Mary Carroll Blocher: Dancing for Joy
This article originally appeared in the winter 2012 issue of HOPE.
“Praise him with tambourine and dancing.” (Psalm 150:4)
From the age of 5, Providence Associate Mary Carroll Blocher has praised God through dance, just as the psalmist says. And through the years, she has shared this love of dance with countless students.
When Mary Carroll [Schindler] was a small girl growing up in Memphis, Tenn., her parents told her and her sisters that they could choose one extracurricular activity in which to participate. Mary Carroll decided upon dance.
In the middle of her eighth grade year, Mary Carroll’s family returned to their roots in Evansville, Ind. When she entered high school at Reitz Memorial, she began a lifelong relationship with the Sisters of Providence.
“I loved the sisters [who taught there] and all the classes I took,” said Mary Carroll, who was tapped to choreograph several high school musicals and to create a dance troupe that performed during half-time of sports events. Away from school she ran her own dance school in the basement of a neighbor’s home.
By the time she graduated in 1955, Mary Carroll felt God’s call to religious life.
“I was still 17. I had my last dance recital with my students in June, and I entered [the Congregation] in July. I felt, ‘OK, God, I’ll give this up.’ But of course I got it back later. That’s how Providence works!” said Mary Carroll.
Mary Carroll received the religious name Sister Marie Carol, and she taught primary students in Indiana and Illinois. When she could, she would “sneak” in movements in rhythm band classes and she choreographed musical programs. For a couple of summers she had a wonderful experience at Providence High School, Chicago, where reading, math and fine arts courses were offered to inner-city students.
“The story goes, and I don’t know the whole picture, they [administrators] were going to hire a dance teacher. Somebody said, ‘Why are we hiring a dance teacher when we have Sister Marie Carol who loves to dance?’ And so I got to do this,” said Mary Carroll.
She taught ballet in a downstairs hallway using classical music. She also taught tap.
“The kids loved it. Oh, I had so much fun! It was so exciting to be dancing again,” she continued.
“Semi-habited,” Mary Carroll felt constricted. “Every week I took another piece off. I couldn’t move! Off came the cape, off came this, off came that!”
Congregation leadership, recognizing Mary Carroll’s passion for dance, allowed her to pursue dancing at Indiana University. This created quite a stir on the Bloomington, Ind., campus. Soon her story was told by a local news reporter, and eventually the story was picked up by The Associated Press.
“You should have seen the letters I got. I got wonderful letters and I got hate letters [like] ‘Why aren’t you home saying the rosary?’” After four summers, Mary Carroll earned her master’s degree in education with a minor in dance.
“I really felt as if I was truly qualified to work in schools with the arts at that point,” she said.
Eventually, Mary Carroll was missioned in southern Indiana, teaching school by day and dance in the evenings and on Saturdays. Finally she realized she couldn’t do both, so she wrote a proposition paper for the superintendent of Catholic schools to teach dance. She was persuasive. Soon she was teaching dance in six schools in Evansville and one in Newburgh, Ind.
While Mary Carroll enjoyed teaching dance and being with other sisters, she felt called to start a family of her own. In 1974, after 19 years in the Congregation, she left. The sisters who lived with her supported her, only wanting her to do what God called her to do.
“My best friends in the world are still the sisters,” continued Mary Carroll, who has remembered the Congregation in her will.
Mary Carroll landed in Ohio, teaching in parochial schools and later public schools. By 1989 she married John Blocher, who has a degree in biochemistry and is a fourth-generation farmer. They have three children and five grandchildren. Today, after one knee and two hip replacements, the only dancing she does is with John.
While Mary Carroll will be “a Catholic until I die,” she does attend Sunday service at the Oakland Church of the Brethren where her husband has been a lifelong member. An associate member of the Brethren church, Mary Carroll visits the sick and homebound. During the week, she is sustained by the Eucharist she receives at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville. Mary Carroll feels comfortable in both worlds because of each church’s stance on social justice.
A Providence Associate since 2010, Mary Carroll said, “I feel like I’m part of the family of Providence. It renews my strength and commitment to serve others. Being ‘officially’ back in makes me feel full of joy.”
Joy, no doubt, that could make her dance.
I was a student of Sister Mary Carroll at Sacred Heart School in the late 1960s. She taught us dance in the cafeteria using the backs of folding chairs for barres. I never forgot her joy and enthusiasm and the way she made each of us feel special. She instilled a love of dance that I carried into adulthood. So happy to have found out what she’s doing now. 🙂