100-year-old woman one of first lay teachers

Mary Miller, left, was among the first lay teachers at St. George School. She is pictured in 1959 with other lay teachers, from left, Patricia O’Leary, Mrs. William Ralston and Mrs. Martin Rosenberger, wearing uniforms they designed. At age 100, Miller looks back on her life as a teacher, mother and wife. (Record file photo)

Mary Miller, left, was among the first lay teachers at St. George School. She is pictured in 1959 with other lay teachers, from left, Patricia O’Leary, Mrs. William Ralston and Mrs. Martin Rosenberger, wearing uniforms they designed. At age 100, Miller looks back on her life as a teacher, mother and wife. (Record file photo)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
As a young girl, Mary Adele Miller wanted to become a Sister of Charity of Nazareth. Instead she became a wife, a mother and a lay Catholic school teacher — one of the first lay teachers to serve in the Archdiocese of Louisville.

At 100 years old, her memory is fading, but Miller remembers clearly how much she enjoyed the vocations she ultimately chose.
Her first teaching job came in 1952 as a sixth-grade teacher at the now-closed St. George School, once located at 18th Street and Standard Avenue.

“I loved teaching. I loved the children. I enjoyed all of it,” she said during an interview at her home last month. Her favorite subject to teach was religion, she said. “It gave the children a foundation they needed for everything else.”

Lay Catholic school teachers are now the norm, but six decades ago, when Miller started teaching, she and others like her were a minority in Catholic schools, where religious sisters traditionally served.

And the students took notice.

According to an article published in The Record in 1959, Miller and the three other lay teachers at St. George School discovered their students were
focusing too much on the clothing teachers wore in the classroom. One teacher noted that students paid such keen attention to her attire that they noticed if a stone was missing from her rhinestone pin.

Miller and her colleagues decided to design a uniform for lay teachers.

The teachers copied details from the sisters’ habits and fashioned a “semi-shirtwaist” dress in dark blue dacron fabric, according to The Record story. The uniform had deep slit pockets and a detachable white collar, which the teachers said focused the students’ attention on the teachers’ faces. Miller said in the story that the uniforms drew a “favorable response from children in disciplinary matters.”

Her career as an educator — which spanned four decades in Catholic and public schools — included work as a school librarian as well. Later in life, Miller returned to school and in 1974 she graduated from Spalding University with a master’s degree in library science.

In the midst of this, she raised three children with her husband, Reed, who died in 1977.

She served as a teacher until the age of 70 when she retired. Retirement didn’t keep her from the classroom, however. She served as a substitute teacher until she was 75-years-old.

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Miller and her granddaughter Lourdes Halliday during a visit. Halliday said her grandmother lives her life by the Golden Rule. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Lourdes Halliday, Miller’s granddaughter, said she wasn’t surprised her grandmother helped design uniforms at St. George. Growing up, she said, she remembers Miller always taking care of her appearance.

“I can’t remember a time when she didn’t wear heels and pearls,” said Halliday. “She was always dressed for the occasion.”

Among Miller’s Catholic school students was Father William Hammer, who is now pastor at St. Margaret Mary Church. In the 1960s Miller taught at Holy Trinity School, where Father Hammer was a student in her sixth-grade class. Despite her faltering memory, she remembers Father Hammer fondly.

“Billy Hammer was very sweet and so was his mother,” said Miller. “There was something holy about him, like he was cut out to be a priest.”
Father Hammer remembers Miller as “very nurturing” to him and all her students. Father Hammer said he knew she cared about him and that she always encouraged her students.

“In sixth grade we had to learn Latin. It was a struggle, but she was patient,” Father Hammer said. At that young age, he said, he was already discerning whether to become a priest. “She encouraged me to continue along that path.”

A few decades later, when Father Hammer was pastor of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., he visited Miller, who was living at Nazareth Village on the campus of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Nazareth at the time. Miller had moved there after retiring from teaching.

“I remember walking into the room and getting a big hug,” said Father Hammer, laughing. “She told me she was proud that I went on to become a priest and that she always kept me in her prayers.”

In recent years, Miller has regaled her family with stories of her time as a Catholic school teacher, said her granddaughter Lourdes Halliday.

“She said that St. George School was near a train track and she remembered how the children always wanted to wave to the conductors,” said Halliday. “She remembered that the basketball team was named the St. George Dragons and that they travelled to sporting events in an old hearse.”

Halliday said Miller took the caring attitude she displayed in the classroom into every part of her life.

“She lived her faith and values in a genuine and sincere way,” said Halliday. “She always talked about the Golden Rule and she lived by it.”
Miller has lived her life in service not only to her students, but to many others, Halliday said.

She was always very active in the community and her church — she’s still a member of St. James Church. She served as an associate member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Miller’s younger sister Mary Amanda Byrne was a Sister of Charity of Nazareth who died in 1989.

Miller also served as a member of the Queen’s Daughters, as a member of the Auxiliary of the Little Sisters of the Poor and as a volunteer at Flaget Memorial Hospital in Bardstown, Ky.

Halliday added that Miller’s love for life helped her to cope in difficult times.

“She always saw the best in the world and in people,” Halliday said. “That has to be good for a person’s spirit and soul.”

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