Teaching the Whole Person

Mercy Sister Carole MacKenthun makes children’s education a personal mission

February 16, 2024 at 7:00 a.m.
From left, St. Catharine School second graders Julian Rubas, Henry Pepe and Grace Richard and first grader Riley Salkewicz join Sister Carole MacKenthun for Rosary prayer group. Courtesy photo
From left, St. Catharine School second graders Julian Rubas, Henry Pepe and Grace Richard and first grader Riley Salkewicz join Sister Carole MacKenthun for Rosary prayer group. Courtesy photo

By EMMALEE ITALIA
Contributing Editor

The many threads of Mercy Sister Carole MacKenthun’s life weave together in a tapestry of service to God and his people, with a distinct emphasis on the poor and the young. And it began with a foundation of Catholic faith in her home and schools.

“In those days there was a sister in every classroom,” she said of her education in St. Anthony School, Hamilton, and in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville. “We were immersed in that religious culture. ... It was the focal part of our lives.”

Sister Carole has lived her vocation for more than 60 years, nearly 56 of them in Catholic school classrooms of the Dioceses of Trenton and Metuchen. She has imparted lessons of faith through teaching and publishing teaching materials, while supporting the education of schoolchildren in Uganda through her Mission of Mercy project. At 79, she continues teaching part-time in St. Catharine School, Spring Lake.

“My whole life has been dedicated to teaching children,” she said. “I found a lot of support in every place I’ve been. … I never wanted to be anything else than a teacher … [and connected to] the Diocese and the Catholic identity.

“We all have a mission,” she continued, “and I think God is the one who invites us to that mission.”

FROM ROOTS TO BRANCHES

Growing up in Hamilton Township and belonging to St. Anthony Parish, Sister Carole was an only child with parents from different faith traditions.

“My mom and my grandparents were staunch Catholics; my dad was a Methodist, so he prayed, but not our style,” she explained. The roots of her Catholic faith came from her mother and grandmother; her grandfather, who died when Sister Carole was in seventh grade, had also been a faithful Catholic and a member of the Holy Name Society.

“I remember learning my prayers and developing a devotion to Mary with the Rosary and novenas,” she continued. “My mother played piano and often played hymns to Our Lady.”

Father Damian McElroy, pastor of St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake, and Sister Carole MacKenthun join students for a Thanksgiving meal in St. Catharine School cafeteria. Courtesy photo

Her journey to the sisterhood and teaching began in St. Anthony School.

“In second grade I knew I had a vocation,” she said, recalling an attraction to the Franciscan Sisters’ long flowing habits and the aroma of freshly baked cookies wafting from their kitchen. “I loved hearing from them the stories of the saints and about the apparitions of Our Lady. I loved music and took piano lessons from the sisters in school. ... I also loved to play teacher at the chalkboard.”

Sister Carole said she has always been drawn to teaching children. “I think the Holy Spirit guided me ... I guess it’s a calling. We live in a certain period of time, in a certain place, and all of those things fashion you.”

When she entered Notre Dame High School, she found a lifelong connection with the Sisters of Mercy teaching there.

“As Father Damian [McElroy, pastor of St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake] says, ‘Our life is a series of relationships.’ And I think it’s the relationship with people that leads you to your mission,” Sister Carole said. “I didn’t know anything about the Mercy Sisters’ foundress or their charism; all I knew was that I liked being with them. They were my friends. ... I knew deep within me that I was more at home doing religious things.”

Following graduation, she worked for a year in the diocesan Chancery, where she became friends with then-Bishop George W. Ahr. He advised her to seek an order of nuns that would make use of her outgoing nature.

“‘Carole, I don’t think you’re meant for contemplative life!’ he told me.”

Sister Carole entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1963 in Watchung – and the only child loved finally having sisters who were akin to siblings. She spent three years there – the first in postulancy, then two years as a novice, with classes at Mount St. Mary College woven throughout. She finished her college education in Georgian Court College (now University), Lakewood, majoring in elementary education. Sister Carole made her first profession of vows Aug. 17, 1966, and her final profession Aug. 15, 1971.

Her teaching experience spans schools in two New Jersey dioceses, including St. Mary Academy, Lakewood; St. Mary High School, Perth Amboy; Sacred Heart School, South Plainfield; and St. Matthias School, Somerset. For the past three decades she has served as teacher and spirituality coordinator in St. Catharine’s.

AN AFFINITY FOR INSTRUCTION

Sister Carole’s teaching role would grow to include not only classroom instruction, but also publications. While working on her master’s in education for five summers at Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey, Ewing), Sister Carole’s talent for writing was noticed by a professor, Eileen Burke, who asked her to lead creative writing workshops.

“She discovered something I never saw within me,” Sister Carole said.

Her best friend, Sister Margo Kavanaugh – who was supervisor of the Sisters of Mercy and principal in St. Matthias School (Metuchen Diocese) – subsequently asked her to write books for teachers and children.

Sister Carole MacKenthun poses with students in costume during Catholic Schools Week, when they learned from Sister Carole and Father Damian McElroy (rear) about what it’s like to be a nun or priest. Courtesy photo

“Over the years I wrote about 20 books on the saints and activity books for teachers on the Fruits of the Spirit,” Sister Carole recounted. “I also gave workshops to teachers on using creativity in religion classes.”

For the 100th anniversary of St. Catharine Church, she wrote and published a book titled, “Following the Light: Meditations on the Stained Glass Windows of St. Catharine Church.” Built at the turn of the 20th century in a Classic Revival style, the church is known for its elaborate frescoes and windows, designed by artists from Rome and Europe.

Of her early teaching years, she said: “I wanted the students to learn to love school, so I have always tried to draw forth the treasure in each child. ... I started using art, drama and music to bring home the message of the Gospel.”

Weaving her prayer life into the classroom, she began guiding students in meditations.

“I taught the children to ‘go to their heart room’ ... I have them sit in silence, asking them, ‘Where is Jesus is with you today?’ ... As my spirituality deepened, my teaching methods deepened. ... We need silence to hear God; if we don’t pause in prayer, we can’t hear his voice.”

Sister Carole began a children’s Rosary prayer group while she was a teacher in St. Matthias School, then continued the tradition by starting one — and an adult Rosary group — when she moved to St. Catharine’s. She has even turned her private daily meditations into a series, “Meditations on Ice: Daily reflections of hope and peace through the storms of living,” which she sends to a group of friends and has bound annually into a volume.

SEEKING THE VULNERABLE

Her love for the poor was kindled in elementary school and blossomed into something greater in her sisterhood.

Students of St. Kizito School in Lwetunga, Uganda hold up their hand-knitted crosses made by volunteers Pat and Thomas Scotto. Courtesy photo

“A Maryknoll missionary came into our eighth-grade class and showed us photos of poor children,” Sister Carole remembered. “I was so moved by the pictures. ... At that time, you could give $5 to adopt a ‘pagan baby’; you would receive a card and be able to name that child. I collected a lot for a baby I named Carole, after me; from that time on, I knew I wanted to serve the poor and to teach.”

When asked to take part in an initiative the Diocese of Trenton was conducting to partner with the Diocese of Kasana-Luweero in Uganda, she leaped at the chance.

“It was one of the dreams I had when I was young that I had forgotten about – but God didn’t!”

In her 20 years supporting that program and later forming her own project, Mission of Mercy, Sister Carole helped to raise funds and secure donors for a school, churches and a health clinic, providing new facilities and financial support with the help of St. Catharine School and parish families.

PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER

Sister Carole’s teaching and outreach have touched the lives of countless children and families, both in the classroom and via her published materials. But she remains focused on how she can be most effective in her ministry.

Pointing out that the fourth vow of the Sisters of Mercy is “to the poor, the sick and the uneducated,” Sister Carole believes her role in the schools and parishes has had the most impact on her life.

“The people and the children have taught me,” she emphasized. “Being with the children and parents and parishioners had deepened my life as a sister. But my prayer life also has been deepened by prayer groups.”

Sister Carole has watched Catholic schools and societal environments go through monumental change, some of it positive.

“I think students are learning more because of computers ... we’ve learned new teaching methods to incorporate technology, and STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art, mathematics),” she said.

A worrisome aspect for students, she finds, is “the stress of these times — bullying, wars, social media — and trying to stick to the teaching of the Church. They’re getting conflicting information from the culture. We teachers must be conscious of searching out those who don’t fit in.”

Another significant change: the number of students enrolled in Catholic schools who have not yet been baptized or received First Reconciliation or First Holy Communion, or who do not attend Mass regularly.

“Our job now as Catholic educators is to instruct the children and also the parents,” she said. “If you invite the children to do something at church, the parents will come too. ... We strive to educate the whole person — and the soul is such an important piece.”

STRENGTH FROM PRAYER

To rejuvenate herself for these tasks, Sister Carole leans on the vigor she derives from God and fellowship.

“I get my strength from daily Mass and daily prayer time,” she said. “And my friendships are affirming — I try to go out for breakfast or lunch once a week with friends. I’m also so grateful to Father Damian McElroy and our principal, Donna White, for their wonderful support and affirmation of me as a Sister of Mercy.”

During a Catholic Schools Week talk Sister Carole gave to St. Catharine’s students, she encouraged them to listen to the inborn dream of their future vocations and to put the pieces of their lives together, which “will soon help you in your decision to be the person that God wants you to be.”

“You will need three bones to help you,” she continued, “a wish bone — you have to desire it more than other choices in life; a backbone — you have to be strong to embrace the challenges that this vocation offers you; and a funny bone — you have to enjoy what you’re doing.”

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.


The many threads of Mercy Sister Carole MacKenthun’s life weave together in a tapestry of service to God and his people, with a distinct emphasis on the poor and the young. And it began with a foundation of Catholic faith in her home and schools.

“In those days there was a sister in every classroom,” she said of her education in St. Anthony School, Hamilton, and in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville. “We were immersed in that religious culture. ... It was the focal part of our lives.”

Sister Carole has lived her vocation for more than 60 years, nearly 56 of them in Catholic school classrooms of the Dioceses of Trenton and Metuchen. She has imparted lessons of faith through teaching and publishing teaching materials, while supporting the education of schoolchildren in Uganda through her Mission of Mercy project. At 79, she continues teaching part-time in St. Catharine School, Spring Lake.

“My whole life has been dedicated to teaching children,” she said. “I found a lot of support in every place I’ve been. … I never wanted to be anything else than a teacher … [and connected to] the Diocese and the Catholic identity.

“We all have a mission,” she continued, “and I think God is the one who invites us to that mission.”

FROM ROOTS TO BRANCHES

Growing up in Hamilton Township and belonging to St. Anthony Parish, Sister Carole was an only child with parents from different faith traditions.

“My mom and my grandparents were staunch Catholics; my dad was a Methodist, so he prayed, but not our style,” she explained. The roots of her Catholic faith came from her mother and grandmother; her grandfather, who died when Sister Carole was in seventh grade, had also been a faithful Catholic and a member of the Holy Name Society.

“I remember learning my prayers and developing a devotion to Mary with the Rosary and novenas,” she continued. “My mother played piano and often played hymns to Our Lady.”

Father Damian McElroy, pastor of St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake, and Sister Carole MacKenthun join students for a Thanksgiving meal in St. Catharine School cafeteria. Courtesy photo

Her journey to the sisterhood and teaching began in St. Anthony School.

“In second grade I knew I had a vocation,” she said, recalling an attraction to the Franciscan Sisters’ long flowing habits and the aroma of freshly baked cookies wafting from their kitchen. “I loved hearing from them the stories of the saints and about the apparitions of Our Lady. I loved music and took piano lessons from the sisters in school. ... I also loved to play teacher at the chalkboard.”

Sister Carole said she has always been drawn to teaching children. “I think the Holy Spirit guided me ... I guess it’s a calling. We live in a certain period of time, in a certain place, and all of those things fashion you.”

When she entered Notre Dame High School, she found a lifelong connection with the Sisters of Mercy teaching there.

“As Father Damian [McElroy, pastor of St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake] says, ‘Our life is a series of relationships.’ And I think it’s the relationship with people that leads you to your mission,” Sister Carole said. “I didn’t know anything about the Mercy Sisters’ foundress or their charism; all I knew was that I liked being with them. They were my friends. ... I knew deep within me that I was more at home doing religious things.”

Following graduation, she worked for a year in the diocesan Chancery, where she became friends with then-Bishop George W. Ahr. He advised her to seek an order of nuns that would make use of her outgoing nature.

“‘Carole, I don’t think you’re meant for contemplative life!’ he told me.”

Sister Carole entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1963 in Watchung – and the only child loved finally having sisters who were akin to siblings. She spent three years there – the first in postulancy, then two years as a novice, with classes at Mount St. Mary College woven throughout. She finished her college education in Georgian Court College (now University), Lakewood, majoring in elementary education. Sister Carole made her first profession of vows Aug. 17, 1966, and her final profession Aug. 15, 1971.

Her teaching experience spans schools in two New Jersey dioceses, including St. Mary Academy, Lakewood; St. Mary High School, Perth Amboy; Sacred Heart School, South Plainfield; and St. Matthias School, Somerset. For the past three decades she has served as teacher and spirituality coordinator in St. Catharine’s.

AN AFFINITY FOR INSTRUCTION

Sister Carole’s teaching role would grow to include not only classroom instruction, but also publications. While working on her master’s in education for five summers at Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey, Ewing), Sister Carole’s talent for writing was noticed by a professor, Eileen Burke, who asked her to lead creative writing workshops.

“She discovered something I never saw within me,” Sister Carole said.

Her best friend, Sister Margo Kavanaugh – who was supervisor of the Sisters of Mercy and principal in St. Matthias School (Metuchen Diocese) – subsequently asked her to write books for teachers and children.

Sister Carole MacKenthun poses with students in costume during Catholic Schools Week, when they learned from Sister Carole and Father Damian McElroy (rear) about what it’s like to be a nun or priest. Courtesy photo

“Over the years I wrote about 20 books on the saints and activity books for teachers on the Fruits of the Spirit,” Sister Carole recounted. “I also gave workshops to teachers on using creativity in religion classes.”

For the 100th anniversary of St. Catharine Church, she wrote and published a book titled, “Following the Light: Meditations on the Stained Glass Windows of St. Catharine Church.” Built at the turn of the 20th century in a Classic Revival style, the church is known for its elaborate frescoes and windows, designed by artists from Rome and Europe.

Of her early teaching years, she said: “I wanted the students to learn to love school, so I have always tried to draw forth the treasure in each child. ... I started using art, drama and music to bring home the message of the Gospel.”

Weaving her prayer life into the classroom, she began guiding students in meditations.

“I taught the children to ‘go to their heart room’ ... I have them sit in silence, asking them, ‘Where is Jesus is with you today?’ ... As my spirituality deepened, my teaching methods deepened. ... We need silence to hear God; if we don’t pause in prayer, we can’t hear his voice.”

Sister Carole began a children’s Rosary prayer group while she was a teacher in St. Matthias School, then continued the tradition by starting one — and an adult Rosary group — when she moved to St. Catharine’s. She has even turned her private daily meditations into a series, “Meditations on Ice: Daily reflections of hope and peace through the storms of living,” which she sends to a group of friends and has bound annually into a volume.

SEEKING THE VULNERABLE

Her love for the poor was kindled in elementary school and blossomed into something greater in her sisterhood.

Students of St. Kizito School in Lwetunga, Uganda hold up their hand-knitted crosses made by volunteers Pat and Thomas Scotto. Courtesy photo

“A Maryknoll missionary came into our eighth-grade class and showed us photos of poor children,” Sister Carole remembered. “I was so moved by the pictures. ... At that time, you could give $5 to adopt a ‘pagan baby’; you would receive a card and be able to name that child. I collected a lot for a baby I named Carole, after me; from that time on, I knew I wanted to serve the poor and to teach.”

When asked to take part in an initiative the Diocese of Trenton was conducting to partner with the Diocese of Kasana-Luweero in Uganda, she leaped at the chance.

“It was one of the dreams I had when I was young that I had forgotten about – but God didn’t!”

In her 20 years supporting that program and later forming her own project, Mission of Mercy, Sister Carole helped to raise funds and secure donors for a school, churches and a health clinic, providing new facilities and financial support with the help of St. Catharine School and parish families.

PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER

Sister Carole’s teaching and outreach have touched the lives of countless children and families, both in the classroom and via her published materials. But she remains focused on how she can be most effective in her ministry.

Pointing out that the fourth vow of the Sisters of Mercy is “to the poor, the sick and the uneducated,” Sister Carole believes her role in the schools and parishes has had the most impact on her life.

“The people and the children have taught me,” she emphasized. “Being with the children and parents and parishioners had deepened my life as a sister. But my prayer life also has been deepened by prayer groups.”

Sister Carole has watched Catholic schools and societal environments go through monumental change, some of it positive.

“I think students are learning more because of computers ... we’ve learned new teaching methods to incorporate technology, and STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art, mathematics),” she said.

A worrisome aspect for students, she finds, is “the stress of these times — bullying, wars, social media — and trying to stick to the teaching of the Church. They’re getting conflicting information from the culture. We teachers must be conscious of searching out those who don’t fit in.”

Another significant change: the number of students enrolled in Catholic schools who have not yet been baptized or received First Reconciliation or First Holy Communion, or who do not attend Mass regularly.

“Our job now as Catholic educators is to instruct the children and also the parents,” she said. “If you invite the children to do something at church, the parents will come too. ... We strive to educate the whole person — and the soul is such an important piece.”

STRENGTH FROM PRAYER

To rejuvenate herself for these tasks, Sister Carole leans on the vigor she derives from God and fellowship.

“I get my strength from daily Mass and daily prayer time,” she said. “And my friendships are affirming — I try to go out for breakfast or lunch once a week with friends. I’m also so grateful to Father Damian McElroy and our principal, Donna White, for their wonderful support and affirmation of me as a Sister of Mercy.”

During a Catholic Schools Week talk Sister Carole gave to St. Catharine’s students, she encouraged them to listen to the inborn dream of their future vocations and to put the pieces of their lives together, which “will soon help you in your decision to be the person that God wants you to be.”

“You will need three bones to help you,” she continued, “a wish bone — you have to desire it more than other choices in life; a backbone — you have to be strong to embrace the challenges that this vocation offers you; and a funny bone — you have to enjoy what you’re doing.”

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.

Have a news tip? Email [email protected] or Call/Text 360-922-3092

e-Edition


e-edition

Sign up


for our email newsletters

Weekly Top Stories

Sign up to get our top stories delivered to your inbox every Sunday

Daily Updates & Breaking News Alerts

Sign up to get our daily updates and breaking news alerts delivered to your inbox daily

Latest Stories


In Local News as of June 21, 2024
The following parishes, schools and organizations in the Diocese of Trenton have announced these upcoming events:

Father Koch: If we persist in our pleas, Jesus will calm the storms
In 1986 a first century fishing boat was discovered

Flag football debuted to rave reviews at St. Rose this spring
One of the fastest growing sports in the Shore Conference arrived at St. Rose of Belmar this past spring ...

Actress Siobhan Fallon Hogan focuses on faith, family at Theology on Tap
When a former Saturday Night Live star speaks at ...

US bishops pass new youth, young adult pastoral framework; it's a first in nearly 30 years
Just days after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ...


The Evangelist, 40 North Main Ave., Albany, NY, 12203-1422 | PHONE: 518-453-6688| FAX: 518-453-8448
© 2024 Trenton Monitor, All Rights Reserved.