By Margo C. Pope
Editor’s note: Sister Suzan Foster and Margo C. Pope are “friends from birth.” Their mothers, Zaragoza Street neighbors Hazel Foster and Angela M. Cox, 1946-48, regularly played tennis together on the San Marco courts, including in 1947 when they were pregnant with their first daughters.
Most retirees receive a plaque. Sister Suzan Foster got a street. The inner circle of St. Joseph Academy Catholic High School is now called “Sister Suzan Way”.
Foster, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine, ended 50 years of teaching in Florida Catholic schools on June 30. Half of those years she served as assistant principal and religion teacher at St. Joseph.
“I had planned five years in St. Joe, and the rest is history,” she said. She has taught at seven schools in six Florida cities.
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Naming the street was Principal Todd DeClemente’s idea. Foster told him, “Don’t give a plaque.”
At her retirement party, he gave her the official St. Johns County green street sign that will be installed before the school reopens in August.
“There’s a way she approaches a task; a way she works with students, with teachers, with staff and with parents,” he said.
He also described how they worked together, starting with a meeting 20-30 minutes before school opened to get through the day. Then they shared their ideas and observations throughout the day. “She applies practical logic to everything she does. She inspired so many students to become leaders. What better way to honor her than to name the circular walk “Sister Suzan Way?” »
“It is almost difficult to understand his commitment to Catholic education.”
He cited his strong faith and commitment to prayer, his servant leadership, his abundance of ideas and his flexibility in assessing situations.
“She has the ability to be Principal or Superior General.”
Retiring from his alma mater
Foster is an alumnus of St. Joseph’s Academy, graduating in 1965.
“I love children. I love teaching. I especially love this school, all Catholic schools for that matter,” she said.
“About 18 months ago I realized I’ll be 50 in another year, a good benchmark. I’ll be 75, another good benchmark. At that point, you say, ‘ OK, is God calling me to do something else?’ »
Her retirement also means that she is the last Sister of Saint Joseph to teach in the first school founded by the religious community. Bishop Agustin Verot brought eight sisters to the town in 1866 from their motherhouse in Le Puy, France, to teach newly freed slaves after the Civil War.
Although sad to be the last in the academy, Foster said, “I know I am leaving the school in good hands with dedicated educators to keep the mission and charism of the Sisters alive.”
Sister Kathleen Carr, Superior General of the Sisters of St. taught. It’s sad to leave but you can also say, ‘Wow, what is God challenging us to do now?’ »
What’s next for Foster
Retire, yes; slow down, no.
She will focus on educational programming at the St. Joseph Neighborhood Center in the former St. Benedict the Moor School in Lincolnville, currently under reconstruction/renovation. The center’s mission is to provide young single mothers just above the poverty line with access to educational training, childcare, counseling and other necessities towards economic independence.
“Being a member of the SSJ Council (leadership team), I was on the ground floor of the new neighborhood center,” she said. “I find that very intriguing.”
His concern for others will be evident. “What she will show these young women is the face of love,” Carr said.
A Sister of St. Joseph for 57 years, Foster drew inspiration from her teachers, especially Sisters Jane Miller and Mary Herbert Rogero. “Sister Jane was like the Energizer Bunny, and I loved that. Sister Mary Herbert, our principal (at the academy) had a presence about her and a lot of practical knowledge.
Longtime friend Jo Ann Oliver Roberts met Foster in her first year at Cathedral Parish School.
“We were often in the care, after school, of her aunts, Edie and Gertie. During those early years, we were competitors in our writing skills and general studies. She won by far on all plans! Many of us swore to be nuns, but she was the one who stayed the course. Suzan inspired us then…and she inspires us now.
Sister Florence Bryan, superior general, 1994-98, appointed assistant superior general of Foster.
“I couldn’t keep her busy enough because she’s so fast,” Bryan said. “Anything I gave her to do, she was always ready to do, and she did it well. Grass doesn’t grow under her feet.
Among the future educators taught by Foster is Deacon David Yazdiya, principal of Bishop John J. Snyder High School in Jacksonville. She was his 10th grade religion teacher at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville. He remembers her as “compassionate, strong in her faith, knowledgeable on her subject. She loved her class and we all knew that.
Later, he taught religion there.
“Her greatest impact on Catholic schools,” he said, “is how she combined the art of teaching, which was really an art form when Sister was teaching, with the practice of the gospel in every way.”
Community members remember its impact
Sheriff Robert Hardwick, alumnus and advisory board member, has a special bond with Foster, ever since he met her in 2012 while coaching there.
“It was an instant relationship because of our shared Catholic faith and support for Catholic education,” he said. “Sister Suzan is the embodiment not only of a nun at the service of God and our Catholic faith, but also of her service to our young people. She has set the bar high and is the benchmark for Catholic education.
His first assignment in the Diocese of St. Augustine was teaching religion and English at Christ the King Catholic School in Jacksonville from 1969 to 1971.
Bishop Robert Baker, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, was a newly ordained priest teaching religion at Bishop Kenny. He recalls that his students were well prepared for high school religion classes.
“Our paths have crossed several times in Jacksonville, Gainesville and St. Augustine. She is a mentor to her students in their faith. As a Sister of Saint Joseph, she helped others by her presence to have great respect for the faith.
Bishop Michael Houle, Diocesan Episcopal Vicar, Development and Finance, was previously President of Bishop Kenny High School and St. Joseph’s Academy. During a mass in his honor at St. Augustine’s Cathedral Basilica, he paid his respects using the theme and sentiment of a birthday card he had received years ago. It featured characters from the “Wizard of Oz” and an appropriate sentiment: “Sometimes it’s not always the destination, but who you meet along the way matters most.”
“I am one of those who are so grateful to have met you along the way. Like Toto, you have taken care of your loved ones. Like the Tin Man, you have helped renew the hearts of many people. Like the Cowardly Lion , you have encouraged many, and like the bogeyman, you have used your good intelligence in the work of Catholic education to help young people and your peers hear and embrace the truths of the Gospel.
Diana Rodriguez, Dean of Academics/Academy Advisor to the academy, is his successor. “She’s a great lady,” Foster said. “She knows the school and the students. Foster left a letter for him in his office.
Even though her schedule will change, Foster won’t sleep in after 4:30 a.m. “I’m an early riser. I like to walk especially early in the morning and I like to read. Abandoning the school schedule, I look forward to having more meetings with the sisters, family and friends.
Sister Suzan Foster
Sister Suzan Foster, 75, Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine. Originally from St. Augustine, left in 1965; returned in 1994. Daughter of Hazel and Joseph Foster (both deceased). Entered the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Saint Augustine, September 2, 1965. Perpetual profession, July 2, 1972. At the time, the sisters received religious names. His was Sister Anne Michele, with an “L”. Her mother, Hazel Foster, chose it for her because she wanted her to have a strong name, like a man’s name. When Vatican II allowed nuns to revert to their baptismal names, she became Sister Suzan.
Education: St. Joseph’s Academy, class of 1965; Associate of Arts, St. Joseph College, Jensen Beach, Florida; Bachelor of Arts, University of Florida, Gainesville, 1973; Master of Arts in Religious Education, St. Meinrad School of Theology, St. Meinrad, Indiana; Certificate in Administration/Supervision, Jacksonville University.
Career: Teaching/administrative positions, seven Catholic schools in Florida, 50 years combined. The majority of assignments were in the Diocese of St. Augustine: Christ the King School, Jacksonville; St. Patrick’s School, Gainesville; Bishop Kenny High School, Jacksonville, 20, including 14 as vice-principal; and St. Joseph Academy, St. Augustine, assistant principal/teacher of religion, 25. Other teaching assignments in Florida: St. Mary’s Cathedral School, Miami; St. Juliana School, West Palm Beach; and Sacred Heart School, Lake Worth.
Leadership positions with the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine: SSJ Council Leadership Team: 1990-1998; 2002-2010; 2014-present; Assistant Superior General, 1994-1998.
Community activities: “My main community activity that has continued is volunteering with the St. Johns County 4-H program. It’s a reward for my own years in 4-H (youth programs). “I am so enjoying my three years volunteering at the Wildflower Clinic, but later scheduling needs and conflicts necessitated my withdrawal from this service.”
What is the next: Participate in the new enterprise of the Sisters of Saint Joseph: Center de quartier Saint-Joseph (sjncfl.org).
Which Bible verse inspires you? “There are several, but I often gravitate to Acts 3:6 when Peter heals the crippled beggar: ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give to you…” (“We all have something to give,” she said.)