In 1942, 9-year-old Rachael Ann Flowers walked into St. Michael School in West Memphis for the first time on Ash Wednesday. A self-described ornery child, she was immediately fascinated “meeting all these ladies with their heads wrapped up and everyone had a dirty face.” Rachel had never seen a nun, much less understood that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
“We were no religion,” she said of her family. “It was like meeting God.”
Today she is known as Sister Christopher Flowers, OSB, and has spent her life gently guiding the children who need it most to see their potential at the very school that changed her life. Though she has taught at several schools in Texas and Arkansas since making her first vows in 1952, St. Michael’s is her home.
“I knew I was helping somebody. You just kind of know when you fit. I’m not citified, I don’t relate well to people who their money station means everything to them. I relate well to the farmers, the people I can help, I feel more comfortable with them,” Sister Christopher, 84, said. “The reason I’m still here forever and ever, they keep saying I can come back.”
However, after a deep bruise sustained from a fall in November, Sister Christopher said this is her final retirement and she will return to Holy Angels Convent in Jonesboro in May. She is currently the longest and oldest serving staff member at Catholic schools in Arkansas.
At St. Michael, Sister Christopher has served as the librarian and a reading tutor in recent years and has been at the school on and off for about 35 years.
Sister Christopher, who was born in Ripley, Okla., moved to Hulbert (Crittendon County) and converted to Catholicism and was baptized in sixth grade. She entered the “juniorate” at Holy Angels Convent, despite her father’s belief that she was “too bossy” to be accepted.
“They had high regard for the sisters,” she said of her parents.
Sister Christopher received a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in reading education from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and has taught a little of everything for every grade level.
In addition to West Memphis, Sister Christopher taught in Blytheville, El Dorado, Jonesboro, Little Rock, Marked Tree, Paragould, Pocahontas and Stuttgart. She came back to St. Michael School most recently in 1999.
Sister Christopher has always gone above and beyond with her students, as Mary Jo Dagastino, who teaches pre-K 4-year-olds at St. Michael, recalls from when she was a sixth-grade student. One of her classmates, now a doctor, would “faint when the fire bells went off every month.”
“She would pick him up like a sack of potatoes, I still remember that. She just knew that was part of what her job was … she would walk immediately to him and pick him up,” and carry him out safely for the fire drill.
While Sister Christopher struggled as a student to reach her own potential, she said her joy is helping a child reach a new height in their education. She recently sat down with a new student who “kept telling his teacher ‘I can’t read, I just can’t, forget it.’” But when she picked up the story of “Humpty Dumpty,” a nursery rhyme he knew, he was able to read it to her.
“You can imagine the look on his face. He looked at me and I said, ‘You just read that book’ … at least he realized he can learn,” she said. “I guess it’s hard to describe because it just makes you so happy that this child is not going to have to feel so bad about himself anymore.”
Third-grade teacher Jessica Ford called Sister Christopher’s retirement “heart wrenching.”
“I can’t picture St. Michael’s without her in it, without her,” she said. “I keep praying God changes her mind. She’s our mom.”
While she doesn’t know what the future will hold or what ministry she’ll be doing, she admits, “I don’t know how long I can sit still without teaching someone to read.”
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