March 14, 1925 – April 9, 2018
How good God is to have called Laura Beverly Blee from her “loving and supportive niche” in Syracuse, as she described her family homestead, to Ilchester. It was her father’s transfer to Manoa, PA, that set the wheels in motion. Once there, her parents enrolled her at Notre Dame High School, Moylan where, she wrote in 2009, she soon became “absolutely sure” that she “wanted to be a Sister of Notre Dame, one of St. Julie Billiart’s own.” (“If God wanted it,” of course.) She was drawn by an “undeniable joy” she could see in her SND teachers. That joy, she explained, “was what I sought.” And anyone who came to know her can readily agree that she shared the same “undeniable joy” with countless others, all her life long.
Her desire to be an SND matured and ripened as she pursued her B.A. at Immaculata College and then returned to Moylan for a two-year stint of teaching. It was on August 7, 1949, that Miss Beverly Blee, now 24, “made the trip to Ilchester and never regretted the move. … God graced me by accepting my vows.”
The province, recognizing her talents and academic credentials, wasted no time launching her on a high-school teaching career--to her great joy and, all reports indicate, to the delight of generation after generation of students. Aggie, as we liked to call her, taught four years at Moylan; seven more at Trinity Preparatory School, where she had served as a substitute teacher when a postulant; two years at the Academy of Notre Dame, Rittenhouse Square; ten more at St. Maria Goretti Diocesan High School in Philadelphia; and another ten at Maryvale Prep in Brooklandville, MD. In her “free time,” she earned a Master’s degree in Botany at the Catholic University of America, Dubbed “Sister Scientific” by her students, she was a natural for opening up the mysteries of math, science and religion in the classroom.
Even when she moved from teaching to other roles at Maryvale – Bookkeeper, Business Manager—she took great joy from working in the midst of “memorable young women.” She rooted for them at their basketball games, clapped for them at their plays, prayed for/with them in their crises, shared their grief times of loss. For her, Maryvale, where she lived for nearly thirty years, was more than a school. It was family.
As a matter of fact, all her life long, Aggie cultivated a wide network of relationships cutting across time and space. Her love for her parents (whose names she made her own as a novice) and for her brother Bill was abiding and deep, extending long past their deaths. She followed the varied accomplishments of her nephew, nieces, cousins and successive generations of their offspring with unabashed pride, using visits, notes, phone calls and photos to keep up to date. She treasured memories of SNDs with whom she had lived and worked in Pennsylvania and Maryland. She followed the progress of former students, kept in touch with colleagues from her teaching years, rejoiced to share our SND charism and mission with Notre Dame Associates, became an “honorary parishioner” and Lector at St. Joseph Parish near Villa Julie, and tapped into Scripture classes at the nearby Carmelite Monastery, where she appreciated classmates as well as instructors.
Long before Pope Francis’s Laudato si, Aggie rejoiced in her interrelatedness with all of creation. She had an artist’s eye for beauty, a scientist’s for detail. Both assets were put to good use on her camping trips. She delighted in “all things great and small” -- vast night skies, tiny lightning bugs; challenging mountain trails, barely noticeable ant hills; a kingfisher hunting for breakfast in the snow at Maryvale; horses, dogs, bluebird houses along the road and, yes, bees! Witness her four-story hive and the 80 pounds of honey she harvested for Christmas gifts in a good year. Did she get stung? Well, sometimes. But bees, she insisted, deserved “a second chance.”
Given her breadth of vision and cosmopolitan interests, it is no surprise that Aggie was a loyal patron of libraries and bookmobiles, reveling in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, history, art. An enthusiastic traveler, she treasured memories of Cuvilly, Compiegne, Amiens and Namur long after walking there in the footsteps of St. Julie. Italy was another favorite adventure – Assisi, Ravenna, Siena, Venice, Rome. Her trip to Ireland earned many a characteristic “Wow!” Everywhere, it was the people she encountered along the way who delighted her most -- including SNDs from every corner of the congregation. Of course, the local cuisine ran a close second!
Always open to new places and faces, despite the challenges she faced when time came to move from Villa Julie to Mount Notre Dame, she was soon writing accolades back to Baltimore: “I am loving it here. Sisters could not be kinder. It really is a great place to be.” The reflection she had written as a diamond jubilarian in 2009 ends on a similar note: “No matter the school or community, God lived in Jeremiah’s words, “If you seek me with all your heart I will let you find me” (Jer. 29). At each stage of her journey, in each place, with each community, in all circumstances, it was Aggie’s way to seek God with all her heart. We can only imagine the meeting between them on April 9th as the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord was being celebrated around the world:
On God’s part, open arms and a glorious “Well done!”
On hers, sparkling eyes and an enormous “Wow!”
Born Laura Beverly Blee, March 14, 1925, Syracuse, NY
Parents: Frederick W. Blee (Syracuse, NY) and Margaret Agnes Crowley Blee (Montrose, PA)
Siblings: One brother, William (deceased)
Entered Notre Dame August 7, 1949, at Ilchester, MD
First vows: January 26, 1952
Final profession: July 30, 1957
Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA
Summer Schools: Nottingham Junior High; Edward Smith Junior High; Nottingham High, Syracuse, NY
B.A.: Immaculata College, Immaculata, PA
M.A.: The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC (Biology and Mathematics)
Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA (1952-56)
Trinity Preparatory School, Ilchester, MD (1956 – 63)
Academy of Notre Dame, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA (1963-65)
Teaching and Administration
St. Maria Goretti High School, Philadelphia, PA (Teacher & Department Head; 1965 – 75)
Maryvale Preparatory School, Brooklandville, MD (1975-2001)
Teacher, Department Head, Bookkeeper, Business Manager
Archivist, Former Maryland Province (2001 –2013)
Villa Julie Residence, Stevenson, MD
Mount Notre Dame, Cincinnati, OH
Prepared by Mary Ann Cook, SND