By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
The Trenton Catholic Academy family gathered to bid farewell to their beloved founding president, Sister of St. Joseph Dorothy Payne, at a Feb. 13 Memorial Mass. Hundreds of students, teachers, alumni, parents and guests filled the Hamilton school’s gymnasium to pay tribute to a woman who was a staunch advocate for the school and whom one eulogist labelled “a rough, tough, cream puff.”
Photo Gallery: Memorial Mass for Sister Dorothy Payne
On the stage behind the altar, a large portrait of Sister Dorothy stood near a large cross, an arrangement of flowers and the Pro Ecclesia Cross she had been awarded from Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. The Mass program each attendee held bore a portrait of the religious, who died Feb. 3, and was sprinkled with maxims written by Father Jean-Pierre Médaille, the founder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, such as “Keep things in perspective: God first and foremost,” and “Live our your life with one desire only: to be always what God wants you to be… in nature, grace and glory for time and for eternity.”
Father Augusto Gamalo, parochial vicar in St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, and TCA school chaplain, served as principal celebrant of the Mass. Another 10 priests were present to concelebrate.
TCA students Kiara Santiago and Alyssa Rauscher served as readers during the Mass, and music teacher Sean Haddad led the vocal and instrumental choir in praise. Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, diocesan vicar general and pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, proclaimed the Gospel in which Jesus reminded his disciples that he was the way, the truth and the life, and delivered a heartfelt eulogy to the religious who had helmed the school tirelessly.
“She was an extraordinary witness as a Sister of St. Joseph,” Msgr. Gervasio said, “and as a Catholic educator. TCA and Sister Dorothy Payne became synonymous. I was here in 2005 and very happily gave her the keys without any hesitation.”
Sister Dorothy was fiercely proud of her students, teachers and staff, and challenged them to be exceptional in every way, Msgr. Gervasio continued.
“In the field of education, she was no pushover, she was tough… she was a rough, tough cream puff,” he said as laughter bubbled up from the congregation. “During her illness, she had every reason to complain, but through it all, she was a teacher… She carried her Cross with remarkable courage.
“There is a void she leaves here in our school and in our hearts,” Msgr. Gervasio concluded, “but our sorrow is tempered by faith. Today’s Mass is a vivid and powerful expression of our love for her. Continue your prayers; pray that the Lord will embrace and welcome this handmaid home.”
At the conclusion of Mass, school, diocesan staff and community leaders recalled humorous anecdotes and added their reflections about Sister Dorothy.
TCA administrator Michael Knowles recalled the last words spoken by Sister Dorothy as he visited her in the hospital: “Michael, we have great kids at Trenton Catholic Academy. They are wonderful, but sometimes they do dumb things.” Knowles called her, “tough, but fair. She was authentic … had true allegiance to the motto of our founder, Msgr. Michael McCorristin: serve the youth who God gives tomorrow.”
Joseph Bianchi, diocesan chief administrative officer, noted, “She was an example of God’s love for us,” and asserted she would be long remembered, for “the good we do to others is eternal.”
JoAnn Tier, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, called Sister Dorothy her mentor who “changed or gave directions to our lives… She is but a prayer away.”
Following the reflections, many congregation members were moved to tears while viewing a video slideshow of Sister Dorothy’s life. People oohed over her baby pictures, young Dorothy in her First Holy Communion dress, and a photo of the young postulant in her habit, then gasped in recognition or laughter at photos of Sister Dorothy with her beloved teachers, staff and students of Trenton Catholic Academy. The last photo, taken not long before her death, showed the religious seated in a wheelchair yet enthusiastically high-fiving a young student.
“She was our leader, our spirit, a positive driving force,” said TCA third grade teacher Barbara Lansing of Sister Dorothy. “She motivated all of us.”
Melina Stern, the Lower School’s sixth grade teacher, admired, “her passion for Catholic education, not only in our school but in the community at large. She envisioned systemic change.”
Seated in the front row of the auditorium was Sister of St. Joseph Phyllis Tracy, a member of Sister Dorothy’s congregation. She said sadly, “She was my best friend of 51 years. Her mainstay was love of the Lord and of the kids. She used to try to raise funding for those students who couldn’t afford Catholic education.”
Then, brightening a bit, Sister Phyllis added, “She used to tell me, ‘Tracy, T.P. Just T.P.: Think Positive.”