Class of 1959

We, the Class of 1959, celebrated our 50th class reunion on April 24 and 25, 2009. This blog is about sharing memories of our class reunions and a long ago life at our Alma Mater's, S.F.X.A. and S.A.H.S. Good memories of days gone by but not forgotten! A gift to my classmates. ~Marian Love Phillips ~

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Continued - Sister Paulinus Oakes, R.S.M.

The last in a two-part series on Sister Paulinus Oakes of the Sisters of Mercy ~

"We're going to play ball," the nun announced to the girls gathered on the volleyball court at the Catholic high school in Biloxi, and years later Virginia Boudreaux, who was a student at the time, vividly recalled the scene:  the nun reached down, grabbed the bottom of her ground-sweeping skirt, tucked it in her belt and the game began.
After a few years at Biloxi and enduring the horrors and rebuilding after Hurricane Camille in 1969, she was sent to Jackson for a while.  She heard they were looking for a principal at a school in Oklahoma City, and by then rules had been relaxed a bit so that nuns had some choices of where they would go, or as Sister Paulinus said, "I kind of called the shots."
The Oklahoma school was a mixture of people and was a "wonderful experience."  She had her work cut out for her - the previous principal had been weak (never let that be said of Sister Paulinus!), and their sports program was a disaster.  Things shaped up really well, though, and she even got a Green Bay Packer to volunteer as coach, which ended the no-win tradition.
During her teaching years she was at St. Peter and St. Joseph in Jackson, at Mount St. Mary, at St. Al and at St. Vincent de Paul in New Orleans. After a year at St. Al, she was named principal of her Alma Mater, St. Francis, in 1977.
"I thought I had died and gone to Heaven," she said, for a number of reasons, but one was, "I had the world's greatest secretary, Marye Lou Lee."
The principals who had preceded her, she said were quiet and well-organized, "and I came in flamboyant.  I'm messy, but I know where everything is.  My desk is just a total mess, but I could depend on Marye Lou. She could run the school.  I loved her, but I think she was aghast at me.  But it was so easy here.  There we no disciplinary problems.  The teachers were so wonderful - - they really didn't even need a principal."
Among the changes she made at St. Francis was the Montessori program for the kindergarten.
Some episodes she looks back on bring a ready laugh.  She recalled the time someone broke into the school.  She didn't realize it then, but checks were removed from the middle of the checkbook, so they weren't missed, and much later several hundred dollars worth of whiskey was bought with them, but Sister Paulinus said she just thought, "Roboski (the cafeteria manager) is making a heck of a lot of fruit cakes this Christmas."
Another incident occurred the day a call came from the Vatican, and her first though was, "Oh, My God, the pope's caught up with me - - I'm in bad trouble."  The situation was that an Italian official had come here to work at Waterways Experiment Station and had enrolled his two children at St. Francis.  Seems the woman with him wasn't his wife, and his wife was looking for him with help from the Vatican.
"I told Marye Lou, if the police came, to hide those kids in a back room," Sister Paulinus said.
Over the years, she had gotten her master's in theology and also had a master's in administration and earned a degree to qualify her as a chaplain.  She went to work at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield, setting up a program to administer GED tests, worked in the Marian Hill drug dependency clinic and Mercy Hospital from 1987 to 1993 before taking the chaplaincy at Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge.  In 1994 she returned to Jackson, working at St. Dominic in Jackson as chaplain in the behavioral health and chemical dependency units.
She also did some college teaching - - "I taught at Hinds forever" - - hold forth in classes on American literature and English composition.  She's a Faulkner fan, loves the writings of James Weldon Johnson and the poetry of Vachel Lindsey, a Missourian who never had a job but who penned such classics as "General William Booth Upon Entering Heaven" and The Congo," its rhythm and cadence appealing and motivating students, though it is politically incorrect today.
Sister Paulinus has been described as creative, innovative and energetic, and she said, "I like things looking a little bit different.  I think the world could be run very different."  She  looks for innovative ways to approach problems and likes a challenge.  Life has never been in a rut; she always has a lot of projects.
Among those projects are researching and writing books, her favorite being the editing of Sister Ignatious Summer's journal; she was one of the original Sisters of Mercy who came to Vicksburg in 1860.  Her accounts of the work of the Sisters, tending the wounded from both sides, tell of many harrowing experiences.  Another one she wrote was a history of the Sisters of Mercy in the Southern states.  She was told what had to be in it, and parts of the book she said are "as boring as the dickens."
She now works 20 hours a week and is on five boards.  She is involved with mission work in Mound Bayou and has served in other towns including Woodville, Shaw and Indianola.  She assists the Gleaners, who distribute food to the needy, and she secured sewing machines to teach people to make their own clothing.
In working with those in need, she often advises them that their faith in God and their hope for things to get better keeps them going, "for God does answer prayers, though He answers 'NO' a lot of times.  But you can look back and see some blessings you got in life when He said 'YES.'  It's hard to understand that sometimes, but don't give up hope."
In counseling she has to be sometimes brutally frank.  After a few sessions with one client, Sister Paulinus summed it up with, "She still likes me, sort of."
When she thinks of all she's done, Sister Paulinus said, "I could be 106 years old!"
Now that she has time for such things as gardening and fishing - - she has the time but not the patience.
"I have no patience," she said.  She see no joy in watching a tomato plant grow - - she wants the edible fruit immediately.
"My mother loved flowers and my daddy loved vegetables," she said, and after her mother's death she told her father, "You don't have to fool with any more flowers.  Just make it all vegetables.  If you want to put bell peppers and onions in the front yard...well, you don't have to feel guilty about it.  Do what you want to."
She loves a well-kept yard, "if somebody else keeps it.  I have no patience whatsoever with that kind of stuff, but I like it.  I like what I see."
She feels almost as strongly about fishing.  Her dad could spend hours at Long Lake and maybe not catch anything.  She likes to fish - - for about half and hour - - "but if I don't catch anything, I'm going home."
She confesses that she does have a little window box, "but you wouldn't believe what I have in it - - two Poinsettias from last Christmas that are still green.  And a little mint to put in my tea.  I have to have something green or I'd go nuts.
She's from a family with a history of longevity.  Her father died at 93 and was playing golf the week before his passing.  She has an aunt who is 102, and Sister Paulinus said she hopes to keep on going "until I konk out, and then Charles Riles will come get me and take me to Cedar Hill.  But I've been disgustingly healthy, thank God."
She's slowed down a bit - - not much - - and will never quit because, "You don't retire from being a Christian woman, do you?  I hope not."
"I've really had no regrets," she said, suiting up her years.  "I like what I'm doing.  Yeah, it would have been nice to have had children and grandchildren, but I don't regret that too much, especially when I look around and see divorce and all that kind of thing.  A life commitment is a longtime thing, man.  I wouldn't want to be a caretaker for some old guy," and she reflected on the life of a friend who had married three times, always an old man, "and I thought, 'Dear God, she could take that money and take a nice cruise somewhere or go some place."
In her bible she has a poem tucked away, written by Emily Dickinson, which expresses her philosophy:
"If I can stop one heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain.
If I can ease one life from aching
or cool one pain, or help one 
robin into his nest again
I shall not live in vain."
Sister Paulinus has done those things.  Maybe that's why, she said, "I've liked what I've done."

Gordon Cotton
is an author and historian
who lives in Vicksburg.

1 comment:

Adam said...

She looks so different from how I remember her. I went to St. Francis from 3rd to 6th grade (about '77 to '80) and she was my teacher in, I think, 5th grade. She didn't dress like the other nuns, didn't wear a habit. According to my parents, she still remembers me and my brother. I also remember Sisters Myra and Benigna. Sister Myra taught us square-dancing. Miss Cashman and Miss Lee were a couple of my other teachers. Miss Salmon was a regular substitute. Man, it's a lifetime ago and I can still see it: auditorium, gym, playground, that tunnel at the entrance.

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