Carol Perry (right above) and Catherine Gormley (left above) were both born in Kingston, and Carol grew up there, while Catherine spent most of her childhood in Phoenicia. As young adults, they both became Catholic Sisters of Saint Ursula, which is the basis for me knowing them. The girls’ school in Kingston that they taught at was phased out to make way for John A Coleman Catholic High School in Hurley. Sr. Carol was the first principal there when it opened in 1966, and Sr. Catherine was the principal there from 1972-1987. Neither were there continuously, but by the time I entered high school at Coleman in 1992, both were teaching there, and I was aware of both of them ahead of time, thanks to my 3 older siblings attending the same high school ahead of me.
I hadn’t seen either of them since the day I graduated in June of 1996, until my visit with them to photograph them for my “Life in Ulster County - Meeting Our Neighbors” series. I had initially sought out Sr. Carol, who informed me via email that she lived now with Sr. Catherine in an apartment in Hurley, and that it would be nice for Sr. Catherine to be involved as well.
Sr. Carol sticks out to me as my Advanced Placement English Teacher, and I had her for homeroom, among other things. She is someone I’ve been fascinated by throughout my adult life, and someone I always hoped to speak with again. I remembered a distinct voice, with a tone of confidence and intelligence, and a cadence that made you want to hear more. My friend Mike recently reminded me that I didn’t always enjoy every moment of her classes, but in hindsight, it was all great. Every time she opened her mouth, I felt like something well thought out and intelligent would come out of it, and I was right. She had this look of intelligence in her eyes, and I enjoyed that. Many of us kids in high school wondered why she wouldn’t go on "Jeopardy!”. I’m still not sure why she never did. She would have crushed it.
Amongst other English teachers, I credit Sr. Carol for instilling in me the confidence to learn proper writing techniques, but also to add some style, and to break the rules if I knew what I was doing…and to use what could be considered slang (like “crushed it”) if I feel like that will get across the point that I want to get across. I never would have imagined that thanks to the power of the internet, I’d have an actual audience for my writing. So, I’d like to publicly say thank you to Sr. Carol for that. Plus yesterday I got to say thank you to her in person for helping me with my college application essays.
Although I didn’t like that she assigned me summer reading, Sr. Carol’s AP English class was fun overall, as those things go. I always laugh when I remember when she had us read a play with curse words in it, and made sure that the students said them out loud, no matter how much they fought against it. Then she added something along the lines of “You know these words, I hear what you say in the hallway”.
Mostly due to the circumstances of what classes I took with Sr. Catherine, my memories of her aren’t as strong, but there are some funny ones. My first memory of interacting with her directly was when myself and a few others had Junior level Math during Sophomore year, and Sister Catherine met with the 4 of us without the Juniors on the first day of school. When Sister Catherine said to us “You must all really like math”, the aforementioned Mike responded “I don’t like it, but I’m good at it”, and that about summed up my feelings on math at that time. (Those feelings have since changed. I like math now) Another funny memory that sticks out though is the time that I wanted to ask a girl to the prom, so I attacked my acne a bit too hard and broke out in an even worse rash. During religion class, Sr. Catherine noticed my face while glancing up from reading The Bible to us, and stopped reading to ask if I was ok, in front of the class. I was humiliated, but I knew then and know now that she did it because she cared!
While both Sisters were authority figures, and disciplinarians as necessary, I always knew that they cared and wanted the best for us.
During my visit to photograph them, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t want it to be an interview per se, and it really ended up being an interesting conversation. Both sisters are very up on current events, including locally, and our conversation touched on everything from the local arts scene, to the economy, to raised ranch houses, to the middle class white Catholic bubble that I grew up in in some ways, to the changes at the Rondout waterfront, and more.
No local conversation like this could go without talking about IBM’s impact on the area, and Sr. Carol was very kind in mentioning that IBM brought great people to the area, and without IBM my parents would have never been around, thus us 4 kids wouldn’t have been either, and she seemed pleased that we all had been.
I gave them the short version of the past 20 years of my life, and told them about what my siblings are up to, and about my parents’ farm, along with some other family stories they’d probably never heard.
They updated me on their lives, which are very active. Sr. Carol published her first book of her life in 2014, her second in 2016, and is working on her third. She has been the full time resident bible scholar at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City full time since she left Coleman in 1997, and had been there part time since 1980. Ever since she went full time, it has involved taking the bus to New York City and back 4 days a week. She told me about how she can even direct new drivers on what is the appropriate route to take, as she has done “a lot of bus riding”.
Sr. Carol is, as she put it, “recycling” her life in May, and ending her full time position at Marble Collegiate Church, to spend more time writing. She said that she always felt like she “talked better than she wrote", and it took “the right editor to encourage her" to become a book writer, in “her somewhat advanced age”. I haven’t read her books, but I have read her blog, which she actively keeps up with, and her writing is fantastic.
Sr. Carol said to me “One will not be idle John, don’t worry”. I think it’s really cool to see her continue to evolve how she makes her way through life. It’s inspiring.
Sr. Catherine has been retired from Coleman since 2001, and spends much of her time tutoring children, and doing taxes for people who can’t afford professional tax services. She described doing taxes as a “ real learning curve", as she hadn’t been one to do her own taxes, but she seemed to get great satisfaction out of it.
When I first got in touch with Sr. Carol a few weeks ago and she told me that she would be happy to have me visit and take photos, I was thrilled and very proud that I would be able to tell a bit of her story, a bit of Sr. Catherine’s story, and a bit of my story, using some of the English skills that she so passionately taught me, and that I’d have a chance to be inspired again by them. I am glad that it morphed from an interview situation to just 3 adults having a conversation. This was a major highlight of my adult life.