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During her early years in the congregation, Sr. John Celeste Weitzel ministered in education but later studied to be a physical therapist. When she moved from Baltimore to the Aston area in November 2015, she came with a dream—to work with our sisters at Assisi House who were not getting PT for a specific problem.
Sister Gerald Helene Connelly cogency
Pick an instrument—any instrument—and chances are Sr. Gerald Helene Connelly can teach you to play it. “In order to teach music, you have to know all the instruments,” she explained. Sr. Gerald has taught music on all levels—elementary, secondary, and college—and served as principal. Although she holds both a B.A. in piano and organ and an M.A. in oboe and bassoon, for Sr. Gerald music is a gift inborn. “Our family was very musically inclined,” she explained. “My mother played the piano; my father sang in church, on the radio, and on TV. My brother, sisters, and I all played piano and one played the violin. There was never a day in our home without music.”
Sr. Gerald’s first introduction to the Sisters of St. Francis came when she was a student at West Catholic High School in Philadelphia. She remembers the Franciscan sisters as being very down to earth and showing an interest in all of the students. Sr. Gerald shared fond memories of Sr. Bernard Helene who later sponsored her when she entered the congregation. She also remembered Catherine Francis. “She made rosaries,” Sr. Gerald recalled, “and before she died she gave me her rosary-making tools.” Once Sr. Gerald entered the congregation, her own love of music helped forge a close connection to Sr. Francis Assisi who was then the liturgy director at the motherhouse and who taught music to the candidates and novices. One wonders if—at that point—Sr. Gerald realized the extent to which she would be sharing her own love of music.
Currently Sr. Gerald Helene teaches music to grades K-8 at Cardinal Foley School in Havertown, Pennsylvania. The school operates on at trimester basis and each trimester, Sr. Gerald’s students work on an assigned music project. In grades 4-8 this becomes a family project where students research information about the composer and musical selection. If there are younger siblings in the family, they also become involved in the project. The third trimester project was Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” During class students learned to play the selection—one hand at a time and then using both hands. Sr. Gerald has eight keyboards in the classroom and eventually taped the students as they played “Ode to Joy” both individually and in small groups. The students in grades K-3 study music. For their third trimester project, they learned to play and sing the song “Let the Music Begin.”
A final aspect of the program is to have each student learn to sing a song that Sr. Gerald selects. Although this began as a means of teaching a song that the entire school could sing at an assembly, the idea has evolved into an attempt to allow students to develop individual confidence in their own abilities. In fact, the entire music program tends to develop confidence along with knowledge. Sr. Gerald explained that she was particularly proud of this year’s 7th and 8th graders. A number of them were initially fearful of the goals she set for them. Yet by the end of the year, their pride in their own accomplishments was overwhelmingly evident.
As with most teachers, Sr. Gerald’s day doesn’t end when the final bell rings. After school she gives music lessons to children who want to expand their ability to play the piano. And would any teacher not have papers to grade and lesson plans to prepare? Saturday evenings find her playing for liturgy at Sacred Heart Parish in Clifton Heights. Sunday afternoon she meets with one of our sisters for an oboe lesson. Each summer she visits and brings Communion to patients in Bryn Mawr Hospital. And leisure? Well, Sr. Gerald enjoys crocheting, visiting with family and friends, and—not surprisingly—listening to and playing music!
Like most of us, Sr. Gerald is sometimes challenged by the lack of time to accomplish what she wants to do. However, like most teachers, she acknowledges that the final product brings many blessings—“watching the excitement on the children’s faces as they complete each new task and witnessing the growth of the children as ‘people.’”