Sister Mary Ann Zwijack has been at Corryville Catholic Elementary fifty years.
This one’s the hardest.
It’s unusual, an assignment of fifty years. But such is Sister Mary Ann’s love of Corryville, and such is her love for her students.
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur arrived at Corryville in 1877, twelve years after the Civil War. They’ve never left. History has happened – wars, moon landings, and yes, pandemics – but our presence has never been interrupted.
Corryville is in one of Cincinnati’s most impoverished neighborhoods. One in four never made it past eighth grade. Incarceration is no stranger. Drugs are a fact of life.
Hope, in Corryville, can be hard to come by.
But not at Corryville Catholic Elementary.
Here, teachers and Notre Dame AmeriCorps members and volunteers exude optimism, enlightenment and God’s love. As does Sister Mary Ann.
Sister Mary Ann has taught math, science, health and religion. Over the last five years she’s helped with the Choices for Children program, which works with seventh and eighth-graders to set goals and action plans, and that involves professionals who serve as mentors.
The education, Choices for Children, and the attention the Sisters, volunteers, members, and staff provide to students has allowed these same students, 95 percent of whom qualify for the federal school lunch program, to secure $4,222,402 in scholarships to college-preparatory schools since 2000.
It has allowed them, some of whom have known homelessness and violence, to win acceptance into some of the finest colleges in the country.
And it all begins, says Sister Mary Ann, with priorities that haven’t changed in the 50 years she’s been at the school: providing the children with a sense of belonging, making them understand that every person has value, and involving families.
Which brings us to this year, the hardest of Sister Mary Ann’s fifty years at the school.
Corryville Catholic, because of the pandemic, is educating on three levels. Half its enrollment is attending through in-person learning. Another group is attending remotely, though in real-time. Still another group is attending via recorded classes.
This means teachers are preparing three curriculums. It means in addition to teaching, they need to have the technical chops to make online learning possible. This, when they’re also trying their utmost to keep young children following the rules of social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing and everything we know to do to keep the virus at bay.
It is, as Sister Mary Ann says, very hard.
It’s hard at Corryville, it’s hard at Notre Dame schools across the country, it’s hard at our schools across the African continent.
But just as we remember at Christmastime the simultaneous fear and hope of Mary and Joseph; just as we recall the uncertainty they faced, and in the same moment the rush of such joy; so too, with your financial help, can we acknowledge the pandemic yet keep the mission strong.
“St. Julie would certainly expect us to carry on,” says Sister Mary Ann. “We have to put the future within these children’s reach. We have to make it happen, no matter what!”
P. S. The CARES ACT allows deductions up to $300 for cash gifts to public charities like the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur which provides tax savings for those who do not itemize in 2020.