Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A to Z April Challenge: Z is for Sister Zoe



My theme for the A to Z April Challenge is “In-Laws and Out-Laws – Friends of the Family.”  I will be researching friends, colleagues, neighbors - those people who came and went touching my family’s lives in both small and large ways. 


is for Zoe.  Sister Zoe. 

When I was born, my mother gave me my first name; my father gave me my middle name.  He named me for Sister Zoe, his favorite teacher at St. Joseph’s Academy (later Portsmouth Catholic).  For years I have bragged about being named for Sister Zoe whose portrait hangs at Oasis, the local soup kitchen that she founded.  All the neighborhood churches take turns providing meals daily for the homeless and anyone else in need of a hot meal.  When my Sunday School class served lunch one time, I pointed to the portrait of Sister Zoe there on the wall and confided to several friends, “Yes, I was named for her.”

Former location of Oasis
There's even a "we've moved" sign.
Turns out I was a liar.

But I didn’t mean to be.  When I started my research in preparation for a post about Sister Zoe, I found an obituary for Sister Zoe Wheeler.  While the details covered her teaching career, there was no mention of Oasis, but I didn’t think anything of it since the writer might not have known nor intended to include all of her accomplishments.  You know how humble nuns can be.

Next I called a friend who is still very active at St. Paul’s Catholic Church where Sister Zoe had served.  She checked a book about the church’s history for any additional information to help flesh out this story.  It turns out the founder of Oasis was actually Sister Zoe Hyland, not Sister Zoe Wheeler.   

When I found Sister Zoe Hyland’s obituary, the dates of her service in Portsmouth beginning in 1951 didn’t match the dates when Daddy was a school boy in the late 30s-mid 40s. 

Former St. Joseph's Academy in Portsmouth
now an apartment building
There was nothing left to do but whine and grumble to my sister about the dilemma of how to write about Sister Zoe when nothing made sense.  Mary Jollette read Sister Zoe Wheeler’s obituary and solved the mystery right away.  She recalled Daddy saying that Sister Zoe’s birth name was Theresa.  And there it was:   “Zoe Wheeler (Theresa Barr Wheeler), Daughter of Charity, 80, died May 5, 1999 at St. Louise House, Albany, NY.”

Ta Da!  While “MY” Sister Zoe wasn’t the one of soup-kitchen-fame, they had much in common.  Both received their education at St. Joseph’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Both joined the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, an apostolic society dedicated to service to the poor.  Both taught school for a time in Portsmouth and at Immaculate Conception parochial school in Maryland. 

from Google Images
Two habits of Daughters of Charity
Left:  modern design by Christian Dior
Right:  traditional that was abandoned
due to vision and hearing problems
associated with the cornet
(Do you think this was the inspiration
for "The Flying Nun"?)

“MY” Sister Zoe came from a family that must have been one strong and devout Catholic family.  Theresa Barr Wheeler was the youngest of seven daughters born to Ferdinand and Nina Barr Wheeler in New York.  Two of them married.  Five of them devoted their lives to the church.  Sister Mary Cecelia was a Religious of the Sacred Heart (considered the female equivalent of the Jesuits); Sister Madeleine, Sister Jean Marie (Suzanne Wheeler), and Sister Elaine (Anne Lenore Wheeler) were Daughters of Charity like Sister Zoe.  Their cousin Ferdinand Wheeler was a Jesuit priest.  You know the Wheelers had to have been the envy of every other family in their parish!

Sister Zoe entered the community of Daughters of Charity in 1937.  In 1940 she was living and teaching at the St. Catherine Orphanage in Reading, Pennsylvania.  It must have been shortly afterwards that she went to Portsmouth to join other Daughters of Charity who had assumed the staffing of the parochial schools, replacing the Xaverian Brothers.   

In her obituary, Sister Zoe is described as “an innovative and creative teacher, a clear-headed administrator and an energetic community builder.”  I bet that’s what Daddy liked about her.


Sister Zoe - Theresa Barr Wheeler
May 9, 1918 Bronx, New York - May 5, 1999 Albany, New York

Zip, zoom, or zigzag over to the A to Z April Challenge zone for zillions of zesty zingers by zealous zanies before they are zapped.  But the challenge is now over, so it’s time for me to catch some zzzzzzzzzzzz’s.




© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

38 comments:

  1. Wow...the ways we find things out that we already think we know!!! That first habit was sooo flying nun!!!

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    1. I know! All this time operating under a delusion. Just glad I pieced together the truth instead of perpetuating wrong information.
      Thanks for the visit.

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  2. That's a brilliant Z post Wendy .... And who knew that Christian Dior designed nuns' habits! The nuns at the school I went to weren't nearly as glamorous (or charitable !).
    Fil visiting from the A to Z challenge - My link isn't working very well these past few days for some reason but here goes anyway.
    Lovely to meet you
    Fil’s Place - Old Songs and Memories

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    1. Nice to meet you too and thanks for the visit. Yes, I'm still trying to wrap my head around that Dior habit. Funny little factoid.

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed your challenge and admire the research you do for your posts. Now we can have a rest!

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    1. Well, my research is ok, but you combined research AND a poem every day. I could never do that. OK, time for a short breather and then back to our regularly scheduled program.

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  4. Rest? What is that? Maybe because it's the last day of A to Z, but I couldn't sleep at four this am, so was up early checking on blogs! Thoroughly enjoyed yours this year and really appreciated your theme. Christian Dior? Wow, I'm impressed he made nun habits! I'm following you now so I'll see you around! Happy blogging!

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    1. Yeah, that Christian Dior thing boggles the mind. I doubt most nuns were statuesque size 0. Who had the idea to ask Dior in the first place? You have a French connection -- maybe you can find out HA!
      Thanks for the visits -- I'll be seeing you too!

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  5. Wendy, Sister Zoe was still a wonderful woman to be named after. Congratulations on finishing the alphabet with fun & style!

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    1. Thank-ya ma'am! I think either or both Sisters Zoe were worth being named for.

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  6. I see it's your third Challenge also. Congratulations on reaching the end.

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    1. Ahhhhh ~
      And thanks for the visit!

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  7. Wow so finally you did unearth the secret to your name :) Congratulations for finishing the challenge yet again...I see that it's your 3rd time around...well done!

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    1. I did -- and until I started searching, I didn't even realize there was a story to tell
      Thanks for the visit!

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  8. Dear Wendy Zoe, you are a fascinating person and I am delighted I got this chance to meet you! You are really good at what you do and make it incredibly interesting -- I am right there with you as you discover the treasures you find. You shine at this! It has been an honor to get to know you!
    jean xox

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    1. It's been fun, Jean! Gosh, I feel like this is the last day of school and everyone is going home for the summer. I've enjoyed getting to know you too with your whacky fictionary.

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  9. Hi Wendy, its been wonderful meeting you through the Challenge and reading all your posts. I enjoyed your posts and the theme. I am glad that you found the Sister Zoe your father named you after.

    Btw..I am taking your advice about working on the story for my hard cover book now :) Going to be just writing for the next few days.

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    1. Rachna, I'm so glad you're getting on that book now that the Challenge is behind us. I can tell from your blog that you are a THINKER, so I hope to read your creative writing some day.

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  10. I enjoyed following your posts for this challenge. Well done!

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  11. Wonderful! I love finding out history like this. My dad is a great source of who's who in all the old photos. Congratulations on A to Z and thanks for popping in to mine! Conlee http://www.conleericketts.com/blog.html

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    1. Every family needs the knower of who's who. Thanks for visiting.

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  12. At least you know the truth now. And you might not have looked if not for these posts.

    Liz A. from Laws of Gravity

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    1. That's exactly right -- I wouldn't have looked because I thought I knew.
      Thanks for sticking with me through A to Z.

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  13. An inadvertent lie leads to a new story, that's a good way to wrap up. And either Zoe was a worthy namesake! Happy end of A-Z Wendy :-)

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    1. I agree -- both of the Sisters Zoe sound like fine women.

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  14. What a great story to end A-Z April! Loved it and glad the mystery was solved :)
    Happy May!

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    1. I'm glad the mystery is solved too, especially since I didn't know there was one to solve when I started this blog post! HA!

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  15. WowZer Wendy....way to end another year of AtoZingers. This is getting to be a 'Habit'...errrk. It will be hard to top this years theme and the excellent writing and research you have done with this theme. Zoe...not Zoey? Initials W.Z.?? WowZer fits then. Thanks for your visits and comments...I've looked forward to them and appreciate you so much. Together now for Three AtoZ Challenges....whoop whoop whoop!
    SueZe at CollectInTexas Gal

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    1. "Habit" -- groan. But a happy groan. Leave it to Sue to add that zinger.
      3 years ! Go Us!

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  16. LOVED this post. How cool you took the time to figure out the whole story. What an awesome family. My daughter lived in a Sacred Heart Nunnery in Baltimore MD while working on her Masters. The church has a program where they use empty convents to house students who are working on their Masters in exchange for working in need based areas. Catholic Education began in MD, so it seems quite fitting.

    Sandy at Traveling Suitcase

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    1. I didn't know that Maryland was home to Catholic education. Interesting. Thanks!

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  17. This was a thoroughly enjoyable post. You tell about your photos in a way that always captures interest. You've made getting to know you through the A to Z a pleasure. Congratulations on hitting the finish line.
    Best,
    Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

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    1. You're so kind. Thanks for being a loyal visitor.

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  18. What a fun and lovely way for you to end the A to Z Challenge! Congrats on solving the mystery of who you were actually named after.

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    1. As luck would have it, that little mystery was solved pretty quickly. Thanks!

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  19. Zoe is a beautiful name! I am so glad you have it and your daughter too. I think it is wonderful that Daddy chose such a lovely name and person to name his first child. You certainly carried her name sake with the numerous activities you have been involved with over the years.

    The Dior habit is what I remember seeing the nuns at St. Paul's wear. Who knew they were wearing high fashion? =)

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    1. Yes, they could have had their own tv show: Project Nunway.

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