Noecker may be known in the community for helping to grow St. Anthony of Padua School, but for her students, the hugs are what matter most.
“She gives the best hugs in the world,” Sonya Ferguson agreed. “When she hugs you, you can feel the sincerity in it.”
Ferguson has worked at St. Anthony for eight years and her daughter, Synclair Tucker, recently graduated from the school. Ferguson said the faith and intimacy there had a big impact on both of them, just like family.
That extended family of St. Anthony of Padua came together recently to celebrate Sister Catherine’s 25 years as principal. During the celebratory Mass, parishioners gave her a standing ovation, in part for what she’s accomplished, but mostly for who she is.
After Mass, a luncheon and reception were held and dozens of people came to the microphone to talk about their time at St. Anthony, what they learned and how integral Sister Catherine was in the experience.
Bernell King Ingram, who now runs Visions International in Greenville, recalled the principal’s personal connection with each student and how she helped guide and foster their spiritual paths.
“When you serve God’s missionary purpose, you always bless more people than yourself,” Ingram said.
The religious sister also received many letters. One came from Trevor Choice, who works at a bank in Atlanta now. He still thinks of Sister Catherine, all her good works, and her lessons on who the real boss of the world is. He added that God put her here for a reason, “And maybe one was to meet a little boy named Trevor Choice.”
Sister Catherine said she was deeply touched by all of the words, the letters, the slideshow — and the hugs.
“Everyone came up with hugs,” she said, laughing over her tears. “Talking about it makes it even more emotional — goodness sake!”
Sister Catherine pointed out that people spoke of their gratitude for all the goodness at the school from the teachers and the friars.
“It’s not me,” she said. “I’m just privileged to be a part of it.”
Franciscan Father Patrick Tuttle, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church, said Sister Catherine welcomed him into the fold eight years ago and helped him through his learning curve. In talking about the principal’s spirit, he recalls one meeting with an irate parent.
“What would have been an all out, top of the lung fight from a very defensive mother ended in the mother leaving in grateful tears, swearing Sister Catherine was a saint,” he wrote in an email. “25 years gets you a load of pains, but a bigger load of understanding — and that helps a person love better. Sister Catherine loves humbly and gently.”
She first came for an interview at the school in 1988, when there were only 24 children in three classes.
“The parishioners were so inviting and the liturgy was so touching. I knew this was it,” she said.
Sister Catherine never even went to her next interview, scheduled at a school in Florida. Instead, she dedicated herself to St. Anthony and began to grow the school.
First she re-opened the K-5 program, and then started a K-4 class, followed shortly by K-3. She said the younger classes aren’t the same as daycare, noting that the school works with First Steps to prepare children for learning.
In her tenure, enrollment has grown to 160 students through the sixth grade, and in May, thanks to tremendous support from the community and Father Tuttle, they opened their brand new school.
Asked what she plans to do now, Sister Catherine laughs and lightly wonders if she can sit back and enjoy the moment.
“My life’s based on ‘What does God want me to do?’, so it’s in His hands what comes next,” she said, adding that they have a wonderful PTO and she’s sure the needs will surface.
For her, the biggest needs are met each day through the students, and the best rewards are seeing what they do as they grow, and how they give back to the community.
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