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Transcript of video (June, 2005):

Sr. Eileen Bannon

 I’m Sr. Eileen Bannon. I’m going to talk about Sr. LaVerne Relli, who was a faculty member at the College of St. Francis.

She came there in 1939, no, she came there in 1936. And I didn’t know her until 1939, and that’s when our relationship began back then.

I was a graduate from the College, from St. Francis Academy. And I knew a lot about what was going on at the College, they had a lot of theater work. So I was really interested in it.

Then when it came, when I graduated, my next question was where are you going to go to College? So I looked around. All of my brothers and sisters had gone down to University of Illinois or they stayed in Joliet to get to Junior College and then down to the University of Illinois. But that’s the pattern in my family.

But the College, at that time, when Sr. LaVerne came in 1936. From then on the College offered a scholarship for a speech student and that was my area. I loved theater and theater work. That’s why I was interested in the College because they did a lot of theater work in my day.

Being in Joliet and at the Academy right next door, I naturally knew a lot of the things they were doing.

Well anyway, I went for the test. She had to give you a test whether or not you get the scholarship. So the test was to give her a speech, she was the only one in the room, so I had to give her a speech. Well anyway, it turned out that I got the scholarship. So that settled my problem, I knew where I was going to go to College.

So, Sr. LaVerne was, as I said, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin. It did a lot, did her theater work up there in order to become ready for the College.

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When I was in High School, the College did the show of "Mary of Scotland", and Olive Pommier was the main actress in that show. I saw that. And I also saw "Cyrano de’Bergerac" where Charles Schorie played the lead. But Sr. LaVerne wasn’t directing that because she hasn’t, before she came there was a lay woman Rose Wokurka who was the Theater Director.

Sr. LaVerne became the advisor to the little theater at the College when she first arrived. So she was in the background, but she was there and what was going on.

But what she did basically was she started our first speaking choir at the College. And of course, I joined that. One of the shows that she did, well she did one called "Sanctity" and she did another called "The Rose of St. Francis." That of course caught my fancy.

Well I invited my mother and father to come to see that show. That’s when my mother said on her way out, "That was strong propaganda." And so when we got in the car, I told them I said you know, I’d like to join the community. Well, it turned my father off, but my mother was very interested and kept encouraging me to go, go, go, go. So that’s what I did.

So, as I said, I was in the radio class, so we learned a lot about radio. Especially what interested me the most were the sound effects, how you got all the sound effects going, how to get horses walking, and creaky rocking chair. We took a fingernail file and rubbed something over it and it sounded like a creaking. It was interesting and I enjoyed that very much.

But she was a very good teacher. I took a lot of speech classes because that was my major as long as I was at the College. So I did a lot of things with her. In fact, I would call her one of my best friends at that time.

She also started a children’s theater at the College when she first arrived there. The children’s theater was in the Science building at the College, which is now the Science building. But when it first started, Sr. hired a Tiffin-Franciscan, Sr. Carolette to do the work because she herself had so much to do at the College. So she couldn’t do both at the same time, but she directed Sr. Carolette in the work that she did.

And the children would come to the classroom and they would do creative dramatics, which was very interesting to do. Because I, one time to took one of the classes just to see how the kids did this. It was most interesting and I enjoyed it.

And eventually they hired one of our own Sisters to take over the place. It was Sr. Fernanda came and she moved the whole theater, the children’s theater, down to the Prep which is on Buell Avenue. They set up their studio down there and it was from there. Of course, all the shows were done at the Auditorium in the College. They did a lot of good shows, a lot of nice things.

Toward the end of my second year, after I entered the community, I was a postulant. So I was no longer really free to do things, I was part of the community. Therefore my close association with Sister was not as much as it would have been if I had been just a student there. But in my second year, which was really my year to graduate from the College or near then, near the graduation.

In order to do that, I was a Theater major so I had to present a program as a part of my final exam. And Sr. LaVerne had written a show when she was at the University of Wisconsin about Joan of Arc. So that was the show she wanted us to do. So, I was Joan of Arc and the rest of the postulants were all a part of the show. So it really became a family affair, they were all in it and we all did it together. It was really a nice thing to do.

Well, after I graduated from the College, I was sent out on mission, so I was no longer there. I was gone for a number of years because I taught in high schools and I taught theater work, speech, English. I was in Ohio, I was in Chicago, I was mostly in Illinois and Ohio where our schools were.

So, but I do remember one time when we were members of the Catholic Theater conference. They had, every year they had a big convention. But this one year they had a convention in New York. So Sr. LaVerne wanted to go and Sr. Fernanda decided she’d like to go and so I went along with them.

By that time, I was a member of the faculty. I had come back to the College, which was 1968, I became a faculty member. One thing that I know, we saw many, many good Broadway shows, that was part of the conference.

One time, and we stayed at the Waldorf Historia Hotel, because that was the headquarters for the conference. One day we were riding up on the elevator, and on the elevator with us was a man. And Sr. LaVerne liked to talk, she was very friendly, so she would talk to him. We found out he was James Farley, the Head of the United States Postal Service. So he invited us to come to his quarters, to his bedroom area, and meet his wife who was also there. Because he said the rooms that we were in, which were right next to his, were the rooms that his daughters had slept in when they were there with them. So, he was very interested in us because we were Sisters, and James Farley was a good Irishman. So we went in to visit her and she was a lovely lady. We had a very nice visit, a very pleasant one. After that we left.

I’ve just tried to show you that Sr. LaVerne was a very outgoing person. She liked to talk to people. But one thing that I noticed about her, whenever she put on a play she really did not go out to see the audience after the play was over. She would hide in the dressing room and she would stay there until everybody got out of the theater before she’d even come out. So I guess she was just shy, that’s what I concluded.

But she had no reason to be shy because all her shows were very successful, very good, very nice. I don’t remember the titles of all of them, but she did a lot of good work.

When I came back to the College, they also had added people to the faculty, the theater speech department faculty. Sr. Claire Edward came in there. She worked with the children who had speech defects or hearing problems. Sr. Fernanda was there of course at that time. And a Dr. Dan McCarter from Joliet Junior College was a member of the speech department.

Eventually, when Sr. Fernanda could no longer manage the children’s theater, they hired a man called Brian Enos. He was a Hawaiian, very interesting. He did a lot of good work with the children, very good. I helped sometimes with the costuming and when I did a show, Carolits, when Sr. Carolette was there, she’d help me with the costuming. So we did good things together.

One of the first shows that I did when I was on the faculty, was "The King and I." I had all the children from the children’s theater to be a part of it. Sr. Carolette, as I said, helped with all the costuming. So it worked out well. We also had Sr. Rosaire there, who was the Music teacher in the College at that time. And luckily, there was a young girl in our school who had graduated from another University as a voice major and she had a gorgeous voice. So, she was Anna in "The King and I."

And Catholic High band, I guess they called them an orchestra, but they were the ones that played all the music for it. So it really became a full production. We had Sr. Rosaire to do all the music. We had all the children from the children’s theater. So that, Sr. LaVerne of course was helping making things go and it went very well.

Sr. LaVerne was there from 1936 until 1974 when she died. (Editors note: Sr. LaVerne died July 23, 1991) But I had a chance, even though while I was there, I had a chance to work with all the other Sisters who were on the faculty. One of the best ones of course was Sr. Rose Agnes, who wrote the show of "The Rose of St. Francis." So when I received my veil, I was named Sr. Rose Francis; because Sr. LaVerne said I was the first vocation for that particular show. That is why I got my name. Sr. Rose Agnes was the one that wrote that show.

Now I knew Sr. Rose Agnes pretty well because she had been my High School teacher. She taught English at St. Francis Academy when I was there. So I knew her quite well. She was very helpful. I know when I would write, when we had to write a paper, she always put a little note on there, a very encouraging little note. So she kind of, I kind of got close to her because she was so interesting in my in what I was doing and who I was. Sr. Carolette, by the way, was a Tiffin Sister. She wasn’t one of our own Sisters.

A short time after I was on the faculty, we were working on a merger with Lewis University. And for that reason we had a little cottage out on the Lewis campus. Some of us from the faculty at the College moved out there and lived on Lewis campus. Now it was quite a diverse group of people; Sr. Claudia, who was the Dean at the College was one of them, Sr. Rita Green, who was from the Art department, Sr. Rosaire, who was from the Music department, Sr. Marie Beha, who was in the Theology department, and Sr. Noel, who taught at the Lewis University in the Science department. So you can see, we were quite a diverse group of people.

But it worked very well, we enjoyed being out there and working with each other in that capacity. We also had 2 young junior sisters with us at that time. And they’re the ones that gave us a lot of pep and energy. I remember one day, they said let’s go ice-skating. And I said oh, where? They said up in Dellwood Park in Lockport. They had iced the pavilion, so that was the skating rink then. So we went up there one night, a couple of us went along with these young nuns and we ice-skated. Oh it was fun. It was really fun. We enjoyed that. But Sr. LaVerne was not a part of that. She was back at the College.

Then when it was, at that time when we were up there, one of the members of the Science department gave Sr. Noel a dog, a little poodle. So we had the dog in the house with us, at the little cottage. When it came time to move back to the College, we had to give this up, we had to move back to the College. At that time, the College owned a house across the street on, well it wasn’t Buell Avenue, it was the street that runs along side of Marian Hall. It was a house over there.

So, someone said now what are we going to do with the dog. Sr. Noel didn’t want to keep it. So I said, oh I’ll take it. We’ll put it down in that house. So, we lived over in the house. There was about 4 of us stayed over there. So we kept the dog at that house. It was very nice, I liked that dog. It was a cute little dog, a little poodle, black and white. Then eventually, we had to move back to the College because the house, I mean the College wanted to sell that house. So we did. They said, what are we going to do with the dog? Well I called my sister and said don’t you want a dog? She said, well actually no, but if you need to get rid of it, yes we’ll take it. So I gave it to her. So that’s how we got rid of the dog.

One of the big things that Sr. LaVerne did besides this verse speaking choir, she established what they called the Golden Rose Award. So in the theater department, whoever deserved that award for that year, was presented with this pin, a golden rose pin.

There were a number of nice actresses who received that award. I was not one of them because I wasn’t a part of those shows because I was a sister at that time, so I couldn’t be in them. She also established, which was called Better Speech week. For Better Speech week, they always had a program. Sr. LaVerne directed the different programs and things that they did during Better Speech week.

She had one young man from Joliet who was quite prominent in her shows. His name is Charles Schorie and he was Cyrano de’Bergerac. He was also the nobleman in "Mary of Scotland." So he was quite prominent in the College when I was there.

Well, when we had the merger with the College and with Lewis, some of the sisters were not in favor of that at all. Some of them were, very much. I was in favor of it because I knew the speech department people from Lewis. They worked with us very closely. So I was happy to have them a part of our faculty. We split things up between us.

But some of our Sisters, as I said, were not in favor of it. So Sr. Beatrice, who was a prominent English teacher at the College, went down to the University of Illinois and got a job down there as an English teacher. Sr. Joan Preising, who is now 103 years old, went up to the Crosier Seminary in Wisconsin and taught Science in the Seminary. She did very good there. Sr. Miriam Clare, who was a part of the English department at the College, traveled around. She went to Vietnam and taught, she went to Cuba and taught, she went to various places and she became a world traveler you might say. And that was about it.

Although I did know a lot of the teachers who were at the College at that time, especially Father Eligius Weir. He was a religion teacher. He would always tell us stories about the prison. He worked out at Statesville. He would tell us stories about what was going on out there. He was very interesting. Sr. Chrysantha was the English teacher. Sr. Seraphine was a Journalism teacher. We had a lot of teachers there, a lot of interesting people.

I think that’s about all I can say; unless there’s something you’d like to know more about Sr. LaVerne. I don’t want to be talking about myself. She was a very good friend of mine. She did a marvelous job. She was a humble, saintly person. She died while I was still on the College faculty, I think it was 1964 when she died , no it would have to be later than that (editors note: she died in 1991).