A lasting impression: Clinton pastor reunites with fifth-grade teacher 57 years later

By Fr. Ken Kuntz
For The Catholic Messenger

In 1961, when I was in fifth grade at St. Mary’s in West Burlington, my teacher, Sister Mary Alithea Fields, RSM, gave each of her students a holy card at the end of the school year. On the back side, she had typed a personal message asking God to bless each of us by name. The holy card made an impact on me, since it was not the sort of thing teachers did during those pre-Vatican II days.

Contributed
Sister Mary Alithea Fields, RSM, taught Father Ken Kuntz when he was at St. Mary in West Burlington as a youth.

Sr. Alithea was a great teacher and made learning fun. She was very kind and always promoted the idea of religious vocations. I’m sure she helped to “plant the seed” of my eventual vocation. Sister not only taught me in fifth grade, but when I was in third grade she taught me the Latin I needed to know in order to serve Mass. I served Mass for the first time on Feb. 1, 1960, when I was just 8 years old!

Last summer, I was talking with our Prince of Peace Catholic School teachers about the importance of letting their students know that they cared about them. I mentioned the holy card I had received from Sr. Alithea in fifth grade and how it had an impact on me.

A few days later, my sister came to visit me and told me she had brought my mother’s old prayer book that she had used many years ago. My sister said that as she was looking through it, she found a holy card that Sr. Alithea had given to me. I was amazed to see it after all those years! I told my sister that I had just talked about the card with the teachers at Prince of Peace school.  What an amazing coincidence!

I then proceeded to contact the Mercy Sisters in Chicago to find out some information about Sr. Alithea. I presumed she had been dead for many years. To my pleasant surprise, I was told that Sister was still very much alive and living at a retirement residence in Chicago.

It so happened that I planned to go to Chicago a couple of weeks later, so I decided to pay her a visit. Sister is now 89 years old and is in very good health, physically and mentally. We had a wonderful visit and she told me all about her family and her growing up years in Sandwich, Ill. Back in the pre-Vatican II days, we knew nothing about our teachers, so it was very interesting to hear about how she grew up and where she spent the past 55 years. She had no idea that I had become a priest, but was happy to know about it.

All in all, it was a very heart-warming experience to connect with Sr. Alithea after so many years. I hope to stay in touch with her in the future.

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