By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — Soon after being randomly assigned as pen pals last fall, a Sister of St. Francis and a Prince of Peace Catholic School student began to wonder if they had a connection beyond pure chance.
In their correspondence, Sister Deborah Schneider, OSF, wrote to fifth-grader Kyle Kitteringham about her work as an educator, mentioning she had taught school in Clinton for 13 years. Kyle asked if she had ever taught his mother, Janelle (Sullivan) Kitteringham.
Sr. Schneider had a strong suspicion that she had. Janelle Kitteringham, too, wondered if her son’s pen pal could be her “favorite teacher” from the former North Catholic School in Clinton. Janelle said, “When Kyle first came home with his letter I wondered if it could be the same Sr. Deborah from my childhood. But I thought that would be way too much of a coincidence and that after all these years it wasn’t possible.”
Sr. Schneider became convinced of the connection when she saw the freckled, red-haired boy for the first time at a Christmas party for fifth-grade pen pals at the Canticle, home of the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton. In her mind, there was no doubt that the student she remembered and the boy she just met were related.
“Once I met him, then I knew who his mother was. He looks just like his mother,” she recalled with sentiment.
After Kyle told her the news, Janelle was ecstatic. She hoped to see Sr. Schneider again and began exploring ways to make that happen.
She wouldn’t have to wait long to reunite with her favorite teacher, however. Three days after meeting Kyle for the first time, Sr. Schneider attended the Christmas program at Prince of Peace School with several Sisters of St. Francis. Having heard that Janelle worked at the school as an office clerk, Sr. Schneider walked in to say “hello.” The two women locked eyes for the first time in about 40 years.
“It was wonderful to see her,” Janelle said of the surprise meeting.
The memories flooded back for Sr. Schneider. “It was exciting to reconnect … I remember Janelle as a very sweet person who was happy and kind to all others.”
Now, with a piece of the past reclaimed for both, they plan to see each other again. Kyle will continue to write letters to Sr. Schneider and further his own connection with the Sister he has already come to call friend.
Sr. Schneider said, “To be a pen pal to a fifth-grader was special, since I taught that age group, but to have Kyle and have that connection is making it extra special.”
Kyle said he is excited about having the opportunity to get to know someone who remembers his mother as a child. Janelle said, “He likes to remind me it has been 40 years since she taught me. … I love that my son, after 40 years, will be able to build a friendship with my favorite teacher.”