How Sister Mary George created lifelong readers.
You can’t teach for 71 years as Sister Mary George Kissel did and not have an impact. After entering the community in Ferdinand in 1940, she used her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in teaching elementary students in schools all across southwest Indiana, as well as teaching English to elementary students in Bogota, Colombia.
But in 1975, Sister Mary George and her biological sister, Sister Margaret Carolyn Kissel, started a program that would be life-changing for many students. The pair established The Reading Carrell in Evansville, and for the next 38 years, they worked with students who were falling behind because of serious struggles with reading.
Often, those students came to her program hating school, where they struggled and faced cruel jokes from other children. Many had parents who both had to work, so they couldn’t receive the same support at home as their classmates did.
“When the teachers have 30 or more students in the class, they can’t give the kids individual attention, and when both parents work, who’s going to help the kids?” Sister Mary George wondered.
With her Benedictine approach and gentle nature, however, the children were constantly reassured that they were good, that they weren’t “dumb,” and that they could master the concepts. With the help of the two Sisters, the students in their program caught up with their peers. In fact, a number of them graduated at the top of their high school and college classes.
The gentle encouragement offered by The Reading Carrell has inspired many people. One former second grade student of Sister Mary George’s let her know she was heading off to college to become a teacher, saying “I’m going to watch out for the kids who can’t keep up, like you did with me.”
Another student went on to become a doctor and spent decades practicing medicine in the area, attributing his success directly to the two Sisters. Over the course of nearly four decades, the pair served over 5,500 children and their families.
“I was one of Sister Mary George’s elementary students. There was a DEAR sign in their tiny waiting room, which meant Drop Everything And Read. She was dear to many of us who learned the basic concept of reading with her guidance.”Bryan R.
While Sister Mary George retired from teaching at age 90, she hardly slowed down, continuing to collect food, clothing and school supplies for poor communities throughout the Owensboro area and beyond.
She also collected religious items, such as rosaries and prayer cards, to be donated to area religious education directors for use in their programs with students. And she’s still just as sweet as ever.