sister mary denis curran
November 7, 1927 - December 23, 2011
Tenacious love of God and her students
Sister Mary Denis Curran had many loves in her richly-blessed life, but uppermost were her family, her college days at St. Louis University and her vocation to teaching. Doris Elizabeth was born in St. Louis in 1927, where she put down roots.
Life was stable for the Curran family. S. Mary Denis credited her strong mother, a late convert to Catholicism, for her Catholic upbringing. Her father worked hard both as a union representative for the “small people” and later as a state representative in the Missouri House. Doris and her two brothers, Tom and Bob, attended St. Anthony grade school, and while her brothers went elsewhere to high school, Doris attended St. Anthony high school. Both parents encouraged learning and were pleased when their only daughter earned a scholarship to St. Louis University. Even though Doris had been thinking about becoming a Sister of St. Joseph, she took the scholarship and threw herself into the college scene.
This youthful enthusiast was fortunate to have excellent instructors, her favorite being Jesuit Father Maurice McNamee, the esteemed English professor, whose encouragement and interdisciplinary presentations prompted Doris to major in English. He planted a love for literature that grew in intensity throughout her life. Her favorite writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, plumbed the depths of personhood, she said, and revealed God through his novels.
Quiet natured, Doris nevertheless made friends easily at St. Louis University. Holding convictions in common forced these young women to confront racism head on, putting all of them on the side of Clare, their African-American friend. Hanging out at Garavelli’s on Lindell was one of their favorite lunch pastimes. Once, when Clare was with them, they determined that if Charlie would not serve Clare, all would walk out and not return, and this group loved lunching at Garavelli’s. Thankfully Charlie did serve them all. Some years later Clare knocked on the door at Rosati-Kain and surprised S. Mary Denis with her words, “I will never forget how kind you and all your friends were to always include me.” Doris graduated with a major in English, but she learned life lessons as well. She entered the community in 1950.
After profession in 1953 and now known as S. Mary Denis, she taught elementary students at first; however, she is most remembered for teaching secondary students at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Florissant, Mo.; Little Flower High School, Chicago; and Rosati-Kain High School, St. Louis. At Aquinas, she not only taught English, but was assistant principal and did some substitution in biology. After 10 years, she was changed to Little Flower; in 1973 S. Mary Denis moved back to St. Louis to teach at Rosati-Kain for the next 36 years.
An excellent teacher, S. Mary Denis enjoyed the high school scene.
Most R-K girls will remember her teaching “Steps 2600” and “Steps 3200” programs, whereby they learned at their own pace. Though some may have minded her strictness, they came to realize her fairness and dedication as a teacher. They respected her and, no doubt, appreciated her dry-witted humor that lightened anyone’s taking herself too seriously. To honor her, the school placed her name above the door of the only classroom in which she had ever taught.
S. Mary Denis utilized her creativity in other ways to benefit the schools. At Little Flower she was tenacious in placing school records in electronic format. At Rosati-Kain, she was instrumental in developing the modular schedule and in introducing technology to the English department.
S. Mary Denis said once that she was not afraid to die; it was all that preceded death that she did not look forward to. God was merciful and took her quickly. May she rest in peace.
S. Rita Louise Huebner