By Colleen Boyle Sharp
Special to The CS&T
Brother René Sterner, F.S.C., 71, died Monday, May 11, 2009, at St. Catherine’s Infirmary in Philadelphia after battling cancer.
Brother René spent 18 of his 45 years in education as a member of the faculty and administration of La Salle College High School in Wyndmooor. He served 14 of those years as the school’s president (from 1991 to 2005).
Born Frederick Stephen Sterner in Hanover, Pa., Brother René spent his primary school years with his siblings in a one-room school house in the rural town. The valedictorian of his graduating class at Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, Pa., Brother René went on to attend LaSalle College where he graduated magna cum laude.
An educator who loved to be taught, Brother René earned master’s degrees from both La Salle College and Dusquesne University.
His sister Margaret Kenworthy said, looking back, that Brother René was destined to be an educator. “He loved to read, he loved to learn, and most of all he loved sharing what he knew with others,” she said.
Entering the novitiate for the Brothers of the Christian Schools in 1955, Brother René professed perpetual vows in 1962 and would dedicate his life to fostering Catholic education.
Michael O’Toole, principal of Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem and a former colleague, said the president emeritus strived to carry out a “truly humanistic education” at La Salle.
“Brother René had a strong desire to see traditional education become accessible to as many people as possible,” O’Toole said. “International students, those with learning differences, even students living below the poverty line, in his opinion all had a place at La Salle.”
In 2003, Brother René co-founded La Salle Academy at St. Michael Parish in North Philadelphia, a school for children in grades three to eight whose parents desired but could not afford a quality education.
“He had the ability to open doors and to work with people of other faiths to make some very good things happen,” said Brother Richard Kestler, F.S.C., president of La Salle College High School. “I think his primary legacy to La Salle is that he was able to think big about Catholic education and move the school in many positive directions.”
Brother René received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, conferred on him by Pope John Paul II in 1980, for his services on behalf of Christian education and the larger community.
Noted for his passion and dedication to the art of forensics, Brother René was instrumental in the success of organizing and leading speech and debate programs in four different schools. Under his guidance at La Salle, numerous city and state forensic championships were won. He served on various councils and committees on the local and national level of forensics and was the first recipient of the National Forensic League’s alumni lifetime achievement award.
Brother René is survived by his sisters, Patricia Gurtizen and Margaret Kenworthy (husband Wayne); brothers, Stephen (wife Lynn) and David; 11 nieces and nephews; and numerous grandnieces and grandnephews.
In addition to his parents, Willard Riley Sterner and Theresa Klunk Sterner, Brother René was preceded in death by his brother, Wayne.
Brother René’s funeral Mass was celebrated on Friday, May 15, by Father Anthony Janton, chaplain of La Salle College High School and pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Abington. The concelebrant was Father Herbert J. Sperger, former pastor of St. Michael Parish in Philadelphia and now pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, Philadelphia.
Fittingly, Brother René’s funeral took place on the feast day of St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, founder of the Christian Brother Order and patron saint of teachers.
Interment was at the Christian Brothers’ Cemetery in Ammendale, Md.
Colleen Boyle Sharp is a freelance writer and photographer and a parishioner of St. Katherine of Siena in Philadelphia.