Strict, loving lessons for life: The legacy of Sister Anne

Courtesy photoSister Anne Hegarty through the years.

LAWRENCE - As teacher Maureen Gill wrote a thoughtful email about her close friend, Sister Anne Hegarty, she admitted she was a bit apprehensive. 

"I am a little nervous writing this as I don't have her here to check for grammatical errors and dangling participles," wrote Gill in a detailed email recalling her longtime co-worker and friend from St. Patrick's Grammar School, now Lawrence Catholic Academy, in Lawrence. 

Equally strict as she was loving, Sister Anne, a teacher for nearly forty years in Lawrence, passed away Wednesday after battling cancer. 

As news of her death circulated, so did the countless stories that captured the essence of and illuminated Sister Anne's lifelong mission - to educate children. 

"She told me and I will never forget, 'I'm only hard on the ones I know can do much better,'" said Becca Beveridge, 22.

She and her three older sisters were students of Sister Anne, she said. 

Beveridge said she will forever be thankful Sister Anne pushed her. 

"She played a special role in helping me shape into who I am today. Sister Anne was one of the biggest blessings in my life and I am heartbroken she is gone," she said. 

Sister Anne Hegarty graduated St. Michael Grammar School in North Andover and St. Patrick High School in Lawrence. 

After high school she entered the Novitiate of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was there that she earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Education, according to her obituary. 

As a Sister of Charity, she was first assigned to St. Patrick's Parish in Needham and later reassigned to St. Peter's in Lowell. 

For the next 39 years, she taught at St. Patrick's Grammar School which was later renamed Lawrence Catholic Academy. 

"Renowned for her assignment of oral presentations and fastidious grammar instruction, we can only imagine she is checking this for errors right now," read her obituary, published late this week. 

Gill said she had "the honor" of teaching across the hall from Sister Anne for 14 years and building a "strong enduring friendship" with her. 

Sister Anne was a lifelong Red Sox fan and listened to the games on the radio. During their daily lunches at school, Gill said they often talked about the team. 

"She told me she had never been to Fenway to see a game. I was able to get two tickets to a night game and off we went," Gill wrote in an email to The Eagle-Tribune on Saturday. 

"Right outside the park, Luis Tiant had his Cuban sandwich stand. I asked if I could take a picture of him with Sister Anne. He marched right over and put his arms around her and hugged her," Gill said. 

Once in their seats, two young men with beers in their hands came up the aisle and were sitting near them. 

"We stood up to let them in and the expressions on their faces were priceless. Very politely and quietly, they said, 'Good evening, Sister.' As they passed us, one kid said to the other, 'Great choice...We're in the nun seats,'" Gill recalled. 

"Of course, we were hysterical," Gill said. 

Gill described Sister Anne's effect on her students as "amazing" and noted after graduation many would return to see her. 

"She treated all equally and every child was able to achieve the best of their ability," she said. 

Kim Fiorante attended St. Patrick's from 1975 to 1984 and said in her "quiet, strict way Sister Anne was able to create a bond like no other with each individual student." 

"Unfortunately, as a 12 to 14 year old, you never realized the great impact she had on your life until you had graduated and entered high school. It was then that you could appreciate how beyond prepared you were to take on that challenge and that Sister Anne was responsible for it," said Fiorante, who also became a teacher and taught alongside Sister Anne "having learned from the best." 

Sister Anne went from being "my teacher, to colleague and friend. I feel blessed and very thankful to have had her in my life," Fiorante said. 

Tom Cuddy, a Lawrence police officer who attended St. Patrick's, said with the exception of his own mother - no other woman has had such a profound impact on his life. 

"Those of us who had her as a teacher were all privileged to have been at St. Patrick's when a caring, gifted, talented, humbled, faith filled woman was our 7th grade teacher," Cuddy said. 

"I will forever be grateful that my children shared that same experience," he added. 

Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque was also her student. He described Sister Anne as "tough as nails."

"Probably the hardest teacher I ever had but really thankful to have had her," he said. "I was devastated to hear the news. There are only a few people that can have such a huge impact on your life. Sister Anne was that person for me and I'm sure for so many of her students. I know that I never fully appreciated her until after I graduated from St. Patrick's School." 

Vasque said he felt blessed "to have been her student and it was an easy decision to send our children to her. We could never thank her enough." 

Diana Blanchette graduated from St. Patrick's Grammar School in 2000 after having Sister Anne in both grades 7 and 8. At that time, she said she did not enjoy having to stand in front of the class weekly "to recite a memorized oral." 

However, "it certainly gave me the confidence and skills that helped shape me into the teacher that I am today," Blanchette said. 

"Thanks to her, I am not afraid to publicly speak in front of crowds both big and small. She helped foster my love of writing and she is solely to thank for my ability to use proper grammar, a skill that many people my age lack. She was strict but kind. She had high expectations and helped her students achieve their goals. It didn't matter how many years had passed by after graduation, any time I saw Sister Anne she remembered my name and asked about my family," Blanchette said. 

A wake for Sister Anne will take place at Mount Saint Vincent, 125 Oakland Street, Wellesley, Mass., on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019 at 9:30 a.m. with a Prayer Service at 10:15 a.m.

A Mass of Christian Burial will take place at 10:45 a.m. followed by burial at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in North Andover. 

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Sister Anne’s name to the Sisters of Charity, 125 Oakland Street, Wellesley, Mass., 02481.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill. 

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