Holy Cross sisters mark end of an era

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At the end of this school year, Sisters of the Holy Cross Anne Tardiff and Elizabeth Rossetti will retire after six decades in Catholic education. But when the sisters leave Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, it will also mark the end of another era: the Holy Cross Sisters' service in Virginia Catholic schools, where they have taught since the end of the Civil War.

"It's a little bit poignant that Sister Anne and I are leaving Alexandria, which by the way, is my hometown," said Sister Elizabeth, who teaches senior English.

As the last full-time teachers in the region, the two sisters had been "kind of reluctant to let it go," but "knew it was time to retire," Sister Elizabeth said. "We enjoyed our 60-plus years in the classroom - but you just know."

The Sisters of the Holy Cross came to Alexandria after they served as nurses at St. Aloysius Hospital in Washington during the Civil War. After the war ended, the pastor of St. Mary Church, Jesuit Father Peter Kroes, invited them to open a parish school. The sisters went a step further and also opened an all-girls school, St. Mary's Academy.

See historic photos of St. Mary's Academy

Sister Elizabeth, who was educated by the Holy Cross Sisters from the third grade through high school, spent a year working at city hall after her graduation from St. Mary's Academy in 1949. Her job was to issue building permits and color in zoning maps, keeping them up-to-date.

"One customer came in and said, 'Hey, my third-grade kid could do that.' … I knew I wasn't going to spend the rest of my life coloring zoning maps," said Sister Elizabeth, who later earned a master's degree from Fordham University.

In 1950, she joined the Holy Cross sisters and began to teach while taking classes one at a time to earn her bachelor's from Dunbarton College of the Holy Cross in Washington.

In 1952, Sister Anne, a Maine native, was inspired to enter religious life by an aunt who was a missionary. She began her teaching career at St. Mary School in 1955 and earned her bachelor's degree from Dunbarton College and her master's degree in English from Catholic University in Washington. She taught and worked as a principal at Catholic schools in Texas, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C., before settling at St. Mary's Academy. When the academy closed in 1990, she and Sister Elizabeth were invited to teach at Ireton. Sister Anne teaches academic enrichment, helping students with Math, Spanish and English.

"I see them each day learning a little more and that's very satisfying," Sister Anne said.

Sister Elizabeth added, "Sister Anne's too modest to say this, so I'll say it. A number of students say that if it were not for her encouragement, they would not have graduated from Bishop Ireton."

Sister Anne also has helped obtain financial assistance from her order for Ireton students who need help to attend the school.

Ireton dedicated Sister Elizabeth's longtime classroom to her last year.

Sister Anne plans to learn how to play the guitar once she and Sister Elizabeth retire to the order's motherhouse in Notre Dame, Ind. "Anne and I already have set our sights on the college library there," said Sister Elizabeth.

Though their teaching career stretched six decades, the sisters take a longer view of their work.

"I think as Christian teachers we can say: I teach, I touch eternity," Sister Elizabeth said. "You are molding minds that will live forever in eternity."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016