Sister Rosemary seeks the thrill of teaching at 85

Sister Rosemary Sieg stands in her office at St. Mary’s Catholic School, surrounded by the books she provides reading lessons with students.

By William Crow

NEWTON—Thrills are not something typically associated with teaching. But for Sister Rosemary Sieg, it is what has kept her love of teaching alive all these years.

She continues to teach at Saint Mary’s Catholic School in Newton, where she teaches reading skills to third and fourth graders.

“I love to help teach them with their prayers,” Sieg said. “In church, the children have their first communion and I whelp them reading the Old Testament. They recite it on the church microphone and I got such a thrill from that.”

Now, at the age of 85 years old, Sieg recently reached 65 years of teaching and has no plans to quit anytime soon.

“For myself, I just keep wanting to meet new children. It is what excites me. A lot of times, they can have trouble in school and in reading, and I think how can I make that simple for them,” Sieg said.

The ability to work with children at such a young age is what has kept Sieg in her position for so long, she said.

Sieg now only works at the school for three hours of the school day due to the physical stress on her body.

The staff at Saint Mary’s has accommodated Sieg’s well-being, and as a result, the devout educator can still manage her life and her passion.

When working with her students, a fun question Sieg is asked is, “How old are you?” She will often reply by saying she is 100 to get a laugh out of the children.

A long-time supporter of Sieg is previous Newton board of education member Barbara Bunting.

Bunting’s family was taught by Sieg and has been looking into ways the city can recognize Sieg’s contributions to the community.

In 2013, Bunting was recognized as the Newton area Women of the Year. Recipients of this honor are encouraged to seek out other residents who are equally deserving, Bunting said.

Bunting has positioned Sieg to receive the award on numerous occasions, most recently in March 2022, but has found no success.

“You [Sieg] have touched more families in Newton than anyone has been teaching in the area since 1985. Your reach is more than just to an individual child in the classroom,” Bunting said.

The stereotype of sisters in media, such as in film, is often portrayed as mean teachers, and Sieg is the complete opposite of that, Bunting said.

Sieg does her best in her classroom to fight that common stereotype and to welcome the kids into an environment where they don’t need to be afraid.

“I don’t want them to be,” she said.

Entering her vows of sisterhood at the age of 14, Sieg is now the longest-running teacher in the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, she said.

When she first began her life as a sister, Sieg remembers the lonesomeness of having to leave her family.

“I was lonesome for my family. They could come to visit me once a month, but I remember it was hard. My dad made my sisters write a letter to me every week and that really helped,” Sieg said

The number of Catholic sisters has been on a steady decline since the ’70s. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate’s research statistics, there were approximately 160,000 sisters active in the U.S. in 1970. In 2021, however, that number decreased to approximately 40,000—a 75 percent decrease.

Aware of the decline, Sieg believes that women are becoming more hesitant to take the extra step when devoting their life to their faith.

“Women today are still very generous. They want to learn about God, but they don’t want to give themselves entirely; it’s probably too much for them,” Sieg said. “There is so much in the world, and because of that, people want so much. Some want to be married and be mothers, and I don’t blame them. It just seems they can’t give themselves completely,”

Sieg does try to keep in contact with her past students, some of whom have gone on to follow a similar path as she has.

In her 65 years of education, she has taught in multiple locations, including Wichita, Parsons, Wellington, Derby and Newton. She has also taught in Groves, Texas, where she spent her time at Immaculate Conception School.

Her love for teaching and faith in God is what will keep her following this path in the future, she said.

“Children need patience and want to love to learn. I know that God is the one who is leading me and my congregation and my family. The people here in Newton have been so good to me,” Sieg said.

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