Introduction by Mindy Gordon, Archivist

As the archivist at Mount Saint Vincent, I receive a variety of inquiries concerning the events spanning the over 200-year history of the Sisters of Charity of New York. Many former students who attended parochial schools in New York City continue to express their fond remembrances of sisters who were their favorite teachers. Carol Corrigan, a proud graduate of Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School, Brooklyn, Class of 1961, through a recent email exchange, recalled the words of several of her teachers, spoken by these Sisters of Charity sixty years ago.

Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School, opened in 1933, fulfilled the need for a diocesan high school in Brooklyn. There were sisters from five different communities who taught at the high school, each assigned accordingly as heads of departments. The Sisters of Charity of New York were asked to direct the History Department. Sr. Marie Margaret Oats was the first appointed head of the department staffed by Sr. Miriam Perpetua McGarry, Sr. Miriam Josita McKenna, Sr. Miriam Columba McGivern and Sr. Mary Alexandrine Lelash.

In 1952 a Homemaking Department began, directed by Sr. Constance Marie Horan and assisted by Sr. Miriam Magdalen Smith. Sr. Miriam Magdalen and Sr. Marie Cornelius continued to manage the program teaching courses in sewing, nutrition, cooking, and childcare over a three-year period. When student Carol Corrigan attended the high school, there were nearly two thousand students with an average graduating class of 800. The school closed due to diminished enrollment in 1972.

The following is an excerpt from the initial email inquiry and the subsequent messages recently exchanged with Ms. Corrigan.

Dear Archivist:

I have been receiving information about the Sisters of Charity of New York for a few years. I was attracted to your congregation because as a high school student, I attended Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School in Brooklyn, and was taught History and Homemaking by the Sisters of Charity. I’m including a list of my teachers and would appreciate your providing any information about: Sr. Mary Aquin; Sr. James Maria; Sr. Antonia Miriam; Sr. Miriam Magdalen, and Sr. Marie Cornelius.

With love and gratitude,

Carol Giurlando Corrigan

Dear Ms. Corrigan:

In response to your request for information about your teachers at Bishop McDonnell High School, in addition to the biographical detail attached to this message, you will be pleasantly surprised to note that Sr. Mary Aquin Flaherty lived to be 99 years of age; Sr. James Maria (Fran) Devine lived to be 102 years of age; Sr. Antonia Miriam (Alice) Luby lived to be 92; Sr. Miriam Magdalen (Catherine) Smith lived to 101 years of age, and Sr. Marie Cornelius (Elizabeth) Quinn lived to be 93 years of age. Each had a long life of devotion and years of excellence as teachers! 

Dear Ms. Gordon:

I can’t thank you enough for providing me with this information about the sisters; they were awesome teachers…they were so knowledgeable and challenging to us (in a good way) plus they all had wonderful and God-loving personalities and transmitted this to all of us students. 

So, you can see we had challenges, great experiences, lots of laughs, and always, love and concern for us. Thanks for taking the time to research this information, for sharing their ministries and for letting me know that they all lived wonderful long lives.

Sr. Mary Aquin was my first official teacher, where we had attendance taken each day.

Then I had a very interesting incident with Sr. Antonia Miriam, my social studies teacher. I lived in Queens Village; she had never heard of it and had no idea where it was. I told her it was “way far out there—2 ½ hours from the school and was part of the frontier.” The next day I came in with my younger brother’s Daniel Boone hat and toy rifle and told her that I was “visiting Brooklyn from an unsettled territory.” She collapsed with laughter and when I graduated, this is how she signed my yearbook:

‘God love you, Carol (Daniel Boone). “May you open a new frontier.’

Sr. Marie Cornelius Quinn taught Introduction to Marriage. One of the quotes I remember her teaching us: “Kissing don’t last. Cooking do!”

Even though I never took Home Economics classes, several student aides volunteered to go to Sr. Miriam Magdalen Smith’s kitchen/classroom on every Friday afternoon during a free period in our last semester. We would help clean the kitchen and put items away, and she taught us to bake brownies. I still have her recipe! She brought them back to the children where she lived in Brooklyn – it may have been an orphanage.* Her recipe is noted below – delicious!

Brownies Recipe by Sr. Miriam Magdalen

2 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup flour
1//4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup broken walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour an 8 x 8 x2 inch pan.
Melt chocolate and butter in top of double boiler or instead,
microwave chocolate and butter for 1 minute)
When completely melted, remove from heat and add vanilla.
Beat 2 eggs and sugar at high speed with hand mixer.
Add melted chocolate mixture to egg mixture.
Then add dry ingredients and nuts. Mix thoroughly.
Spread mixture into pan. Bake for 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

image provided by Carol Giurlando Corrigan

We thank Ms. Corrigan, for conveying these vignettes. We are always pleased to receive these stories about the sisters in ministries, as teachers, health, and childcare providers, in social justice and related efforts. We welcome your reminiscences and photographs of these treasured memories.

Please contact the archivist:

Online obituaries for further reading

Sr. Mary Aquin Flaherty

Sr. Frances Devine

Sr. Catherine Smith

Obituaries for Sr. Antonia Miriam (Alice Luby pdf) and Sr. Marie Cornelius (Elizabeth Quinn pdf)

* The sisters who taught at BMMHS lived at St. Paul’s Convent until the Convent closed in 1941. After that time, the sisters who taught at BMMHS lived at the Convent at St. Joseph’s Orphanage