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Sister honored for lifetime of service to Catholic education

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BRAINTREE — For nearly three decades, Sister Ann Susan Villa, a Sister of Charity of Nazareth, has applauded and cheered as students, alumni, and guest speakers were honored at Archbishop Williams High School graduations. But this year, it was her turn to be in the spotlight when she was presented with a Distinguished Service Award for 29 years of service as the school’s media specialist and librarian.

"I was at first overwhelmed," said Sister Villa. "I couldn't believe it because I never dreamed that this honor was going to be given to me. I really think that the honor was for the sisters who taught at the school, all the sisters who taught me, and for all the sisters with whom I lived in the Archbishop Williams Convent," said Sister Villa, who is the last sister at Archbishop Williams. "It was an honor I received for them."

The award was presented by Mary Louise Sadowski, principal, to a spontaneous standing ovation from the graduates, their families, and the school community.

"Sister Ann Susan is one of our unsung heroes and a tradition here at the school," said Principal Sadowski during the school's graduation ceremony. "She exemplifies all of the tenets of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in her promotion of academic excellence, in her nurturing and caring for our students, and in her tenacity in acquiring and providing the best library and media materials and on-line services so our students can do their very best."

Following her award, Sister Villa was given two bouquets of flowers — one from her friend Winifred LaVoix, class of 1953, which was presented by senior class president Jon McIver, and the second sent by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Joining Sister Villa at the graduation were her many friends, including Sister Jane Elizabeth O’Connell, SCN, who was a member of the Archbishop Williams faculty in 1953.

The graduation ceremony also marked Sister Villa’s 50th graduation anniversary from Nazareth High School, South Boston, where she was Valedictorian. In the fall of that year, she entered the religious community of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Wakefield. She now celebrates her 47th year as a sister, which includes 38 years of service as a teacher and a librarian in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Sister Villa’s interest in the religious life began at an early age. “She confessed to me that she wanted to become an SCN since kindergarten,” said Sadowski. “She has more than fulfilled her expectation and life mission.”

Sister Villa is a former teacher at Hyde Park’s Most Precious Blood School and Readville’s St. Ann School, from which she graduated with the highest average.

"These schools were dear to my heart as a young teacher," said Sister Villa. "At St. Ann School, everyone was very close. It was then that I found I only wanted to be a teacher. At Most Precious Blood, you saw what you taught, the fruits of your labor. Those kids responded to every one of the nuns. The kids had such a desire to learn. To this day, I still meet their parents or the students themselves, and they remember me. It was at Most Precious Blood that I started my first classroom library."

Born in Readville, she still lives in the neighborhood where she grew up and attended St. Ann School, living in the home of her late parents, Victor and Susan Villa. At a recent Saturday Mass at St. Ann Church, Sister Villa was honored by yet another round of applause as the pastor, Father William Joyce, informed parishioners of Sister Villa’s award.

As a media specialist and librarian at Archbishop Williams, Sister Villa has been at the forefront of the technological innovations that have affected libraries.

"I always had my hands on technology from day one," she said. "We were the first Catholic school with computers. I prepared materials and lessons for early computer classes. I taught study skills, integrating library information and technology skills, which I still do today. I continue to help students to become library technology literate."

Sister Villa’s commitment to education goes well beyond the classroom. Among her many contributions during her career at Archbishop Williams are her service as the creator of the study skills program in the early 1980s, coordinator of the summer school, manager of the bookstore, originator of the annual used book sale, and leader of the annual calendar drive fundraiser.

Although the students have left for the summer, Sister Villa is already anticipating the next school year at Archbishop Williams High School. “I’m looking forward to an exciting senior class which has many talents, “ she said. “Every year is a different challenge. It may not be the challenge I thought it would be, but I try to adjust to it and do my best just the same.”

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