PIQUA — Even before she contemplated entering the religious life, Sister Mary Alice Haithcoat’s father had a premonition his daughter would become a nun. As one of three Sisters of Charity who reside in Piqua, the 68-year-old dynamo credits her father for “putting a bug in my ear” and, five decades later, is ready to celebrate becoming a postulant at the Mount St. Joseph motherhouse in Cincinnati.
Sister Mary Haithcoat, S.C., who has devoted her entire life to God and education, was one of four children — including three brothers — who grew up on Cincinnati’s Eastside. Her mother, like most women of that generation, was a stay-at-home mom and her father drove a Klosterman bakery truck. It was not uncommon for the siblings to occasionally tag along on their father’s route, even though it meant 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls.
“But once we arrived at the bakery, the smell permeated throughout the building and we were able to pick out a doughnut,” before starting the day’s rounds, reminisced the affable nun.
Sister Mary Alice grew up in a closely-knit family where Sunday picnics were the norm after Mass. She attended St. Cecilia Parish school from grades one through eight, briefly attended St. Mary High school before its closure and spent her sophomore through senior year at Marian High School — an all girls’ school with an enrollment of 500 students — where she was graduated in 1966.
She experienced an active childhood, was an above average student, and “loved sports,” playing with the Girls’ Athletic Association in softball, volleyball and basketball. She was even a member of a junior high bowling team which was a “favorite family past-time.” An avid Cincinnati Reds fan, she’s got special memories of attending games at Crosley Field to watch superstars such as Johnny Bench or a performance of the mop-headed Beatles from Liverpool describing herself as “an “excited, screaming teenage girl.”
Sister Mary Alice became a postulant in September 1966 following high school graduation. Although she credits a priest who taught religion class and several Sisters of Charity — namely Sisters Marie Anthony and Rose Anita —for aspiring her to enter the religious life, she mainly credits her father.
“As I was growing up, my father would always introduce me as his daughter, Mary Alice, who “some day’s going to become a nun.” She admits, “He really put a bug in my ear,” and during high school she seriously began thinking about entering religious life as her vocation and to also become a teacher.
“The sisters (nuns) I met in high school were so friendly and happy and enjoyed the work they did,” reflected Sister Mary Alice. She describes herself as “always being happy” and attributes that to her parents, who enjoyed family time together.
As one of 59 postulants entering the Sisters of Charity, she spent her freshman year at Mount St. Joseph College before traveling via Greyhound bus with 39 others to Pueblo, Colo., for a year of meditation and learning more about her religious order. Upon her return to Ohio in 1968 with 18 others, she completed her studies at Mount St. Joseph and earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1971 before making her final vows.
She subsequently launched her teaching career at Holy Angels School, Sidney, where she spent eight years helping young minds learn at the elementary and junior high level. She next spent 14 years as both a teacher and principal at St. Mary School, Greenville, before arriving in Piqua in 1993, where she was a part-time teacher and assistant principal at the Piqua Catholic School Downing Street campus before moving to the North Street campus as a principal for three years. This year marks her fourth year as a second grade teacher at the North Street facility.
“My greatest joy is working with children,” she maintains. “Their enthusiasm fills me with joy.”
Her career in education has enabled her to form new friendships with hundreds of youngsters and watch them excel intellectually as well as spiritually, which she describes as “an awesome experience.”
Whether she’s witnessing boys and girls make their first Communion or receive the rite of the sacrament of Confirmation, Sister Mary Alice has thoroughly enjoyed ministering to their needs and helping share God’s message.
“Education has changed a lot,” she admitted. “With both parents working, there are more single parents and it’s become more difficult for them to work with children. I feel that we fill in empty spaces and can be a support for parents.”
When not spending time in the classroom, Sister Mary Alice has been able to travel to Haiti with colleagues to paint a house as well as accompany parishioners from St. Mary and St. Boniface to the island of Dominica as part of its “twinning” ministry.
Together with her roommates, Sister Virginia Scherer, S.C., and Sister Joan Clare Stewart, S.C., the active nun continues to love the outdoors, taking walks on Piqua’s bike path and reading mysteries to identify the whodunits.
Sharon Semanie is a journalist and longtime Piqua resident. She can be reached at [email protected]