By Anne Forline
Gloucester City News
Sister Nora Foley was born the daughter of a farmer and homemaker in Killarney, Ireland.
She grew up with her three brothers and two sisters on a 100-acre farm, where one of their daily chores was to milk the cows before walking two and half miles to school.
Sister Nora knew early in her life that the Lord was calling her. On August 28, 1952, she boarded a ship and left behind her homeland and a family that she loved dearly to come to an unknown country.
On September 2, after five long days on the ocean, the ship finally sailed into New York Harbor.
When she saw the Statute of Liberty, she thought, “Lord, here I am. I come to do your will.”
While in New York, Sister Nora lived with family, and worked for a few years as a file clerk at Blue Cross Insurance Company.
Then, on September 8, 1954, the date Sister Nora declares “the happiest day of my life,” she heeded the Lord’s call and entered the Newburgh Dominican Con-gregation – where her maternal aunt, Sister Amadeus, was a member.
From New York, Sister Nora made her way to the South Jersey area – where she has spent over 55 years serving in the education field. She earned a Master’s Degree in Administration from Villanova University.
In 2004, she was nominated for the “Distinguished Principal” Award and she also received the Camden County Freedom Medal for 25 years of service to St. Mary’s.
In the mid-1950s, Sister Nora began teaching at St. Lawrence School in Lindenwold, when she was known as “Sister Patricia.”
While there, she taught Gloucester City School Superintendent Paul Spaventa, who has many fond memories of her.
“I have known Sister Nora for most of my life. She was my teacher and she also served as head of the altar boys,” he said.
Spaventa credited Sister Nora for teaching him many lessons about discipline and hard work.
“Back then, Mass was said in Latin and we met and practiced regularly.”
Also, he learned deep compassion from her.
“No matter how stern she was, you could always see in her eyes that she cared greatly for you.”
After St. Lawrence, Sister Nora was transferred to Sacred Heart School in Camden and served as principal from 1967-1979.
Sister Nora said the children there were very special.
“I’ve enjoyed working with inner city children. They touched my life.”
However, many people would say Sister Nora was the one who impacted their lives in profound ways, especially when she arrived in Gloucester in 1979.
From that time up until 2004, Sister served as principal at St. Mary’s.
Since then, she has worked as an instructional aide at Cold Springs School and officially retired from that position on June 16.
Former student, Hannah Bryant revered Sister Nora and remembers when she was the principal at St. Mary’s for many years.
“Sister Nora was much more than just an educator. She created a family at St. Mary’s. It was wonderful to watch her do the same thing at Cold Springs.”
Principal Martin O’Con-nor has often said that Cold Springs School is like one big family, and Sister Nora fit right in from the start.
“Sister Nora is one of the finest people I have ever known. She is very well educated and has been in a number of leadership roles as principal of schools and superior of convents.
“Yet she is very humble and meek. I am truly grateful that she was my children's principal at St. Mary's and that when I was principal at Mary Ethel Costello, we shared in Partners in Learning and other activities,” O’Connor said.
“While working as a paraprofessional here at Cold Springs, Sister's dedication, quiet unassuming manner and care for others has been an inspiration for all. As we both end our careers here in Gloucester City, I wish Sister much continued good health and happiness.”
Spaventa also said Sister Nora will be missed.
“I saw her compassion each day here in Gloucester in her dealings with our young students. She is hard working, committed and full of love for education and her students. We will truly miss her, personally and professionally.”
Several of Sr. Nora’s current students are sad to see her go, and shared some favorite memories.
Leo Curran, 6, excitedly stated, “Sister Nora is very nice and she teaches us everything.”
His favorite memory was when she asked him to go with her to the teacher’s lounge to help take popsicles out of the freezer.
James Adams, 5, added, “Sister Nora helps people when they get hurt and she will take them to the nurse to get ice. She also helps us with math. She helped me count to 100 better than any other kid.”
Ashae Clark, 6, said she enjoys it when Sister Nora takes the class to gym.
“Sister jogs all around the blue line with us, like five times. “I love when Sister Nora does that because I never saw a teacher jog before,” Ashae said.
Although Sister will be greatly missed by many around the halls of Cold Springs School, there is one person in particular who will be sad when school begins again in the fall.
That person is Cathy Barbara, who was Sister Nora’s teaching partner for the past seven years.
Cathy has said that working with Sister Nora is like “working with my mother, mother-in-law and sister every single day.”
When she was initially told by O’Connor in 2004 that Sister Nora would be assigned to her classroom, she had hesitations. The two women had never met and Cathy’s husband had teased her about “being on her best behavior.”
According to Cathy, it did not take long for her to be won over by Sister Nora.
Sister’s nurturing ways slowly affected their kindergarten classroom and the whole school as well.
Cathy said, “In her own quiet, unassuming way, Sister is there for anyone who needs her. She always notices special little things, like who just lost a tooth or who needs some extra love and care that day.
“When a child reaches a special milestone, she is the first to notice and cheers him or her on. If two children have a little spat, she takes them to the win-win corner and in no time, they are sharing what they were squabbling over.
“Sister’s kindness isn't just felt in our classroom. Once, Sister Nora saw another teacher setting up breakfast for her class and Sister Nora went right on over and started helping,” Cathy said.
Aside from being a full-time instructional aide each school day, Sister Nora remains steadfastly committed to the homebound of her community and serves as a living example of her faith. Every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., she makes her rounds by walking and administering Holy Communion to 12 homebound people.
Sister Christine, a long-time friend, told of Sister Nora’s dedication to the homebound.
“Sister Nora demonstrates compassion toward everyone. That includes her extended family, friends and employees. Sister always gives to others before herself without ever counting the cost,” Sr. Christine said.
“This is so evident on Saturdays when Sister visits the homebound to take others the Holy Eucharist. Sister travels on foot sometimes as far as Lipkin’s Pharmacy. To shut-ins, there is no greater gift for them than receiving the Holy Eucharist and nothing will keep Sister Nora from doing so,” she said.
Sister Nora’s official last day at Cold Springs School was June 16, and she plans to join Sister Christine and other retired Dominican Sisters in Asbury Park.
However, Sister Nora promises, with her trademark gentle smile and a twinkle in her eye, “I’ll be around from time to time.”