By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

BLUE BELL – Sister Cathe Shoulberg, a Religious Sister of Mercy, is in her 21st year as principal of St. Helena School, Blue Bell, but her association with the school goes way back.

“I went to St. Helena School from kindergarten,” she said. “I started when I was 3 and a half.”

Born in 1948, she was the youngest of the five children of Kit and Charlie Shoulberg. It was a multi-cultural family; her mother was Irish Catholic and her father, who much later in life became Catholic, was Russian Jewish.

St. Helena School was new and looking for students. Father Thomas Kelly, their pastor who was visiting on block collection, convinced the family to send Cathe to kindergarten in spite of her young age.

St. Helena had a mixed faculty of Sisters of Mercy and lay teachers, and for secondary school she continued with the Mercy Sisters at Gwynedd Mercy Academy.

As for her future, “I was a child of the ’60s and very interested in giving back to the community,” Sister Cathe recalls. “I thought about the Peace Corps, but that would be only two years. What would I do then?

“Maybe, I reasoned, God is calling me to a permanent commitment.”

After high school she entered a pre-commitment cadet program with the Sisters of Mercy and taught first grade at St. Stanislaus, Lansdale, during her period of discernment. After two years, in 1967, she entered the Sisters of Mercy Novitiate.

Her family was very surprised. “I always liked to have fun, and guess what? I still do,” she said.

The great appeal for her was the Mercy Sisters’ willingness and commitment to making the world a better place, a commitment that traces back to their foundation in Ireland by Catherine McAuley.

“She was broadminded and progressive, a far-sighted woman,” Sister Cathe said.

It also helped that from her own observation, the Sisters of Mercy “were extremely happy in what they were doing,” she said.

Sister Cathe’s classroom teaching career of 15 years was entirely in the first grade at St. Jude, Chalfont; St. Michael, Levittown; St. Alphonsus, Maple Glen; St. Joseph’s, Sea Isle City, N.J. and St. Matthias, Bala Cynwyd.

After a five-year term as principal at St. Elizabeth, Whitehall, in the Allentown Diocese, she returned to her roots at St. Helena, and has remained ever since.

Under her watch as principal, St. Helena School has remained true to the Mercy commitment to service. Even the little ones make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the less fortunate.

After four decades, is she still happy as an educator?

“Absolutely. I love teaching,” she said. “I firmly believe elementary education is the place where you can help children early on. Our primary purpose is to bring the Gospel values into their lives and give them a taste of what God has in store for us.”

The day she is no longer happy in her work would be the day to move on, Sister Cathe said.

“You don’t need sour faces in a school. God’s invitation to us is to be happy. He wants us to be happy.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.