During an interview this week, Sister Catherine Schuyler, who’s turning 100 years old on Aug. 23, urges her pet dog Korby to jump into her lap.
Sister Catherine Schuyler has invested her life into teaching others while enhancing their spiritual awareness and bridging cultural divides.
She’s been at it a long time — since 1933.
Schuyler, a retired nun that lives in the rectory at St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church in Warrensburg, is turning 100 this week, and she took time with Sister Linda Hogan Monday Aug. 16 to reflect on her career. Saturday Aug. 20, parishioners and friends are gathering in both St. Cecilia’s and Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lake George to pay tribute to a woman who has devoted nearly 80 years to serving others.
Schuyler grew up in Hagaman, N.Y. northeast of Amsterdam. As her mother died at a young age, Schuyler was raised primarily by her grandmother, and later by her stepmother. She attended the College of St. Rose in Albany, and graduated in St. Rose’s second class ever.
Not long after graduation, Schuyler became a nun, joining the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet based in Troy.
Her grandmother, Schuyler recalled, was disappointed in her chosen vocation.
“When I made my decision, she told me, ‘It’s a lazy life,’” Schuyler remembered with a chuckle.
But her life wasn’t lazy in the least, Hogan noted.
Since 1936, Schuyler taught Literature, English, Mathematics and Science at various area Catholic high schools, followed by college-level teaching assignments in Peru from 1963 to 1974. At the University of Santa Maria in Arequipa, she taught English, World literature, and served as a librarian.
Her tenure in Peru prompted a good number of life-long friendships, Hogan noted. Just several weeks ago, one of Schuyler’s students in Peru visited her.
“Sister Catherine is not only inspiring, she’s unforgettable,” Hogan said, noting her sharp wit and sparkling personality. “She’s a wonderful, wonderful teacher, and people in Peru still talk about her.”
Schuyler deferred the credit.
“I taught them, but they taught me a lot — it went both ways,” she said with a smile.
After her tenure in Peru, Schuyler returned to Scotia, NY to care for her father, after which she served on the faculty of Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Amsterdam. Later, her service to the church took her to Florida. There, she was a director of a church home, coordinated religious education at a Catholic School, and taught Theology and English at a school for unwed mothers. From 1983 to 1986, she ministered to Hispanic migrants. From 1986 to 1990, she taught general education to prison inmates in Florida. The following year, Schuyler taught a similar subject at a community college nearby. From 1991 to 1996, she worked as a teacher or as a human services worker in a variety of positions.
In 2000, she arrived at St. Cecilia’s in Warrensburg, where she has been a volunteer, cook and housekeeper, spiritual counselor and prayer witness ever since.
As Hogan watched the 99-year-old walk briskly through the rectory kitchen, she said Schuyler has enjoyed a healthy lifestyle.
“Sister Catherine’s in excellent health, and she’s got really strong bones,” Hogan said, noting that Schuyler’s bedroom is on the rectory’s second floor, and she scales the stairs regularly with considerable ease.
In 1996, Schuyler climbed a mountain in Pack Forest, accompanied by Warren County Sheriff Bud York, she said.
“I owe my good health to miles and miles of walking,” Sister Catherine said.
In 1989, she hiked to the top of Hackensack Mountain, a feat she might attempt again in several weeks after she gets her 100th birthday behind her, Hogan said.
“She’s a vibrant woman with a keen sense of humor,” Hogan added.
Schuyler also enjoys politics — so much that she often skips Mass for the Sunday morning political talk shows on television, Hogan said. An avid supporter of Barack Obama, Schuyler had a heart attack not long before the 2008 election. In the emergency room, hours after regaining consciousness, Schuyler was campaigning ardently for Obama, she recalled this week.
“As soon as I was awake, I was politicking,” she said.
Schuyler said she enjoys living on Main St. in Warrensburg, because of the variety of services close by.
“I like living here — close to shopping and the health center,” she said.
It’s a short walk across the street, she noted, to attend wakes of parishioners at Alexander-Baker Funeral Home — where she shares some wit and wisdom with funeral director John Alexander, Schuyler said.
“When I go into the funeral home, I tell him I’m not ready yet,” she laughed, attributing her long life to frequent exercise and eating peanut butter daily, as well as crediting God.
Hogan disputed the peanut butter, noting Schuyler’s engaging spirit and love of life.
“She’s lots of fun, creative and dynamic,” Hogan said.