WESTMINSTER — Unlike many other nuns today, Sister Mary Charlotte still wears her veil. The short headpiece is part of who she is, she said.
"I have loved the veil ever since I received it nearly 60 years ago," she said. "I worked hard to get it, and I don't want to give it up."
When she's away from St. John's Catholic Church, she sometimes overhears a question about it.
When one young child asked his father what that "hat" meant, she said she liked the man's reply.
"That hat means she belongs to God," he said.
By entering the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1933, Sister Mary Charlotte said she answered a call she has heard all her life.
All through the enormous changes in the Catholic Church and her religious community during the ensuing decades, the sister said she never doubted her vocation.
"I couldn't do anything different," she said. "My desire to become a nun and dedicate my life to God was always so strong, I had to act on it."
The number of new candidates to the order has declined steadily. Sister Mary Charlotte entered the novitiate in Baltimore with 53 other women. Now, only two or three women take their vows each year.
Sister Mary Charlotte still feels many women hear that same call. She said she prays daily for an increase in the number of men and women willing to serve the church.
"We need nuns and priests," she said, adding she shares the convent here with three other nuns. "We might not have as many as we used to, but I know there will always be some."
During her career, Sister Mary Charlotte often has moved from one teaching assignment to another in Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She has taught elementary students academic subjects as well as music, serving also as principal and church organist. She now supervises the library at St. John's Catholic School here.
"The Lord knows what our future should be," she said. "He lays plans for it, if we only go along with him."
She arrived here in 1971 and hopes Westminster always remains her home. Her experience at many other elementary schools leads her to believe the learning atmosphere at the only Catholic school in the county is ideal, she added.
"There is a united spirit among the staff and principal," she said. "They arekind, considerate and just in administering discipline."
Since coming to St. John's 20 years ago, "the people, especially the children, and the surroundings" have endeared themselves to her. Although some doors have closed for her, she said she always finds other outlets for "God's work."
"I am in marvelous health, but I do have some hearing problems," she said. "Once the young children caught on to that, it was time for me to leave the classroom."
She moved from the classroom to the music room and taught piano. Her appreciation for music goes back to her own teen years, when she used to instruct her cousins on the piano.
Because of recent problems with the tendons in her left hand, piano exercises have become difficult.
"I miss my music terribly and still try to play occasionally," she added.
Along with music, sewing has been part of her life. With a German tailor for a father and a dressmaker for a mother, the skill came easily to her. She learned to use a sewing machine as soon as her feet reached the pedals of her mother's machine.
She spends time at the School Sisters of Notre Dame motherhouse in Baltimore County every summer, sewing for the Sisters in the infirmary. She also helps repair the clothing donated to St. John's for the needy of the area.
Any visitorto the library or to the convent can see that Sister Mary Charlotte has a green thumb. Ferns and houseplants flourish under her care. Three seasons of the year, visitors can find her carefully tending the gardens surrounding the convent.
She also likes to decorate the school's bulletin boards. Painting and poetry writing claim the little spare time she has. She likes to sketch greeting cards and pen her ownverses for her friends.
Many of her former students recall her stories. She said she follows Christ's examples and tells the children parables from her own life.
"I love to tell stories," she said. "I have a book in my brain. I just talk as I turn its pages."