"I love that little nun."
That's how Immaculate Conception School principal Madeline Meaney describes her affection for Sister Dolora Taylor, of the Sisters of St. Francis Philadelphia. Taylor, who is 84 years old and four-feet ten-inches tall, recently celebrated her 20th year working as a record keeper at the Catholic school in downtown Towson.
Meaney calls Taylor — who at one point lived on the Immaculate Conception campus in a convent — the "heart and history" of the school, which serves children in prekindergarten through middle school. One parent of a student at the school said the sister helps children understand the concept of faith.
"You can really see God's light shine through her," said parent Marjorie Parker, of Lutherville.
To honor Taylor's two decades of service, school officials refurbished a former pew and turned it into a bench they placed in the school's main hall. The bench, which carries a small plaque with Taylor's name, was dedicated in January.
Taylor also received the school's Annual Golden Apple Award, which is given each year to an individual who shows a strong dedication and commitment to Immaculate Conception School.
'She loves to give'
Giving is in Taylor's nature, said Virginia Spiegel, Taylor's long-time friend and a sister of St. Francis.
"She loves to give to other people," Spiegel said.
The two met at Catholic High School, in Baltimore city, 70 years ago, as they started their freshman year at the school. They eventually joined the convent together, and though later separated through their mission work, they remain friends.
Spiegel grew up near Fullerton on a farm, while Taylor grew up in East Baltimore. Taylor has taught her a few things through their friendship, Spiegel said. The first, was that people from the city can be nice. The second was how to be confident in yourself.
"She's very short, you know," Spiegel said. "And she never let that affect her in any way. She never felt lesser than anybody."
In fact, Taylor was a forward for Catholic High's basketball team. And a good one, according to Spiegel.
"She could shoot around so fast," Spiegel said. "She could sort of sneak in and out between [other players],"
After she graduated from high school, Taylor knew she wanted to become a nun, though her parents thought she was nuts, she said. She worked at a Sears store for a year, to try life outside of the Catholic church, but found that it wasn't for her. In 1951, she and Spiegel went to Aston, Pennsylvania, where the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia are based, to become nuns.
The desire to become a nun simply called to her, Taylor said. She spent nearly half her life working in Catholic health facilities in Philadelphia and Baltimore, managing materials for hospitals, working in clinical labs and completing administrative work. That was the mission job the church assigned her to.
Becoming a nun means taking God as your spouse, she explained, and comes with an oath of chastity, poverty and obedience."Whatever needs to be done for Jesus, you do it," she said.
About 20 years ago, she requested to be allowed to work at Immaculate Conception as an administrative assistant when a position there opened up. At the time, she was living in a convent on the property, though she has since moved to an apartment in the Cromwell Valley area.
Though she made the request, the final decision came down to her organization's Reverend Mother and her council, Taylor said, and therefore was in keeping with her oath of obedience.
Becoming a nun is a decision Taylor doesn't regret, she said.
"I pray daily for good faith, a faith that doesn't waiver and that stays true to God," Taylor said.
At the back of Taylor's office at Immaculate Conception, which she calls her "little home," there is a typewriter that Taylor uses to record students' names and information on the front of files. The modern way might be to print and use labels, but she prefers her method.
A filing cabinet roughly six feet tall takes up one wall of the room. On top of the cabinet is a two-foot tall statue of the Infant of Prague, a depiction of Jesus as a baby. The children at the school like the statue, she said, because he is little "they way they are."
On a bookshelf she has a drawing of the school made by a former art teacher, photos of Pope Francis and Saint John Paul the Great, as well as a wooden cut-out of the church and several items with characters from the popular comic series, Peanuts. An image of the character Snoopy dancing, with a inscription that says "keep smiling," is a favorite of hers, she said.
Smiling is something staff and parents at the school say they associate with Taylor. On a day last month, as she made her way through the elementary halls to those of the middle school, Taylor looked inside open classroom doors as she passed, smiling and waving at the students inside.
In addition to her work an an administrative assistant, Taylor helps administer communion to the children at a Mass each Thursday that is celebrated at the end of the school day.
On the same February day, Taylor watched from the rear of the church as students sang hymns, read from the Bible and listened to a sermon from assistant pastor Francis Ouma during the Mass.
She sang three songs with the students about Jesus, God, faith, purity and giving thanks. Toward the end of the Mass, she came to the altar to help distribute communion wafers, which in the Catholic religion represent the body of Jesus.
Children and teachers receiving communion crossed their arms as they approached the altar at the front of the church, where Taylor was distributing the wafers.
In turn, as each person approached Taylor she drew the sign of the cross with her thumb on their heads.
God is present at the school, Taylor said, adding that her work there is part of that presence.
In addition to the pew dedication and Gold Apple Award, Taylor received a more humble gift recently, which also honored her time at the school — a three-pound bag of lollipops from a student.
Taylor said the student, who now is in the 8th grade, has older siblings who also attended Immaculate Conception. When the girl was still too young to go to school, her parents would come to the school office for business related to the older siblings and would bring the girl along. Whenever she was in the office she would poke her head into Taylor's room, and every time Taylor would give her a lollipop.
A decade later, the student returned the favor.
When Taylor bumped into the school's prekindergarten director, Erin Sudano, while walking through the school on Feb. 23, Taylor told Sudano that she intended to spread the love inherent in the gift.
"I got a three-pound bag of lollipops," Taylor told the director. "I'm gonna bring you a bunch over."
"She's the best," Sudano replied.