Sr. Catherine
Sr. Catherine Walsh (left) with Dr. James Cotter (right) at the dedication of the James Finn Cotter Library on Dec. 16, 2013. (Photo by Lee Ferris, Mount Saint Mary College)

by Jillian Torre

As the days until graduation get fewer and fewer, I frequently find myself reflecting back on the past four years at Mount Saint Mary College. What made my time here so memorable? Was it the campus? My friends? Playing tennis? Writing for the Mount Messenger? My classes? The funny stories that resulted from dorm living? I think it’s a combination of all of these, but overall, it’s the people.

But not just my friends and peers, it’s the faculty and staff too. It’s rare someone is lucky enough to have a teacher who really makes a difference in his or her life. A teacher who’s lessons will be carried with his or her students for years. I was fortunate enough to find multiple professors during my time, who I will forever remember and who’s lessons will stick with me for years.

There’s one professor in particular who’s touched the lives of many students over the years. I, along with many others, was saddened to hear of Sister Catherine Walsh’s retirement, but I am grateful to have been a part of one of the last classes to learn from the best.

Growing up my mother always told me the toughest teachers were the ones I’d learn the most from, and while my mother was usually right, I wondered why these teachers always had to be mean. But Sister Catherine proved that not all hard teachers are intimidating. It’s possible to be kind and still make a difference in students’ lives.

From the first time I met with her for advisement, I could just tell she had my best interest and all of her students’ best interests at heart.

In her writing courses, she’d spend as much time as it took to individually shape each and every student into the writer they have the potential to be. Sister Catherine’s “writing boot camps” (as the students call them) improved my writing by leaps and bounds. Without her instruction, I doubt I’d have been capable of writing for the Mount Messenger, let along serving as co-managing editor this year.

But Sister Catherine doesn’t just teach her students how to write leads or how to use as few words as possible ; she taught us how to be interesting. How to find a unique angle on a topic and keep our audience engaged.

I despised any form of writing in high school. I never thought I’d actually enjoy putting a pen to paper and rearranging words like a puzzle until I found the right fit. I didn’t only improve my writing skills in her “boot camps,” but I found a love for writing.

Sister Catherine taught us to find a voice, not only on paper, but in everyday life. Her students will always remember her opinionated and passionate spirit. The feisty nun never hesitated to fight for what she believed in. Which is why it wasn’t a surprise to hear she threatened to sit in a lawn chair on the baseball and softball fields (pre-construction) until the college agreed to build a black box theater. She is not one to bite her tongue and she’s always encouraged all of her students to make their voices heard.

Sister Catherine is rarely without a smile (unless she’s talking about Fox News). She’s taught her students to always have a humorous outlook on life. A positive and lighthearted attitude will provide for a happier life, but it will also inspire some great story ideas. I don’t remember a single class going by without her cracking a joke or telling a story from her past, like when she smoked her last cigarette on the Mother House stairs before joining the Dominican Sisters of Hope at 18 years old.

But probably most important, Sister Catherine taught us to be passionate. Whatever article we write, senior project we take on, or career we pursue, be passionate about it. Only then, when we are passionate about something, will we be happy. We need to be passionate about our path in life, just as she was passionate about teaching and her students.

It is these lessons that I will take with me as I graduate. These are the lessons I will remember forever. Sister Catherine didn’t make a difference in her students’ lives because of her lecture on ethos, pathos, and logos, or her reputation of being a tough grader. She made a difference because she cares about more than her students’ academics. She cares about their entire college experience, their futures, and their well-beings.

Mount Saint Mary College will be losing more than a Arts and Letters Division Chair; they will be losing a mentor and a friend too.

I feel bad the Class of 2018 will never get to experience Sister Catherine’s boot camps, stories, smiles, or guidance that my peers and I have enjoyed during these past four years.

As I write my last Mount Messenger story, all I can think to say is, “thank you.” On behalf of the Mount Messenger staff, thank you Sister Catherine for your never-ending support and encouragement. Best of luck as you begin the next chapter in your journey. We will all miss you.