PROVIDENCE — St. Pius V School recently honored longtime teacher and principal Sister Shirley Jeffcott, O.P., with its highest honor, the Veritas Award, which is customarily bestowed annually on an alumnus who helps to build up the school community. Sister Shirley, as she is affectionately known, has been a Blauvelt, New York, Dominican Sister for 70 years, with 40 of those years spent in service to the St. Pius V community.
“When I came here to St. Pius V, it was very clear who the one was who loved this place, who knew this place, and who had sacrificed so many years of her life for this place. And that person is Sister Shirley,” Sister Josemaria Pence, O.P., principal of St. Pius V said in remarks before the May 21 presentation during Mass at St. Pius V Church.
“Sister Shirley is actually not an alum of St. Pius; she attended the other Dominican school here in Providence — St. Raymond — nevertheless, we could think of no one who has graced the halls of St. Pius who is more deserving of this award,” she added, noting how Sister Shirley taught first grade for many years, served as principal on two separate occasions and led the school through its first accreditation process.
In the 1990s, when enrollment had dropped to its lowest level at 155 students, then-pastor Father Kenneth Letoile, O.P., concerned about the future of St. Pius V, asked Sister Shirley to take the helm for the second time to right the ship.
“He called Sister Shirley back to save the school. Thank you, Sister Shirley,” Sister Josemaria said.
Father James Mary Sullivan, O.P., pastor of St. Pius V Church, recalled with good humor the many interactions he’s had over the past four years that he has led the parish and school.
“We thank the Lord for Sister Shirley, who’s given so many years of her religious life to all of us here at St. Pius,” he said, noting how she has also taught First Communion class at the parish and tutored students at the parish office.
Father Sullivan said that he could think of no one better than Sister Shirley to receive this year’s award.
“As a parish, as a school, we are so grateful to the Blauvelt Sisters, and in particular to Sister Shirley. All of the Sisters have a love for Christ that requires the sacrifice of their life,” he said.
“It’s all the individual sacrifices that make a parish alive, that makes it a place where people want to come to.”
Lisa Connors, mother of Father Ryan Connors, S.T.D, a priest of the diocese who currently serves as professor of moral theology and dean of men at Saint John’s Seminary, attended the Mass along with her husband, Joe.
“I’ve known her for 40 years, since Ryan was little. I would always say, ‘Sister, will you pray for Ryan?’ And she always did, and look where he is today,” she said admiringly of Sister Shirley.
Sister Shirley offered her deep appreciation to Father Sullivan, Sister Josemaria and the entire St. Pius faith community for honoring her with the Veritas Award, along with establishing a scholarship to St. Pius V School in her name.
“Deo gratias to Divine Providence and a genuine thank you to all who are here joining together to worship our triune God,” Sister Shirley said in receiving the award. “Saying Deo gratias surfaces within me a heartfelt connection and belief in God’s Divine Providence. This truth has embraced me and hovered over me since my birth, in New England, and specifically, as Bishop Henning would say, ‘In Rhode Island, A State of Hope.’”