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Mercy sisters say goodbye to St. John School

Sisters Noeline and Cheryl arrived in the 1980s to work in Hot Springs

Published: August 16, 2021   
James Keary
Sister Noeline Banks and Sister Cheryl Quave smile at a July 31 reception held at St. Mary of the Springs Church parish hall.

HOT SPRINGS – Two sisters with nearly 80 combined years of experience at St. John School have retired and will move to St. Louis at the end of August.

Sister Noeline Banks, RSM, the school’s former principal, and Sister Cheryl Quave, RSM, the former technology coordinator and third-grade teacher, have educated thousands of Hot Springs area children since the 1980s. Sister Noeline was named principal at St. John in 1981, and Sister Cheryl began teaching third grade there in 1985.

“We have loved it. We have grown in our careers,” Sister Noeline said. “To leave, it is so bittersweet.”

“I will miss Hot Springs and the people. I loved fishing and the horse races,” Sister Cheryl said.

Jamie Sales, who was hired as a kindergarten teacher by Sister Noeline 38 years ago, said, “The sisters are the rock of this place.”

Sales said she is close to Sister Noeline, who became her godmother when she converted to Catholicism in 1999. When she applied for the teaching job, she was Baptist and didn’t know much about the Catholic faith. She said Sister Noeline reassured her that she would do a good job.

“She is the best woman I know,” Sales said.

About 150 people attended a reception to honor the sisters July 31 at St. Mary of the Springs Church parish hall.

Ed Sanders, a graduate of St. John School, said Sister Cheryl taught his two children, Karina, a doctor, and Blake, who holds two bachelor’s degrees. He said the education they received helped them be successful.

“She taught my kids. She was great. The kids loved her,” Sanders said. “They do a tremendous job at the school.”

Sister Richard Mary Burke, RSM, former principal of Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock and chairman of Mercy Education System of America, said she first met Sister Noeline in middle and high school in New Orleans. She said she entered the Sisters of Mercy because of Sister Noeline’s dedication.

“I just associated her with the spirit of joy and spirit of service and the joy of being a sister,” Sister Richard Mary said.

Sister Richard Mary now lives in St. Louis and will see Sister Noeline more often when she and Sister Cheryl move to the Sisters of Mercy retirement center, Catherine’s Residence. For 26 years, retired Sisters of Mercy moved to McCauley Convent in Barling, but that facility closed in March.

The sisters said they didn’t want a send-off, but agreed to one after many people said they were sad to see them leave Hot Springs.

“It was wonderful,” Sister Noeline said. “It was just like family.”

“I was overwhelmed by all of these people coming here,” Sister Cheryl said. “It was lovely.”

Sister Noeline, 81, grew up a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock. After graduating from Mount St. Mary Academy, she entered the Religious Sisters of Mercy convent in St. Louis in 1959. After attending Mercy Junior College and receiving a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Webster College, she taught first and third grades at Catholic schools in New Orleans and St. Louis. She also was a principal in Amarillo, Texas, and taught at Immaculate Conception School in North Little Rock.

Sister Noeline also earned a master’s degree from the University of Central Arkansas and received certification in administration from Henderson State University.

She was transferred to Hot Springs when her mother was hospitalized at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She served as principal and assistant principal at St. John School. For the past three years, she volunteered at the school.

Sister Cheryl, 73, joined the school in 1985.

“We hardly knew each other,” Sister Noeline said. “We were looking for a third-grade teacher. They kept telling me, ‘Don’t hire a teacher.’ And then they sent me Sister Cheryl.”

Sister Cheryl, a native of Biloxi, Miss., graduated from Sacred Heart Girls High School. She entered the Sisters of Mercy in St. Louis in 1967. After she graduated from Mercy Junior College and Fontbonne University, she went on to earn a master’s degree in theology from St. Mary College. She was a third-grade teacher at St. John School until she became head of the school’s technology improvements.

She also taught in San Antonio and Amarillo, Texas, and Vicksburg and Meridian, Miss., before moving to Hot Springs.

The sisters’ departure leaves St. John without Mercy sisters.

Before the reception, Father Ravi Rayappa Gudipalli, pastor of St. Mary of the Springs Church, dedicated the 4 p.m. Mass to Sister Noeline and Sister Cheryl.

“They have been so dedicated to the people of both parishes,” Father Gudipalli said. “I wish them all the happiness in the coming days.”

“The sisters are the heart of the church and the school,” said Father George Sanders, pastor of St. John Church.

Sister Noeline said although she and Sister Cheryl are moving to a retirement center, they plan to continue to serve God and the community.

“We will still have a ministry,” Sister Noeline said. “We will help with a parish. We don’t plan to stop serving.”

Sisters of Mercy have served in Hot Springs since 1888 when St. Joseph Infirmary, now CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs, opened.

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