By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – Five-year-old Rosalie Fullam reported to the first grade at St. Anthony of Padua School in South Philadelphia in September 1945 – a year ahead of schedule because she couldn’t wait to begin. At that time, there was no kindergarten.
Little Rosalie Fullam is now 69-year-old Sister Joseph Helen, I.H.M., who is just as pleased to begin her 50th year as an elementary school teacher for the Philadelphia Archdiocese this September.
“I go to school happy every day,” she said.
Her five decades as a Catholic educator have been devoted to youngsters in kindergarten, pre-first grade and first grade. Just as she has for the past 20 years, Sister Joseph Helen will report to St. Matthew School in Northeast Philadelphia, where she is in her 15th year as a kindergarten instructor.
Teaching provides Sister Joseph Helen the opportunity to instill in the children entrusted to her care the goodness of God and to guide them to be “good little people,” she said.
From the day they first enter her classroom until the day they exit it for the final time, she teaches the children that they “are not just a classroom of children” but that they are “family.”
Sister Joseph Helen is the third of three daughters of the late Joseph and Helen (Johnson) Fullam, an aunt of seven, great-aunt of six and great-great-aunt of two.
She was raised in St. Anthony of Padua Parish in South Philadelphia, where she graduated from the parish school in 1953.
A 1957 alumna of John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School in Philadelphia, she worked as a secretary for Lit Brothers department store in Center City Philadelphia after high school before entering the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Immaculata in February 1958. She made her first profession in August 1960.
Sister Joseph Helen’s first assignment was at St. Gabriel School in South Philadelphia, where her first-grade classroom alone numbered 65 children.
Teaching assignments have also included Incarnation of Our Lord School in North Philadelphia; St. Joseph School in Warminster, Bucks County; and St. Anastasia School in Newtown Square, Blessed Virgin Mary School in Darby and St. Laurence School in Highland Park, all in Delaware County.
The school’s Catholic identity is very important to Sister Joseph Helen. A crucifix hangs above the chalkboard and numerous religious pictures and statues adorn the classroom. During prayer time, students take turns sharing their personal petitions.
The children might say, “‘Tommy looks sick; maybe we better say a little prayer for him now.’ So we take time and pray for Tommy,” she said.
” I teach the children how much care St. Joseph gave to Jesus, and that’s the care we need to give to each other.” Every May, Sister Joseph Helen teaches her students the Marian prayer, “Lovely Lady.” She also asks the Blessed Mother for her help and strength to “let me do my best, working through Jesus,” on behalf of the students and their parents.
Sister Joseph Helen holds a special place in her heart for rambunctious youngsters. She recalled a boy she once relegated to the classroom’s “time out” chair.
“As I looked out, I could see the chair rising. Here he was, under the little plastic chair, lifting it.” Although she reminded him he was supposed to be on the chair, not under it, the boy was solely focused on the fact that he was strong enough to lift the chair.
“I had to laugh,” she said.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.