By Christina Galeone
In 1973, when a young nun from the Sisters of St. Anne became principal of Saint Anne Elementary School in Webster, people weren’t sure what to expect. The nun, Sister Constance Bayeur, confided, “People were thinking that I was coming here to close the school, because the enrollment had really dropped.” But filled with faith, hope and determination, she put their fears to rest. Later this year, Sister Constance will retire after what she calls “a very happy 42 years.”
Sister Constance said she was teaching at a school in Easthampton when her provincial approached her and asked if she would take on the task of being principal at the struggling St. Anne’s. At the same time, she was also offered the same position at the school where she was teaching. She chose to go to Webster – a town completely unfamiliar to her. While other Catholic schools were closing, Sister Constance recalled, “We, as a staff – and parents – worked very hard to increase the enrollment. And it rose, in the early 1980s, to 272. It really had jumped, because it was at something like 160 when I first came.”
Although raising the enrollment and keeping up with changes to educational standards were ongoing challenges, Sister Constance rose to meet them. However, as principal, she said her “greatest hope has always been to have the children learn well and be happy.”
Sister Constance, who said she has been receiving the “most beautiful notes” and phone calls of gratitude from parents, said she enjoys seeing happy kids at the school. “I always say happy kids make for happy supper conversations,” Sister Constance said with a chuckle. “And they make for happy parents as a result. And I have that sense, in my heart, that that’s what has happened in my years here.”
And one way the Sister of St. Anne – who is the last SSA serving as a principal in the Worcester Diocese – has accomplished that goal is by encouraging unity among the faculty and staff members. She’s encouraged everyone to work together as positive role models and is thrilled that everyone gets along so well.
Sister Constance said, “Our kids here see faculty members who laugh and have a lot of fun together and hold to the same principles with the kids.”
While she has brought joy to the students, they have enriched her life as well. Because she previously taught 7th-9th graders, she’s thankful that being principal gave her the chance to work with children from 3 to 14.
“I just love them! And that is definitely what I’m going to miss. I’m going to miss that interaction with the ‘little people’ of St. Anne’s, in particular. I love the big ones too,” said Sister Constance. She mused, “I never did say ‘Oh, no. Here I go again. You know? Sometimes, people get up and go to work and, probably, that’s what they do. But never, never, never. I was always happy to jump out of bed and get going in the morning and get to school.”
Sister Constance is also enthusiastic about the merger of Saint Anne School with Saint Louis School that will happen one year after she retires. The new elementary school is to be named All Saints Academy.
Sister Constance said that because she is a Sister of St. Anne, she is a woman of hope, justice and compassion. She said, “Because I’m a woman of hope, I do have that hope … for All Saints Academy. I know it’s going to succeed and will succeed very well.”
Father Adam Reid, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Webster, has that same hope. Because St. Anne School is his parish’s school, Father Reid said he is aware of Sister Constance’s great dedication to it, and he said if “it had not been for her dedicated efforts, it might not have survived to see this new chapter in its history.” He said he is also thankful that she has been “the face and heart of the school for many years” and has had such a positive impact on the parish.
“When you have a school that is vibrant and dynamic, it affects the parish,” Father Reid said. He added, “I have a profound respect for her dedication to the mission of St. Anne School and the Sisters of Saint Anne. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with her for the past four years, since my arrival here.”
Although Sister Constance will still have plenty of work to do within her community after she retires, she hopes to take a sabbatical. She wants to rest a little and travel to places such as the Grand Canyon. In the meantime, she has nothing but praise for the “absolutely dedicated” faculty and staff of Saint Anne School, the students and parents.
It’s not surprising that they have the same admiration for her.
“Sister’s deep love for knowledge, education and the faith meant that students here received the best of all three. Issues among students were often resolved with a prayer and conversation about seeing things from another’s point of view,” said Linda Oakley, who teaches seventh grade students at the school. “Just today, a former student returned to let us know how he was doing in high school. His feeling safe and welcome is a credit to Sister Constance.”
In this Year of Consecrated Life, which will be celebrated through Feb. 2, Sister Constance is someone who has not only worked hard to keep a school alive, but she continues to bear great fruit in the lives of those around her. In speaking about the Sisters of St. Anne, Sister Constance said that they refer to themselves as “Gospel women on fire for life.” She said, “We commit ourselves to be a presence of hope, compassion and justice in the heart of the Church today. And we are open to new pathways with God, so whatever that brings us – wherever it leads us – that’s what we do.”