By Nora Kerr
“Education is the greatest work on Earth.” – St. Julie Billiart
St. Robert Bellarmine has been lucky to have many great educators since its founding in 1931, and one such teacher, advisor, and friend of SRB is Sister Ann Fanella.
Ann grew up in Chicago, attending St. Celestine’s then the Notre Dame School for girls, where she was first introduced to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Her parents, Daniel and Mary Fanella, raised Ann in the Catholic faith. But she grew into her own, developing an Italian fiery temper and equally fervent passion for the Chicago Cubs.
“I was not the typical nun material,” said Sr. Ann.
She found teaching after answering the calling, and spent 20 years teaching in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. In 1982, Ann moved back home to be closer to her mom. She was about to take a position at St. Peter Canisius on the near north side when God had other plans. One interview with Sr. Mary Lou Stoffel changed everything.
“That was an act of Providence,” said Sr. Ann. “God gets you where He wants you.”
Since that interview, she has spent more than the last 3 decades as an 8th grade homeroom advisor and 7th-8th grade math and religion teacher. But Sr. Ann views the kids of SRB as much more than just students passing through.
“I have graduation pictures from 1983 on and at the end of each year, I sit in my room with those pictures and I look at every student and pray for them. I have loved these kids.”
The admiration is mutual. Hundreds of young lives have been touched by Sr. Ann’s caring heart, strong faith, and love for education. Just recently, the College of Education of DePaul University honored her and 2 other sisters, Sr. Mary Lou and Sr. Lea, for their years of excellence in education. Timothy Hawkins, a former student of the three nuns, nominated them.
“That’s the beauty of being in one place for a long time,” said Sr. Ann. “You see kids grow up, and you see children of those children.”
In addition to cheering on her Cubs and reading mysteries, working with children has been her lifelong passion and have done wonders for her spirit.
“The kids constantly challenge you to be what you say. I’ve been asked point blank, ‘Why do you believe in God?’”
Her answer was simple and age appropriate:
“It was winter, and I pulled up the window shade and pointed to an oak tree covered in fresh snow. I said, ‘That’s why I believe in God – who else could do that?’”
Years of teaching helped to ground her faith and also level her Italian disposition.
“Over the years, I have mellowed down quite a bit.”
In 2016, after teaching for 54 years, Sr. Ann decided it was time for another chapter. She will spend September on a spiritual sabbatical, taking time to reflect on her next move. Though she awaits her next assignment, she knows she will always be welcome in the halls of St. Robert’s.
“We are a family here at St. Robert’s. There is a spirit here that I think is unique.”
Though now retired from teaching, we can still expect to see Sr. Ann around the halls and outside on patrol duty for the time being, continuing to do what she does best: connecting with kids and being of service to her SRB family.