As Kathy Daniewicz looked at photos of Sister Marie Thérèse Conaty to use on her funeral bulletin, she noticed all of them had something in common. "There wasn't a single picture where she wasn't smiling," said Conaty's collaborator on music and liturgy at Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights.
Conaty's ever-present smile and giggle showcased the personality of a woman who loved life and people. "Former students at her funeral remembered that they laughed their heads off when they were with her," said Sister Mary Paula McCarthy, archivist and liturgist at Visitation School.
Edna Rose Conaty went to Visitation High School at Cardome in Georgetown, Ky., and wanted to enter religious life before she finished college at Mount Saint Joseph in Cincinnati, but her parents encouraged her to complete her degree. She received a bachelor's in English and music in 1950, and soon after returned to Cardome to enter its Visitation Monastery, where she taught high school English and took the name Sister Marie Thérèse.
She arrived in the Twin Cities in 1969 after the school closed and taught English and religion, directed the choir, played violin with the orchestra, and served as dean of students and a trustee at Visitation School.
Jennifer Kalika of Minnetonka, who taught orchestra at Visitation School from 1999 to 2007, enjoyed Conaty's light spirit that at times seemed more like a student's than a teacher's. One Christmas morning, Conaty asked Kalika to play the violin while she played the organ. "I got confused and couldn't find the music and was stumbling and sweating. Sister was giggling through the whole thing. 'Honey, it's no big deal,' she told me," said Kalika.
Sister "Honey" as Conaty was almost always called, got the nickname partly for her Southern accent but also for her habit of referring to nearly everyone as "honey." She later revealed to Sister Mary Paula that calling someone "honey" was a term of endearment but also a fallback when she couldn't remember a name.
The nickname became such an integral part of sister's persona that at her funeral earlier this month, each attendee received a small jar of honey. The symbolism went deeper than a nickname, said Sister Mary Paula. Conaty was deeply imbued with the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, who often used metaphors about honey.
Never a strict disciplinarian, Conaty used gentle but effective methods. On a ski trip during which some of the girls made poor choices, she took them into the library afterward and said, "Do you know what wonderful people you are? You're simply marvelous, but in the last couple of days, you kept that covered. Will you please show that again?" recalled Lisa Shaughnessy, director of advancement at Visitation School.
Conaty's niece, Mary Spraul Uhl of Cincinnati, described her aunt as "one of the most fun people you'll ever meet," but competitive nonetheless. "She'd play Monopoly and tennis with us, but she was always trying very hard to win," she said.
The English teacher who loved Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson was also a sports fan. Her devotion to Notre Dame, especially football, was lifelong.
Sister Mary Paula recounted in her eulogy how a 3-year-old boy once told Conaty that he liked her so much that he wanted to spend all his days and nights with her. "God is now delivering the same message to Sister. And she probably replied to God, 'I'm coming, Honey.' "
Conaty, 86, died May 3 and was preceded in death by her parents and her seven siblings.
John Ewoldt 612-673-7633