March 14, 2003: Headlines: COS - Ghana: COS - Libya: St. Loius Dispatch-Post: Former Nun Mary Froehlich served in Peace Corps in Libya and Ghana in the 1960's

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Libya: Peace Corps Libya : The Peace Corps in Libya: March 14, 2003: Headlines: COS - Ghana: COS - Libya: St. Loius Dispatch-Post: Former Nun Mary Froehlich served in Peace Corps in Libya and Ghana in the 1960's

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Former Nun Mary Froehlich served in Peace Corps in Libya and Ghana in the 1960's

Former Nun Mary Froehlich served in Peace Corps in Libya and Ghana in the 1960's


Mar 14, 2003 - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

When Sister Joseph Bernardine became disillusioned with religious life, she opened the way for Mary Froelich to teach French in Libya and marry.

Mary Froehlich has a ready laugh and is quick with a joke. For 23 years, Froehlich taught school as Sister Joseph Bernardine of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet. Even though Froehlich took her vows of obedience seriously, it would appear from her numerous stories that her relationship with her students from the elementary to the university level was laced with a sort of humor that couldn't be repressed.

Froehlich emphasized that she feels enormous gratitude for the education and exposure to the arts that she received from the Sisters of St. Joseph. Nevertheless she became increasingly disillusioned with the religious life in the late 1960s. She joined the Peace Corps to teach French in Libya and Ghana and recalled several watershed incidents that led to the eventual renunciation of her vows.

One was when the father of a student complained to the principal at Rosati Kain High School in St. Louis that his daughter told him that Froehlich had compared the life of a nun to that of a prostitute.

"It dawned on me that I had mentioned that I read in a religious magazine when a nun wakes up she says 'good morning, God' and an actress says 'good God, it's morning,'" she said. "The very idea that she would believe a stranger over me after I had devoted 20 years of my life to the order was very hurtful."

Then there was a fierce argument with a superior who insisted that Froehlich punish a boy for retrieving a ball from a roof after Froehlich had given him permission. "If I wanted to fight, I would have stayed home with my six brothers," she said. "They did everything they could to talk me out of leaving - including sending me to a psychiatrist - but I was determined."

Mary Buelt Froehlich was born in north St. Louis, one of seven children and the only daughter of house painter Bernard Buelt and his wife, Josephine. She received a scholarship to Rosati Kain and while there was a member of the prestigious Archdiocesan Choir.

She described herself as a socially immature teenager. She recalled that 13 members of her senior class applied to either the Sisters of St. Joseph or the Notre Dame Sisters.

"I was not that religious, but I loved the idea of being with a bunch of high school kids, especially girls. It may have had something to do with coming from a family of six brothers," she said. "My mother, who was a very religious woman, was thrilled, but my father was not."

Froehlich recalled that her years as a postulant were filled with education and challenges. The young nuns were taught by teachers from Fontbonne College in St. Louis County and received the equivalent of a two-year college degree. They donned the traditional habit after six months.

Froehlich recalled that the garb consisted of six layers of veils and a black gown that was 100 percent wool. She pointed to permanent indentations under her chin where the severely starched linen cornet and gusset fit tightly.

"We had to wear a three-inch plastic band around our heads lined with a blotter because perspiration wilted the headpiece," she said. "The bottom 12 inches of the petticoat was black so that people couldn't see. When a child asked why I had a mattress cover under me I told him when I get tired I just turn in."

Froehlich's penchant for joking and talking (her mother was Irish, she said) got her into trouble.

Her first mission was teaching second and third grade in a predominantly black Catholic school in Indianapolis.

"Everything was decided for us-where we went to school, where we lived and what our vocation was to be," she explained.

When the order realized that Froehlich was talented linguistically, it sent her to Laval University in Quebec to study French for three summers. Eventually, she earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in French. In the meantime, she taught at St. Joseph's Academy in St. Louis County, Rosati Kain and eventually Fontbonne.

After Froehlich entered the Peace Corps, she taught French at three schools in Libya. Her college-age colleagues with whom she traveled called her "Aunt Mary."

She recalled that shedding her habit for lay clothing was an adjustment.

"People thought of you as almost a supernatural being when you were dressed as a nun, and there was such respect," she said. "Once you were in lay clothing, you were just another woman."

While in the Peace Corps, she climbed the pyramids in Cairo, Egypt, and visited Beirut, Lebanon, which she described as the "Paris of the Mideast." She stayed in a flea-bitten hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, where a circus tiger roamed the hallways, and fell in love with a dashing Greek on a trip to Athens. She left Libya when Moammar Gadhafi took over the government in 1970 in a coup.

"I saw some terrible things in those years that I will never forget," she said. "I had a constant lump in my throat when I saw starving children and because I made so little money I couldn't help financially."

She married the late Lawrence Froehlich of St. Charles in 1976 and took a job teaching first grade at St. Elizabeth-St. Robert Elementary School, where she taught for 20 years.

Froehlich's house is filled with photographs and memorabilia, including a video collection of John Wayne's movies. She said sisters were allowed to see only cowboy films.

"They were so relieved when John Wayne kissed his horse rather than his leading lady," she recalled.

Froehlich remains a devoted Catholic. She sleeps under a three- foot crucifix and when she rises at 5 a.m., she prays the rosary. She serves as president of the Ladies Council at St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church and until last year volunteered at St. Elizabeth-St. Robert Elementary School.

Froehlich is leaving the bulk of her estate to the Sisters of St. Joseph.

"They gave me a first-rate education, a teaching vocation and exposed me to culture and the arts," she said. "Because of them I've had an exciting life rather than a mediocre one."

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
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Story Source: St. Loius Dispatch-Post

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ghana; COS - Libya



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