As a Hollywood movie star, Bing Crosby won an Academy Award.
As the King of the Crooners in the 1930s and '40s, he sold nearly one billion records, bested only by Elvis, The Beatles and Michael Jackson.
But Crosby's fame and talent couldn't get him past Sister Patricia Eileen and entrance to St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church's choir loft.
Sister Barbara Ann Hehr, who was known at Sister Frederick Ann when she was in ministry in Aiken, recounted the story of Crosby's dismissal from the choir loft in an email about her experience teaching fifth grade at St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic School from 1959 to 1960.
“Bing Crosby wanted to attend Mass in the choir loft, and Sister Patricia Eileen said, 'No, there was no more room,'” Sister Barbara Ann Hehr said in an email. “Bing said he was kicked out of many places, but never a church.”
Sister Barbara Ann Hehr was one of more than 80 religious sisters associated with St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church honored Sunday with a plaque for their service to students as educators and to the community. She and other religious sisters shared their memories of living and working in Aiken by email.
Sister Barbara Ann Hehr and the other sisters lived in a former Winter Colony estate with lots of room but “very little furniture.”
“We used orange crates for chairs,” she wrote. “We had an indoor professional tennis court on the property. There were only a few in United States at this time in history. We also had the opportunity of witnessing polo matches a short distance from the convent.”
Sister Barbara Ann Hehr also remembered another aspect of living in Aiken and the South universal to Catholics and non-Catholics.
“Gnat season was very annoying for both teachers and students,” she wrote.
Adrian Dominican Sister Angela Susalla, who was then known as Sister David Mary, had never been in the South before coming to Aiken to teach fifth grade at St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic School for one year from 1960 to 1961.
“I was amazed by the beautiful azaleas, red clay roads and stately horses trotting down the roads by the Sister's house,” she wrote in an email. “I immediately felt at home with a warm welcome from the Sisters, parish priest, parents and students whom I met.”
Sister Angela Susalla said her one year in Aiken gave her a better understanding of race relations in the South before desegregation and Civil Rights laws were enacted.
“Even though segregation was very evident, one of the highlights of my time in Aiken was having the Sisters from the other school (St. Gerard's) where children of color attended, over for dinner,” she wrote. “They were lovely and helped me to understand more about racism in the South. I am very appreciative of my time with them for that, but also of the wonderful activities I shared with the Sisters with whom I lived, as well as with students and parents.”
Sister Helena Price, 91, Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine, reflected on her years of ministry at St. Mary and at Our Lady of Peace in North Augusta in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“Our goal to educate both child and parent with developing the mental, physical and spiritual growth of the child,” she wrote. “On the other side of town was St. Gerard’s parish, and the Handmaids of Mary had kindergarten classes for the black community.
“Because there were fewer resources in their community, we shared educational material and ideas and also provided transportation to conferences. We were instrumental in including shared time with the kindergarten students at St. Gerard’s parish by taking trips and instilling in our children that God’s world was for everyone, including blacks, and were instrumental in bringing the two communities together before integration was mandated.”
Sister Ann Billard, who served at St. Angela Academy from 1981 to 1986, said her “most treasured memories” are of students, parents and teachers.
“So many images and memories surface as I reflect back to that time,” she wrote. “I remember the first day I arrived in Aiken. Sister Rosemary drove Sister Clement and me to Aiken from Charleston. No air conditioning in the car. It was a hot summer day.
“I recall the creative enthusiasm of students to raise funds for the school, especially selling World’s Finest Chocolate bunnies to repair the broken boiler one year. The dedication of all to have successful athletic programs each year. It was an enriching experience for me to part of a dedicated faith community working hard to provide an excellent learning environment.”