Sister Caroline Hatch
“People were bringing even infants to Jesus that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, ‘Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the reign of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the reign of God like a child will not enter it.’”
—– Luke 18:15-17
This scripture passage seemed more than appropriate for a woman who spent 60 years teaching first grade! Sister Caroline Hatch was that woman. For 10 years, children came to her in Chicago; for three years in Rochester, New Hampshire; and for 47 years in Massachusetts, 41 of them at St. Rose School, in Chelsea. To my way of thinking, anyone who taught first grade for 60 years surely went straight to heaven, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Caroline Hatch, who died Monday, Jan. 9, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 90 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 70 years.
Caroline Frances was born on Feb. 9, 1926, to William and Johanna Moore Hatch in Hingham, Massachusetts. She was one of six children, with four sisters and one brother. Caroline would love it when sisters called her “Caroline Hatch from Hingham.” Hingham is a small town in Massachusetts which had and still has very few Catholics, so saying “Caroline Hatch from Hingham,” was equivalent to Nathanial asking, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Caroline attended the public grade school and high school in Hingham. After graduating high school in 1943, Caroline worked as a bookkeeper at the Hingham Shipyard. It seems certain that she probably had never met a sister, let alone a Sister of Providence. It was her parish priest, Father John Mulkern, who asked if she ever considered entering a religious community. The priest had been at St. Rose, Chelsea, prior to going to Hingham; thus, he suggested the Sisters of Providence. Caroline’s father was not a Catholic. He told his wife that Caroline didn’t need to worry about getting married because he would continue to take care of her and that she definitely did not need to become a nun. As recently as the Senior Jubilee celebration, on Dec. 8, Sister Caroline talked about Father Mulkern.
However, as Providence would have it, Caroline entered the Congregation on July 22, 1946. She was given the religious name Sister Mary Caroline and later was known simply as Caroline. She professed her first and final vows on July 22, 1949 and 1954, respectively. She earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and her master’s in education from Indiana State University.
Sisters who lived with Caroline recall her as a “treasure to live with,” a very happy person with a fabulous sense of humor which brought joy to recreation and any other celebrations. She loved summer vacation with other sisters at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and was considered a “great water skier.”
To say she was an excellent and creative first grade teacher probably does not do her justice. One could tell by the sparkle in her eyes, the spring in her step and her boundless energy around children and days packed full of projects, plays, rhythm band and more.
She literally taught first grade to generations of children at St. Rose, in Chelsea, and it was every parents’ hope that their child would be assigned to Sister Caroline’s classroom. She was happiest putting on shows with the children, teaching them dances, making the costumes herself and making music with instruments. The liturgical year came alive for her first graders. It was legendary for the rest of the school to come to the auditorium for their different performances. If you visited Caroline’s classroom, you would see all manner of small appliances – blenders, food choppers, mixers – all in an effort to give her “little ones” hands-on experiences of a country’s culture or food.
She saw the humor in 6-year-olds and laughed out loud a lot herself with her classes. There are several funny stories which Caroline would tell over the years. One day, Caroline was her usual animated self when the snap of her skirt popped. Her skirt fell to the floor. One little girl simply replied, “Good thing you wore a slip today, Sister!”
Her success as a first grade teacher was summed up thus: She knew how to be one with the children without losing herself as an adult. She knew exactly when to stop the merriment to get a life-principle across according to their level of growth. Most importantly, she practiced Mother Theodore’s maxim to “love the children first, then teach them.” And she was that same way with adults. She never knew a stranger and many experienced her kind and unassuming ways. No wonder she has icon status at St. Rose!
In many respects, Caroline was way ahead of her times, especially in the embracing of diversity and the immigrant. Chelsea was a center of welcome for many people who had to flee from the Castro regime in Cuba in the 1960s. St. Rose changed practically overnight and Caroline found herself with a number of children coming into first grade who spoke only Spanish. Undaunted, she enrolled in a Spanish class at night in Revere High School. She was really the first one who was able to communicate with these small children, as well as with their parents.
Caroline devoted every Saturday to different tasks in St. Rose Parish Church. It is facetiously said that she “ran the parish,” and considering that she was church sacristan for about 30 years, one would tend to agree.
She prepared the altar, laid out the priests’ vestments, was a cantor and lector, laundered and pressed all the church linens, as well as the altar boys’ attire. Thanks to her, the church was always decorated tastefully and beautifully. There was an altar facing the people, but the large ornate high altar was still there and so that was prepared beautifully also. Beyond that, she often served as a resource to the young and the old and to newly assigned priests, who would often “learn the ropes” from Caroline.
Sister Caroline was a bundle of energy, often bounding up and down the four stories of St. Rose convent, in seemingly effortless flow. Her love of life was evident in her everyday living. She always had a gorgeous garden of flowers and vegetables in the courtyard of the convent, used by many of the sisters as a reflective area. She was remembered as a “good and fair” house treasurer and evidently had the process of accounting for expenditures “down to a science.” In her retirement, she was always working on a baby blanket for some family she knew in the parish. The gifts she had, she shared. She was a private person who didn’t share a lot about herself. She just did … and that gave her joy.
When Caroline returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in November last year, she wanted to see two things: Saint Mother Theodore’s shrine and the alpacas, reflecting, I believe, her great love for Mother Theodore on whom she modeled her life and her own child-like delight in all creation.
I’ll end this by quoting one of the many comments that have been left on the Sisters of Providence website following notice of Sister Caroline’s death. This one is from Jennifer Gillis and it is directed to “Sister Sinatra.”
“You will be sorely missed. You were and are beloved by every child that crossed your path and remembered with love and fondness by every adult who ever had the honor of being your student. You taught generations of my family. You sang in choir with my mother. You encouraged me to sing loud and proud when you gave me a solo at Sunday Mass when I was 6 years old. When I thought I did poorly because all the adults were crying, you told me they were crying because it was so beautiful. I hung on every word you said. You gave me confidence. Thank you for that!”
Indeed, Sister Caroline, thank you for that … and for leaving us a rich legacy of your love of children, your big smile and great heart and your readiness to help all.
Services for Sister Caroline took place on Wednesday, Jan. 11, and Thursday, Jan. 12, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A Wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Wednesday, Jan. 11, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial took place at 11 a.m., on Thursday, Jan. 12.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Caroline in the comment section below.
At this time, our site contains all Sisters of Providence obituaries beginning in 2009.
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