On a plaque inside the counseling center at Bethlehem High School, Sister Mary Ninette Manning, SCN, shares the following message:
“The goal of Bethlehem High School is to educate the whole student. That effort includes nurturing many aspects of their growth. Depression, anxiety, a poor self-image, and a sense of being lost or not being good enough are some of the things that can impede progress and doing one’s best at the educational level. Hopefully, counseling might help a student believe in herself or himself, realizing that she or he can become the best person they can be. We are all special in the eyes of God. Sometimes, we need some help in discovering and believing that.”
Sister Mary Ninette served as a counselor at Bethlehem High School, a small but thriving Catholic school in Bardstown, Ky., for over three decades. She retired in 2018, the last Sister of Charity of Nazareth to leave the school since the Congregation established it in the early 1800s. On Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, Bethlehem welcomed Sister Mary Ninette back to campus for a special celebration to dedicate the newly-renovated Lourdes Counseling Center in her honor and in loving memory of two school alumni, Laverne K. Corbett and Carole T. Corbett.
“Sister Mary Ninette’s abiding presence as the school counselor from 1982 to 2018 has been an inspiration to many,” said Olivia Seeger, a Bethlehem graduate who spoke during Monday’s gathering. “Her advocacy throughout the years mirrors the intercessory example of Mary, who leads people closer to her son, Jesus, the great Comforter. Today, we honor Sister Mary Ninette’s years of compassionate service, and we remember the faithful lives of Laverne and Carole Corbett through the dedication of this new counseling center. Let us turn to Mary, our Mother, and ask her to send down the Holy Spirit to remain with the faculty, staff, and students of Bethlehem High School.”
Members of the Corbett Family, who made the center’s renovation possible through a donation, were present Monday. Pictures of Laverne and Carole with their families are displayed in the center as a loving tribute. Laverne graduated in 1939 and Carole in 1961.
The occasion was notable for Sister Mary Ninette and the school’s current counselor, Dr. Nathalie Barber Corbett, who is related to Laverne and Carole by marriage. Dr. Barber Corbett recalled how Laverne was very ill when she was a teenager, and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth cared for her. When the Corbett Family realized the need to remodel, rename and dedicate the counseling space at Bethlehem, they stepped up to make it happen.
“Many of the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are Bethlehem graduates. So, the Corbett Family wished to contribute to this project in honor of the service of Sister Mary Ninette Manning and in memory of Laverne and Carole,” Dr. Barber Corbett said. She added that Monday’s dedication in their memory was a moving experience. She was also delighted to honor the former counselor and Bethlehem’s “last Sister.”
Present with Sister Mary Ninette at Monday’s event were fellow Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Camille Panich, the vice provincial of the Western Province for the Congregation, and Susan Kilb, a former Bethlehem administrator. Father Jim Graf, a Sister of Charity of Nazareth Associate, various Bethlehem faculty, alums, students, friends, and other religious officials were also in attendance.
The celebration kicked off with a Mass in Bethlehem’s Chapel of Nativity, followed by comments and a blessing of the counseling center. Sister Mary Ninette herself blessed two of the chairs where students and families sit during counseling.
“May they come to know peace and joy and continue to grow in this wonderful school of education filled with love, joy, and many blessings,” she said. She also shared blessings with the Corbett Family and thanked them for contributing to the center.
“It is absolutely beautiful. It speaks of healing, and I know those who come here will love it,” she told the family. “You are a big part of it, and you always will be.”
Dr. Barber aid the students and staff had long referenced the counseling center as “Sister Mary Ninette’s office.” So, when presented with the opportunity, they chose to make the title more official with the dedication. Barber added that anyone she speaks to about Sister Mary Ninette mentions how fond they are of her and how she positively impacted their lives during her time with Bethlehem. In that same spirit, the center, Barber said, has been and will continue to be a place filled with love.
Sister Mary Ninette came to Bethlehem High School in 1982, where she counseled generations of students. She helped each student navigate their personal struggles, whether it was an issue at school or home, and made sure they felt heard and supported. During her time with Bethlehem, Sister Mary Ninette also worked as a marriage and family therapist for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
In a reflection of her work, Sister Mary Ninette describes the Catholic school as wholesome and very much like a family.
“The longer I was at Bethlehem, the more important I felt it was for me to be there,” she shares. So many adolescents were struggling with life and various challenges. It was my honor to journey with them, watching them grow and mature.”
Though Sister Mary Ninette’s retirement from Bethlehem marked an end to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth being on staff, the Sisters and the school remain closely involved and supportive of one another. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and Bethlehem High School will always be connected.
“Mother Catherine Spalding’s picture is here in the hallway,” Sister Mary Ninette said during her visit to the school Monday. “She and the Sisters of the 1800s founded Bethlehem in 1819, just seven years after our Congregation was established. All the time I was here, I tried to keep that legacy going.”
She said that just as the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth are known as pioneer women, the young women who come through Bethlehem are also pioneer women, and she is proud of all they have accomplished.
A reception in the school’s media center followed Monday’s Mass and blessing, where guests continued to reflect on Sister Mary Ninette’s impact.
Bethlehem Chaplain Father Steven Reeves, who could not attend the celebration in person, left a message sharing he was glad to see the center dedicated in her honor. Father Reeves added the school honors her ministry alongside the many other Sisters of Charity of Nazareth who served at the school over the years. He said the dedication was fitting on the day celebrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he thanked God for Sister Mary Ninette and all women religious who follow Mary’s example.
The Most Rev. Shelton J. Fabre, Archbishop of Louisville, also wrote to Sister Mary Ninette to commemorate the special day. Father Jim Graf read his letter at the reception:
Dear Sr. Ninette,
May God bless you!
Thank you for your years of dedicated service to the Archdiocese of Louisville, as well as Bethlehem High School. Please accept my sincere gratitude for your service to the Archdiocese through your work in Family and Marriage counseling for 25 years. At this same time, you have greatly cared for the youth and their parents as a counselor at Bethlehem High School for 35 years.
I pray that you will be continually renewed in Christ Jesus as you retire from these ministries. Please know of my prayers for you and all the faithful of the Archdiocese that you have served so well.
Sincerely yours in our Lord,
Most Reverend Shelton J Fabre
Archbishop of Louisville