Honoring the leadership and legacy of RSCJ

Honoring the leadership and legacy of RSCJ

Image courtesy of digital.sandiego.edu

When reflecting on the past 175 years of education at Sacred Heart Greenwich, the work of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (RSCJ) is inseparable from the school’s roots.  Since 1848, these women have led the school as educators, administrators, and role models.  In this feature, the King Street Chronicle recognizes five of many RSCJ who have influenced the school’s culture, community, and mission. 

In 1800, Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat founded the Society of the Sacred Heart in Paris, France.  This religious order, dedicated to the education of young women, quickly spread across Europe and beyond, reaching the shores of North America by 1818, according to rscj.org.  Today, there are nearly two thousand RSCJ in 41 nations, according to rscj.org.

Although religious sisters no longer reside on the King Street campus, Sacred Heart faculty and students maintain connections with the RSCJ through Network conferences, on-campus programming, and service trips.  Mrs. Kathleen Dunn, Interim Head of Lower School and alumna from the Class of 1973, spoke to these women’s leadership and legacy.

“The RSCJ’s commitment to the Goals and Criteria, their deep sense of purpose, and their compassion did and still do positively impact all of us,” Mrs. Dunn said.

Image courtesy of digital.sandiego.edu
Image courtesy of fairfieldprep.org
Sister Joan Magnetti

Sr. Magnetti grew up in West Englewood, New Jersey.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York in 1965.  Her interest in the RSCJ order stemmed from her education at Manhattanville College, where she witnessed the joy, global awareness, and academic accomplishments of the religious sisters, according to bridgeportdiocese.org.

After her university graduation, Sr. Magnetti entered the RSCJ order, and she completed her novitiate in 1968.  As a Sacred Heart sister, she pursued a master’s degree in theology at Union Theological Seminary, and she taught history and theology at the Convent of the Sacred Heart (CSH), now Sacred Heart Greenwich.  During her early years in Greenwich, she also held the positions of Academic Dean and Assistant Upper School Head and supervised 60 weekly boarding students in Stuart Dorm.  Sr. Magnetti reflected on the honor of working on King Street.

“I was always so proud to represent CSH–its history from being only one of three Network schools in the US in 1848 to be founded with the express permission of our foundress in France, St. Madeleine Sophie,” Sr. Magnetti said.

After seven years, Sr. Magnetti moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where she served for 13 years as Headmistress of Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, according to bridgeportdiocese.org.  In 1990, she returned to Greenwich, Connecticut, where she led the school for 19 years. 

During her tenure as Headmistress, enrollment in preschool through grade 12 grew from 295 to 777 students, and she worked to increase economic diversity by helping raise millions of dollars for financial aid.  She oversaw the construction of the current middle school, science wing, and library.  Sr. Magnetti explained her mindset as a leader.

“I am a woman who thrives on ideas, change and the belief that a strong and rock-solid faith in God can do anything if we are open to the Holy Spirit and the voice of others, especially those who may be without voice,” Sr. Magnetti said.  “By this I mean that independent schools with high tuitions can be perceived as exclusive, only for the wealthy or only for Catholics […].  I believe that the gospel adage of St. Madeleine Sophie is a paramount call now, more than ever: ‘Those to whom much is given, much is required.’  The girls, staff, parents and alumnae understood that.  We established ongoing, reciprocal relationships with the Carver Center in Port Chester, sent girls and staff to programs on behalf of the poor in Mexico and Haiti and created the Africa Task Force targeting the building of our Sacred Heart school in Uganda–which named the school after CSH for all we did for them.”

After nearly 20 years in Greenwich, the Bishop of Bridgeport asked Sr. Magnetti to take on the role of Executive Director of the Catholic Academy of Bridgeport in 2010.  She held this position for ten years, and she currently serves as the school’s Coordinator of Major Gifts.

Sr. Magnetti has received recognition from multiple organizations, such as the New Jersey Business and Professional Women Award, the Tribute to Women in Industry (TWIN) Award from the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and the Excellence in Educational Leadership Award from the Counsel for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) at the Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts, according to fairfieldprep.org.

While Sr. Magnetti has not worked on the Greenwich campus for 14 years, she advised the school to remain rooted in the Goals and Criteria, listen to the “cry of the poor,” and cultivate a strong, faith-filled faculty.  She spoke directly to current students, pointing out St. Madeleine Sophie’s vision for each young woman.

“Remember you are Sacred Heart girls,” Sr. Magnetti said.  “St. Madeleine Sophie founded our religious congregation because she believed that you, as her future daughters, could change the world.  As she would say, ‘You educate a woman and you educate a family.  You educate a family, and you educate a civilization.'”

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Sr. Magnetti attended Notre Dame Academy for secondary school, taught at Princeton Academy, and retired.

Image courtesy of fairfieldprep.org
Image courtesy of rscj.org
Sister Rosemary Sheehan

Sr. Sheehan grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where she attended secondary school at St. Saviour High School.  She then studied at Manhattanville College, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Nursing in 1948.  Similar to Sr. Magnetti, she felt drawn to the RSCJ after her exposure to the order at Manhattanville College.  Sr. Sheehan joined the Society of the Sacred Heart as a novice at Kenwood in Albany, New York in 1948.  She made her Final Vows in 1957 in Rome, Italy, according to rscj.org.

As an educator and health worker, Sr. Sheehan ministered at Sacred Heart schools in Rochester, New York, and Noroton, Connecticut, before arriving on King Street in 1965.  For the next 50 years, Sr. Sheehan would impact the lives of students at Sacred Heart in Greenwich.  She led the Upper School for 22 years and later served as Director of Outreach, according to rscj.org.  

Mrs. Dunn graduated in the Class of 1973.  She has spent a cumulative 46 years at Sacred Heart, as a student, teacher, and administrator.  She commented on Sr. Sheehan’s dedication to the Goals and Criteria, especially Goal Three: “a social awareness which impels to action.” 

“Sr. Sheehan profoundly impacted so many of us who went to Sacred Heart Greenwich,” Mrs. Dunn said.  “Her commitment and willingness to help others were contagious.  Goal Three […] was Sr. Sheehan.  Her commitment to education and service was evident in all that she did.  She established a summer enrichment camp for inner-city children and committed to keeping it going for as long as possible and introduced us all to service.  I believe her goal in life was to instill values of compassion and service to the younger generation.”

Sr. Sheehan passed away in 2017, but her legacy of service lives on through the Sr. Sheehan Service Honor Society.  The Upper School launched this program last year to recognize students who have demonstrated commitment to serving the marginalized, and members of the Class of 2024 were the first to receive this distinction.  

Indeed, the honor society’s namesake lived a life of service.  In addition to her decades spent as a faculty member, she founded and managed a summer program, ministering to 300 elementary school children.  She also established Sacred Heart’s ongoing partnership with the Carver Center, an organization that provides food support and youth programming in Port Chester, New York.

Image courtesy of rscj.org
Image courtesy of Mrs. Kristina Hooper 88
Sister Kaye Cherry ’53

Sr. Cherry is an alumna of Sacred Heart Greenwich and Manhattanville College.  She entered the Society of the Sacred Heart shortly after her university graduation and made her Final Vows in Rome, Italy in 1967, according to rscj.org.

Sr. Cherry furthered her education through post-graduate courses at institutions including Oxford University and Boston College.  As an educator, she taught literature at the Sacred Heart schools in Kenwood, Rochester, and Bloomfield Hills, Michigan before arriving in Greenwich, according to the 2009 Horizons magazine.

During her time on King Street, Sr. Cherry served as an English teacher and English Department Chair, headed Advanced Placement (AP), and guided the King Street Chronicle as faculty advisor.  In 2013, she received the Greenwich-Maplehurst Outstanding Alumnae Award.

Sr. Cherry’s confidence and compassion had a significant impact on her student Mrs. Kristina Hooper ’88.  Mrs. Hooper chose Sr. Cherry to be the godmother of her daughter, senior Madeleine Hooper, and the Hooper family maintains a close relationship with Sr. Cherry to this day.  Mrs. Hooper shared a reflection on the religious sister’s power to inspire her students. 

“Sr. Cherry was a dedicated educator who instilled a love of literature and writing in her students but who also set high standards, constantly prodding us to pursue excellence,” Mrs. Hooper said.  “And while she was strict and exacting, she also knew when to be compassionate and forgiving.  I remember a particular occasion when she could have been angry with me and instead was compassionate and understanding.  She had a great sense of humor and appreciated it in her students.  She set a powerful example of a confident woman who lives a life of purpose, fulfilled by her vocation.  She spoke softly, but her example was loud and inspirational.”

Sr. Cherry currently lives in Atherton, California, in retirement with other RSCJ.  Mrs. Hooper spoke to the lessons she learned from Sr. Cherry–not only in literature, but also in life. 

“She taught me about life, about the importance of having a moral compass and staying true to your values,” Mrs. Hooper said.  “To put it simply, her presence in my life was transformational.  I am so incredibly grateful she was my teacher and is my dear friend.”

Image courtesy of Mrs. Kristina Hooper ’88
Image courtesy of Mrs. Kristina Hooper 88

Mrs. Kristina Hooper ’88 reflects on the legacy of her friend and former teacher Sr. Kaye Cherry ’53.

Image courtesy of Mrs. Kristina Hooper ’88
Image courtesy of Sr. Kathleen Conan
Sister Kathleen Conan

Sr. Conan grew up in DeWitt, New York.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Manhattanville College.  She also holds master’s degrees in Theology and Educational Administration from Boston College and the University of Notre Dame, respectively, according to rscj.org.

As a teacher and administrator, Sr. Conan ministered at the Sacred Heart schools in Buffalo, New York; Albany, New York; Newton, Massachusetts; and Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  In 1980, she moved to Greenwich and began her ten-year tenure as Headmistress of Sacred Heart Greenwich.  

Sr. Conan reflected on her time on King Street, recalling the process of weaving the Sacred Heart mission as outlined in the Goals and Criteria into the daily lives of students and educators.  Although the Goals and Criteria are a direct expression of St. Madeleine Sophie’s educational philosophy from the 1800s, the document itself dates back only to the 1970s.  Sr. Conan commented on Sacred Heart Greenwich’s response to the Goals and Criteria

“That articulation of Sacred Heart education, the Network experiences and the SHCOG evaluation process were relatively new at the time,” Sr. Conan said.  “The workshops for faculty, staff, students and parents that helped us understand the Goals and Criteria gave energy, focus and a strong sense of purpose to the everyday processes of education.  They helped us see and understand our educative efforts as part of the transformation of our world and challenged us to recommit to the desires of Sophie and of God in light of the needs of our local and global world at the end of the 20th century.  While we were not always able to implement the depth or extent of our dreams, we did enable students to experience and envision making a meaningful contribution to the world.”

In 2005, Sr. Conan became the RSCJ Provincial for the United States (US).  She served in this position for three years before she became the 15th Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart since the order’s foundress, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat.  In this capacity, Sr. Conan led thousands of RSCJ in the global order from 2008 to 2016.  

Sr. Conan currently serves in the Philippines.  Since April 2022, she has guided women from Asia through the process of joining the Society of the Sacred Heart.  Next year, she will return to the US to serve as a religious director and to coordinate a global renewal program for RSCJ.  Sr. Conan shed light on the international, shared essence of Sacred Heart schools. 

“Sacred Heart education hopes to offer a learning, loving community of faith through which students develop their gifts of spirit, mind, heart and freedom in ways that are life-giving to themselves and to others, and which contribute to their choosing to join others in building a world where everyone experiences such opportunities for the fullness of life God desires,” Sr. Conan said.

Image courtesy of Sr. Kathleen Conan
Avery Kim ’24

Top left: Sr. Conan greets Pope Francis in 2016, representing the Society of the Sacred Heart as Superior General.

Top right: Former Superior Generals Sister Patricia García de Quevedo, Sister Clare Pratt, and Sr. Conan, alongside current Superior General Sister Barbara Dawson, celebrate Sr. Dawson’s election in Nemi, Italy.

Bottom: The former global Council, Sister Hiroko Okui, Sister María del Socorro Rubio, Sister Kim Sook Hee, Sister Catherine Lloyd, and Sr. Conan, pass on their leadership roles to the current Council, Sr. Dawson, Sister Daphne Sequeira, Sister Isabelle Lagneau, Sister Marie-Jeanne Elonga, and Sister Mónica Esquivel.

Image courtesy of Mrs. Maureen Considine
Sister Ann Marie Conroy

Sr. Conroy spent her childhood in New York City before moving north to Manhattanville College for university.  She majored in History and minored in English.  One year after her graduation in 1947, she entered the Society of the Sacred Heart in Kenwood.  However, in 1950, she left the novitiate due to illness and family responsibilities.  She returned to New York City and took a position as Assistant Director for Media Research at Compton Advertising, according to rscj.org.

Sr. Conroy once again joined the RSCJ in 1959, and she began her ministry in Greenwich.  On King Street, she managed the school’s business office, budgets, and financial aid as Assistant Treasurer and Director of Financial Aid, according to rscj.org.  

In addition to her local positions, Sr. Conroy represented the New York province in the global Society of the Sacred Heart.  She worked with RSCJ in Latin America, Kenya, the Congo, Egypt, England, Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan, according to rscj.org.  

In 1994, Sr. Conroy served as the Assistant Head and Interim Upper School Head at Sacred Heart Greenwich.  She formed close relationships and provided spiritual guidance to students, faculty, and fellow RSCJ, according to rscj.org

Mr. Vincent Badagliacca, Upper School History Teacher and History Department Chair, has taught at Sacred Heart for 22 years.  He recalled Sr. Conroy’s leadership and kindness.

“Sr. Ann Conroy was a woman, educator, and Catholic leader I admired greatly,” Mr. Badagliacca said.  “A woman who had both breadth and depth of educational experience, she made a point of getting to know me and other new teachers and imparting her knowledge and guidance of the mission in a very impactful and convincing manner.  Moreover, she did this in a lovingly kind, maternal way which earned my everlasting respect.”

Beyond King Street, Sr. Conroy was committed to educating the marginalized.  She volunteered to teach English to incarcerated women at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Bedford, New York. 

Sr. Conroy passed away in 2016 in Atherton, California, according to rscj.org.  Mr. Badagliacca reflected on Sr. Conroy’s example of love and faith. 

“Her devotion to Jesus was astounding, and I don’t believe it to be an exaggeration to say that she was a wise and shining example to all of us who sought to be Sacred Heart educators,” Mr. Badagliacca said.  “She was a leader, an educator, a mentor, a friend, and, in the words of Saint Francis, ‘an instrument of peace.’  I feel blessed to have had the experience of knowing and working with such an extraordinary individual.”

Image courtesy of Mrs. Maureen Considine
Avery Kim 24

Left: Sr. Ann Conroy dedicates her life to the RSCJ charism.

Right: Sr. Ann Conroy and Sr. Kaye Cherry share a smile at an alumnae tea reception in 2006.

Avery Kim ’24
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About the Contributor
Avery Kim, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Avery is honored to serve as one of the Editors-in-Chief of the King Street Chronicle.  After two years on the newspaper’s staff, she has learned countless lessons in communication, collaboration, and responsibility.  She is eager to lead the paper this year and share her passion for journalism with the new staff writers.  When Avery is not writing or editing articles, she spends her time maintaining the campus beehives, singing in the Madrigals choir, and managing the Studio Art Club.

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